Wisconsin football has dealt with a lot in the past 10 months. First it was six new coaches in the off season, then an in season coaching change, but it's been the rash of injuries that have really led to what can only be described as an under whelming 4-2 start for the Badgers.
As luck would have it it seems as if the Badgers have gotten healthier at just the right time. Entering their 3rd week of Big Ten play signs are pointing to a healthy football team being a much better football team going forward.
"We were a little bit healthier on Saturday than we've been over the last three to four weeks," head coach Bret Bielema said during his Monday Press Conference.
"I think that made a huge difference, especially on the defensive side of the ball, getting Brendan Kelly and pat Muldoon back on defense was huge, especially in the fourth quarter when we needed pressure on the quarterback."
The healing of Brendan Kelly's hamstring and David Gilbert's foot are hugely important to an inexperienced and thin defensive end position behind them and it was showcased on Saturday just how much better this team is when closer to full strength.
Starting safety Shelton Johnson's return to action was especially noticeable with his four tackle and 0.5 tackle for loss performance after replacing Michael Caputo early in the game.
But, there's one player that overshadows everyone else when it comes to health concerns, Jared Abbrederis.
Earlier this season we wrote about the fact that Abbrederis may actually be the most valuable player on the Badgers team this season, but after Saturday's performance is there really any doubt about his overall value to Wisconsin's chances in 2012?
If you talk to head coach Bret Bielema there's really no doubting his importance in all phases of the game anymore.
"Just very, very impressive," said Bielema of Abbrederis' play on Saturday. "Obviously, the touchdowns and the long strikes are huge. What he does, he was a key factor and a key block on the James White touchdown, a key block on several running plays for James. That kid is an incredible football player and deserves all the recognition he's getting."
Abbrederis and quarterback Joel Stave have found a quick rhythm together in the passing game and it's led to an explosive season from Abbrederis, who has 27 catches for 516 yards (19.1avg) and has 5 touchdowns, all while missing a game and a half with a concussion suffered in the Oregon State game.
Something has been different about this team as of late and it's shown in the numbers the Badger have been able to put up offensively too.
"You look at the offensive numbers from the first three games versus the second three, the last three games, they're night and day," said Bielema.
Of Abbrederis' team leading 5 touchdowns, 4 have come from 29 yards out or more and his shortest was a 10 yard TD.
Those numbers have made defenses respect the deep play ability of Wisconsin and as he's gained confidence with Stave teams have had to loosen up a bit on the rushing attack of the Badgers and that has begun to pay off as of late.
"When Abby wasn't in there, I think the vertical threat of our passing game was not as prevalent as we like, and that was what allowed those teams really to hunker down in there and not be as open in the run game as we would like," Bielema stated.
One thing is clear with as young and inexperienced as this team is at key positions health will go a log way in determining the direction of the 2012 season for the Badgers.