MADISON, Wis. - If you catch a 80-yard touchdown pass on the opening play of the season for your offense and couple it with a 23-yard touchdown run on a reverse later in the half, there is a good chance you will nab MVP honors for that game.
And that is exactly what junior wide receiver Isaac Anderson accomplished in Saturday's 28-20 win over Northern Illinois.
"The thing I mentioned to Isaac in front of the team meeting yesterday (Sunday) was I recognized two wide receivers," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "As a group, that group might have drawn my attention more from any other position group
about being able to compete and play the way we wanted to play.
"So, you saw a response out of them that you liked."
Anderson, who finished with three catches for 100 yards and a touchdown as well as 23-yards rushing and a touchdown, was joined by fellow wide out Nick Toon as offensive MVP's for their performances Saturday.
"I had an opportunity to watch the film on Sunday and saw a lot of positive things," Bielema said. "We awarded a couple guys some MVP's. On offense, I thought it was really unique to give Isaac Anderson and Nick Toon the offensive MVP. Those guys had an impact on the game throughout."
On the defensive side of the ball, a couple of veteran players distinguished themselves from the pack with their play on the field.
"O'Brien Schofield and Chris Maragos were two guys that played extremely hard," Bielema said. "Chris coming up with the last play of the game and then OB, because of the depth of the defensive end, just really played hard.
"J.J. Watt did a good job as well, but we went with those two guys."
William Hartmann received the same honor for his contributions on the special team units.
"I believe he had four tackles in all the phases of the kicking game," Bielema said. "He really is taking forward a leadership role in that department and it really showed up on Saturday."
Then finally, for their contribution during game prep the week leading up to the opener, Sam Edmiston and Nick Hill won the award for offense and defensive play respectively.
In what was surely a physical game against NIU, the Badgers came out of it relatively injury free. In fact, none of the players that played in the game were injured and are all full strength at this time. Only Louis Nzegwu, John Moffitt, Bill Nagy and Brendan Kelly are down with an injury bug at this time.
-Nzegwu suffered an injury to his shoulder last week during practice. As of Monday, though, Bielema likes the progress he has seen.
"He's feeling way better than he was a week ago," Bielema said. "He'll progress through some things this week and hopefully we'll get him back for Saturday."
-Moffitt, who has been out since the beginning of fall camp with a strained pectoral, will likely return to full practice Tuesday.
-Kelly continues to make progress on his groin issue. He was able to ditch the crutches and was making strides with pull work and other drills throughout the week.
"Last night we were in modified gear," Bielema said. "But he was in that and participated. He'll kind of work himself through this week and there is a chance for him this week. If not, next week for sure."
-Then there is Nagy. After his late July scooter accident sidelined him for the entirety of fall camp, a new treatment program has been introduced to accelerate the healing process in his foot. At this time, he isn't expected back this week. .
"He had it on Friday and he said it hurt," Bielema said. "He's in a boot and they have to immobilize that. I want to say that he'll get out of that boot maybe tomorrow, but the chances of him getting back in this week are probably unlikely."
What to do with Travis Frederick?
With Moffitt set to return, what does that mean for the role of Frederick who played well at center in his first game?
"It probably depends on how good he (Moffitt) would look," Bielema said. "Just because Travis did some really good things on Saturday. The one part that we would like to have a little more depth is at the center/guard. John can probably get you through both of those situations, as well as Travis because Travis played all spring and really, most of the summer at guard."
Still, with an offensive line unit that has been practicing together throughout fall camp, the return of Moffitt would be an adjustment. But, because Moffitt played so much a season ago, and played well at that, he has earned his role. Frederick though, may still get plenty of action depending on how fast Moffitt is able to get back into the flow of it.
Playmakers in the making?
Everyone who watched the game saw the way freshman linebacker Mike Taylor ripped the ball out of the NIU running back's hand in the first half Saturday night. It was Taylor simply creating a turnover on a play that looked like it would be turnover free.
Later in the game, Schofield drilled the NIU quarterback, forced a fumble and recovered. However, an official had blown the play dead therefore nullifying the turnover. Still, the fact remains that at least early on in the season, the UW defense seems to be full of players on the verge of becoming big-time playmakers.
"Anytime you see a guy make a play, you get encouraged," Bielema said. "Once it happens once, you kind of expect it to happen again. When Mike Taylor rips the ball out from the running back, I'm sure everybody said, 'My, what a great play.' (But), I've seen it 20 times during practice."
But perhaps more encouraging for Bielema was not just the play of the freshmen, (not that he wasn't impressed with them), but the play of the seniors on the team.
"As long as I've been in this business," Bielema said. "When you seniors play well, that's a good indicator of good things to happen. For O'Brien Schofield and Chris Maragos to step up the way they did and play the way they did down the stretch, just gives me a good indicator that they're in tuned with what we're trying to get done."
Heading into the opening game, Bielema thought Dezmen Southward would be able to contribute at least on special teams. However, with Southward only in his second full season of playing football, Bielema has decided to ease up on the amount of responsibility for the former St. Thomas Aquinas player.
"His relative football window is very, very small," Bielema said. "Though I think he could help us on some special teams, just basic football stuff is very, very new to him. When you are dealing with a one young player
the last thing you want to do is emotionally scar someone so that you hinder their growth.
"Believe me, if I thought he could help up and play in a winning fashion, I would. But, I just don't see it as being in his best interest right now to continue on down those lines."
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