MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Illinois travels to Wisconsin this weekend with both teams looking for some answers — and a win — as the Big Ten season gets under way in earnest.
Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten) was thought to have a walk in the park to Indianapolis and the conference championship game with Leaders Division foes Ohio State and Penn State ineligible this season. Instead, the Badgers have been pushed to the brink by a Championship Subdivision school and a mid-major opponent and they have lost two road games against BCS foes.
"We haven't lost many games around here and it is kind of uncharted waters for these guys to have two defeats within the first five weeks of the season," coach Bret Bielema said. "The one thing I've tried to stress - and our coaches have emphasized daily - is losing is not an option. It is not acceptable.
"If you let it creep into your head or into your mind or (become) a part of your DNA it will become who you are overnight."
Wisconsin's main problem has been running the football, an abnormality for a school known for its running backs and beefy offensive linemen. A year after averaging 235.6 yards per game on the ground, Wisconsin is averaging only 125.6 — last in the Big Ten and 96th nationally. As a result, Wisconsin ranks ninth in the conference in scoring (22.6 ppg) and last in total offense (309.2 ypg).
"Everyone wants to blame it on (the offensive line) and that's fine with us," said junior center Travis Frederick. "We really don't mind the burden. We just need to come out and make the holes bigger. If the holes not big enough, we have to make it bigger. If we don't play well, the whole team doesn't play well."
Senior tailback Montee Ball, a Heisman finalist a season ago, has felt the sting of an offense that has already changed its quarterback and fired its offensive line coach. After carrying the ball 93 times for 511 yards and 13 touchdowns through Wisconsin's first five games last season, Ball has 125 carries for 450 yards and six scores over the same period this season.
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