Bielema: Badgers require ‘gut check’



By Todd Richmond

MADISON, Wis. – Bret Bielema isn’t used to losing. But he’s getting a taste of it now.

Since he took over as head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers last year, Bielema has gone 17-3. After starting this year 5-0, though, the Badgers have dropped two straight, including a 38-7 undressing at Penn State last Saturday.

“After a win, it’s never as good as it looks and after a loss it’s probably never as bad as it looks,” Bielema said Monday. “Thankfully, we haven’t been through the second choice very often in this program.”

The Badgers, who were ranked as high as No. 5 two weeks ago, have plummeted out of the top 25. At 5-2, a Big Ten title looks like a long shot at best; league leaders Michigan and Ohio State both are 3-0 in conference play.

Wisconsin has a host of problems on defense. The Badgers give up an average of 202 yards per game rushing, third worst in the Big Ten, and their overall red-zone defense ranks next-to-last in the conference.

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Bielema, the 2006 Big Ten coach of the year, says his team lacks confidence.

“I really believe some of the errors that we’re making are not lack of ability. They’re not lack of knowledge. They’re a lack of basically confidence and some things that are going on between the ears. To get our players right on track, it’s going to take a little bit of a gut check,” Bielema said.

Quarterback Tyler Donovan told the Wisconsin State Journal in Monday’s edition that his teammates have been distracted by thoughts of conference championships.

On Monday, Bielema accused reporters of baiting his players into making such comments, but said he should have stressed even more last week to live in the now.

“The only thing we had to focus on was Penn State,” Bielema said. “You don’t have to focus on where you are in the Big Ten race, where you’re at nationally. It’s a fun thing to talk about, write about and read about. But for us as a team, the more you focus on the day and the task at hand the easier the journey becomes. We may have lost sight of that.”

Wisconsin gets a break from Big Ten play this Saturday when Northern Illinois comes to Madison.

Then it’s back to the conference grind. Wisconsin faces Indiana at Camp Randall on Oct. 27, before facing No. 1-ranked Ohio State on the road and then Michigan at home.