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Badgers hope to kick-start offense vs. UTEP

Associated Press Modified: September 21, 2012 at 10:06 am •  Published: September 21, 2012

At this point, Wisconsin can't afford to look past anybody.

And with one game left before the start of the Big Ten season, Saturday's home game against UTEP represents one last chance for Wisconsin to show it can get its sputtering offense going.

The Badgers (2-1) started the season with a narrow victory over FCS school Northern Iowa, a loss at Oregon State and another white-knuckle win over Utah State last week. Their typically dominant offensive line has been having trouble opening holes for Montee Ball.

Transfer Danny O'Brien won the quarterback job in camp, but was replaced at halftime of last week's game by Joel Stave. The redshirt freshman will make his first college start against UTEP (1-2), Coach Bret Bielema said Thursday.

And while Bielema hasn't been happy with how O'Brien has taken care of the ball, tinkering with the quarterbacks isn't going to fix the Badgers' main problem: An offensive line that just isn't pushing people around like it usually does.

After the Oregon State loss, Bielema replaced offensive line coach Mike Markuson by promoting a graduate assistant, Bart Miller, who acknowledged that the large amount of turnover on the Badgers' staff this offseason might have made a difference.

"Any time you have six coaches leave, a little bit of that culture, work ethic and things that they did last year goes with them," Miller said. "A new staff came in, and for the most part, we adjusted really well. There was some transition and some work, but these (offensive linemen) have played for one guy. That's a rarity in college football these days is playing for one man their entire career. So these guys weren't used to that type of transition. I think there were growing pains initially and they started to come along. There were small differences, but there were some things that just weren't clicking after fall camp and in the first two games."

New offensive coordinator Matt Canada acknowledges that the Badgers are off to a "challenging" start, but said he sees signs of improvement.

"We've just got to finish," Canada said. "Obviously, what we did (against Utah State) wasn't good enough. We've got to start getting some explosive plays. We've got to start making some. Those 4- or 5-yard runs have got to be 10-, 12 or 18-yard runs. Obviously, throwing the ball more effectively, as well."

Center Travis Frederick took the blame for penalties, but said he was optimistic after the second half against Utah State.

"The way that we played as a unit, I believe, was a much bigger step up than how we had been playing," Frederick said. "I do see the improvement there, and a lot of people on the outside aren't going to see that because it really comes down to a step here or a step there and where your hand placement is. But I do think we played better than we had, minus the penalties."

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