Manasseh Garner has had nearly two months to get a feel for college football and here's what the University of Wisconsin freshman has come to discover:
"Every game and every practice is a learning experience," Garner said.
But Garner can't remember learning more than he did the last two practices before the Badgers' non-conference game Saturday with Austin Peay, which is when he found out that — after not logging a minute of playing time the first three games — he'd see action on both sides of the ball in a 70-3 win over the Governors.
With the season-ending injury to sophomore linebacker Chris Borland and the fact that freshman defensive lineman Tyler Dippel was attending the funeral of his grandmother in California, UW coach Bret Bielema was left searching for another outside rusher.
So Garner, who plays mostly wide receiver, was called upon to take practice reps this week at rush end in UW's Badger Package.
"Coach (Bielema) said, ‘Your time is going to come.' He offered me an opportunity to get on the field and I've been wanting to get on the field and help the team in any way possible."
Garner, who also lined up at receiver in the second half, was not credited with any tackles in his collegiate debut. However, he contributed to an effort that limited Austin Peay to 115 yards on nine of 19 passing and allowed the Governors to convert on just two of 13 third-down opportunities.
Back to (high) school
Fullback Bradie Ewing has become somewhat of a forgotten man in the UW offense, but the junior from Richland Center had a game to remember.
Ewing, who hadn't carried the football since the 2008 season, gained 15 yards on two carries — one a 7-yard touchdown burst in the first quarter for only his second collegiate touchdown. He scored his third in the second quarter on a 3-yard pass from Scott Tolzien as he was falling down in the end zone.
"It was like being in high school again," said Ewing, the first UW player to have a rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game since Issac Anderson in the 2009 season opener against Northern Illinois. "But I probably wasn't as wide-eyed as I was my freshman year when I scored."
Ewing is still listed as the Badgers' starting fullback. But he has seen a reduced role, at times, during the non-conference season after former Middleton athlete Ryan Groy — a converted offensive lineman — was inserted into the backfield in UW's "jumbo packages."
"He definitely has his role," Ewing said of Groy. "He's a short-yardage guy. He can do some power-hitting against some big linebackers. He knows his role; I know my role. Wherever that fits into the offense is fine, as long as we're winning."
Dehn draws OL start
Casey Dehn took the scenic route from Monroe to Camp Randall Stadium, but there he was Saturday, enjoying his first collegiate start at right tackle in place of the injured Ricky Wagner (shoulder).
Wagner wasn't cleared to play until Friday, according to Bielema. Junior Josh Ogelsby, who missed his second game with a knee injury, told Bielema he was "ready to go," but the coach didn't feel he was at 100 percent and gave Dehn the start.
"I went through the week planning on starting," said Dehn, a 6-foot-6, 317-pounder who is listed as a back-up to Gabe Carimi at left tackle. "At first, I was a little nervous. But, after that first drive, it just kind of felt like practice. I knew what to do so it wasn't a big deal."
Dehn, whose brother Robert and sister Samantha are members of the UW track and field teams, was born in Monroe, where his father, Bill, was the Cheesemakers' longtime boys basketball coach.
After giving up more than 52 yards per return on kickoffs in last week's win over Arizona State, the Badgers did a much better job in coverage against the Governors and Terrence Holt, the Football Championship Subdivision career record-holder for most kickoff return yards coming into the game (3,879).
Holt had 121 yards on eight returns with a long of 31 as UW allowed just 12.8 yards per return on 11 kickoffs. Bielema said personnel changes were made and singled out former Madison East athlete Coddye Ring-Noonan, a sophomore linebacker, for helping improve UW's showing in that area.
"He's a walk-on who'd never played," Bielema said. "He'd been doing a great job on scout team for us and so we popped him in there. That's what you need to find — you need to find guys who are going to do it every play."
Dealing with drops
Redshirt freshman Jared Abbrederis, returning punts again in place of the injured David Gilreath, muffed two attempts before Aaron Henry got the call on Austin Peay's final two punts.
"Coach just said you've got to have the ball before you make a play," Abbrederis said. "The second one I dropped, I had a guy there and I was just thinking about trying to juke him out before I had it. ... Coaches stressed all week that we might be able to get some good holdups and have some room to make plays.
"I was a little more aggressive and not fair-catching a lot of them. Some of them, maybe I should have."
Bielema expects Gilreath and Nick Toon (turf toe) to resume practicing with the team Sunday and play Saturday at Michigan State. ... Brad Nortman averaged 60.5 yards on his two punts, including a 76-yarder that was downed at the Governors' 1-yard line on the game's final play. ... Tight end Lance Kendricks had his second straight 100-yard receiving game — the first UW tight end since Travis Beckum in 2007 to do so — and now has 13 catches for 234 yards and two TDs in his last two outings. ... UW redshirt junior Nate Tice, the son of former Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Tice, made his collegiate debut at quarterback on the Badgers' final drive.