CORVALLIS, Ore. — Junior defensive end David Gilbert stopped by University of Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema's office on Sunday night to grab a gum ball and make a prediction.
"More like a promise," Gilbert said.
The promise was, Gilbert would be more productive for the No. 13 Badgers (1-0) today against Oregon State (0-0) than he was in the opener.
The big jump UW coaches expect from the first to the second game starts with players such as Gilbert.
"To play better, get more pressure," Gilbert said of the substance of his promise. "I'm not satisfied with my performance, obviously."
Gilbert had a legitimate reason for his struggles in last week's 26-21 victory over Northern Iowa, his first football game in more than 11 months due to a twice-broken right foot.
He suffered the initial injury in practice during the final week of September 2011, before the Big Ten Conference opener against Nebraska, then re-broke it on Dec. 23 in bowl practice.
Gilbert played 39 snaps and was credited with one assisted tackle and a quarterback hurry last week. The good news is he felt fine physically and said he didn't get winded.
Gilbert talked to defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, who told him he was trying to take on blockers too flush, instead of playing on one shoulder or the other.
"Getting back into the game, you realize you've got to get back to edges and work off the edges to the bull rush," Gilbert said. "Even though the tackles were small and soft, I've still got to work on my game."
Gilbert said he got off to a similar slow start last season. Although he had a sack and four tackles in the opener against UNLV, it wasn't until the second game against Oregon State that he started to become a more consistent pass rusher. He had three sacks in four games before getting injured.
"I said, 'What do you think?' " Bielema said of their conversation the night after the game. "He goes, 'I think I'm about ready to get a lot better in a hurry.' "
Gilbert had a problem getting into a rhythm in the first half last week because UW's defense was only on the field for 15 plays.
"You need to get a rhythm and pass rush is all rhythm," Gilbert said. "I'm not making any excuses. I've got to do what I do. The focus and the skills I can take from the film, it's priceless."
Four quarters of effort
UW's defense overall needs to make the same kind of jump today.
The defensive lapses in the opener — which led to two long fourth-quarter touchdown passes on identical wheel routes by a running back out of the backfield — have been rehashed all week, but Gilbert had a fresh perspective on the issues.
He said the first of the two long touchdowns, a 55-yarder in which the Badgers were caught in a blitz and running back David Johnson was left uncovered, included three mistakes: "Mental error, missed tackle, loaf," Gilbert said. "That's just things we can't accept on our defense, especially in the fourth quarter."
The missed tackle came from free safety Dezmen Southward around the 20-yard line. Gilbert did not identify the player who had the mental error, leaving the back uncovered, or the player who loafed.
Gilbert said the defense had great pursuit for the most part, until the fourth quarter.
"Things like that (loaf), we can't ignore them, we can't push them under the rug, we can't stick our head in the sand and say, 'That was (Northern Iowa), we'll do it differently this week,' "Gilbert said. "The reality of it is, you practice how you play."
That's a point Gilbert has emphasized all week, as the coaches pushed for better preparation. Despite the focus on not letting up, Gilbert said there was a brief lapse by the defense near the end of practice on Wednesday.
"Honestly, that's the way we've been practicing, really good until those last couple periods," Gilbert said. "It even happened (Wednesday) a little bit, little things slip by, at the very end. We've got to work on just being our best at the end."
That's easier said than done. It takes endurance and focus. It's not that players aren't trying, but it takes supreme effort to play as hard in the final quarter as the first one.
Sense of urgency
Gilbert was encouraged by the defense's fourth-and-1 stop at the UW 41-yard line with about 3 minutes remaining. Defensive tackles Warren Herring and Ethan Hemer shot up the middle, with Herring crashing into the quarterback and Hemer deflecting the pass.
"I felt our sense of urgency was very different on that fourth-down stop," Gilbert said.
Had the defense played that way earlier in the fourth quarter, when UW led 26-7, it never would have gotten to the point of needing a fourth-down stop.
"We can't be satisfied," Gilbert said. "It's not easy to do. You don't know when you're going to give up a big play, right? We've just got to get on our Ps and Qs.
"We have been practicing harder, at the end of practice. I'm aware of it. I'm seeing something more now. We have to see (it) on Saturday."