The Wisconsin Badgers return to the road this week, and they have a very welcome passenger on this trip: their health.
An already rocky season was made all the more treacherous when key starters began to miss games due to injury. But when Bret Bielema looks at his travel team depth chart ahead of the Purdue game, he must feel pretty darn good.
When co-defensive coordinators Charlie Partridge and Chris Ash count the healthy bodies available, they are most likely doing cartwheels down the Camp Randall hallways.
For instance, an already solid defensive line welcomes back veterans Brendan Kelly and Pat Muldoon. Both players returned to the lineup against Illinois, but their skills will be needed even more in a big game against a division rival.
The secondary will get one of its most vocal leaders back when Shelton Johnson returns as the starter this Saturday alongside talented cornerback Peniel Jean.
Johnson, a natural ball hawk at safety, will be strutting his stuff after breaking his right arm during the team's first loss of the season to the Oregon State Beavers. Backups Michael Trotter and Michael Caputo both struggled in coverage, so the Badgers will be happy to have a proven playmaker back at a key position. Johnson's return will likely bolster the team's sorry interception count on the year, with cornerback Devin Smith making the only one thus far.
Johnson tied with departed seniors Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus for the most takeaways on the team with four in 2011.
On the offensive side of the ball, the biggest returning player will be right guard Kyle Costigan, who tweaked his knee in Lincoln against Nebraska. He did not see action against Illinois but will be welcomed back warmly as Wisconsin is preparing to go against a very talented Purdue defensive line, headlined by senior Kawann Short.
The Badgers will also be heading into West Lafayette with some confidence along with its clean bill of health. Meanwhile, Purdue, who has outperformed preseason predictions, may be licking its wounds after being routed by Michigan last week.
Most importantly, Wisconsin lost its last two road games by a combined six points. A healthy squad could be enough to tip the scale toward Madison and ultimately Indianapolis.
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