MADISON, Wis. – Brendan Kelly looked around the room during the Wisconsin football team's morning meeting and felt a different vibe.
Less yawning. Guys paying extra attention. Lots of note-taking.
Refreshed from a bye week, the Badgers are eager get back to winning again.
"Any time you meet around 6:30, 7 in the morning, most guys are half-asleep," Kelly, a linebacker, said Monday. "But today, I was looking around the meeting room and you can definitely tell. Guys are taking notes, guys are locked in."
Good thing, because No. 19 Northwestern is next up for Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) in a homecoming weekend game at Camp Randall Stadium.
Both Badgers losses this season have been tight affairs on the road to quality teams. They fell 32-30 in Week 3 to Arizona State in a game affected by an officiating blunder in the final seconds. Two weeks ago, Wisconsin lost 31-24 at Ohio State, coming up just short as the Buckeyes forced a four-and-out late.
"There are two losses on our record right now," Kelly said. "That's going to stick with us no matter what the rest of the season, you can't focus on what is and what isn't ... You've just got to focus on what you can do today to get better."
It appears the Badgers will have most of the key players have been hurt the last few weeks back from injuries, and at full speed. That includes tight end Jacob Pedersen (knee), receiver Kenzel Doe (hamstring) and the Big Ten's leading rusher, Melvin Gordon (knee).
"Yeah, all those kids should be back," coach Gary Andersen said. "Normal workload this week."
Gordon (139.6 yards per game) figures to rejoin senior James White (94.6 yards) to form one of the top backfields in the country. There's hope that anticipated returns of Pedersen and Doe might help take attention away from top receiver Jared Abbrederis, who burned Ohio State for career-highs of 10 catches and 207 yards.
Andersen used the bye week in part to look at some tweaks in areas where the team could improve, such as creating turnovers or getting better on third downs.
The close losses? Yes, he's very aware that the Badgers have had their share over the years, even if Andersen is only in his first season in Madison. There's no magic solution to getting over them.
"Making the play. At the end, that's simply put, maybe too simply put, but it's being in the moment and making a play," Andersen said. "You don't know when it is, but there's going to be four or five opportunities."
Andersen isn't worried about his team being rusty after a week off, not after having gone through a tough loss the last time out. The evidence, in part, was provided by what Kelly saw in his teammates at Monday morning's meeting.
"Hey, if we're going to be a great team, we've got to win these close games, and we talk about that," Andersen said. "I don't see it having a negative effect. These kids will plow through it, and they'll work hard all season regardless of wins and losses."
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