MADISON, Wis. Maybe it goes without saying, but in order for Wisconsin to stand a realistic chance of beating Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game, the Badgers will need their full complement of players.
Good thing for Wisconsin its players are getting healthy at the right time.
Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, linebacker Chris Borland and right guard Kyle Costigan are all expected to play Saturday against Nebraska after sustaining injuries in recent weeks. Borland has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, while Abbrederis and Costigan both suffered mild concussions last week against Penn State.
Abbrederis also suffered a concussion against Oregon State on Sept. 8 and missed the following week's game against Utah State. The symptoms this time around appear to be lighter.
"I knew right away I'd probably be able to go," Abbrederis said. "It wasn't too bad. I'll be fine."
Abbrederis, in particular, is vital to Wisconsin's success. The first-team All-Big Ten wideout has 44 catches for 764 yards and five touchdowns. By comparison, the rest of the team's wide receivers have a combined 45 catches for 436 yards with one touchdown.
Abbrederis' ability to stretch the field in the passing game was evident against Nebraska in the teams' regular season matchup, when he caught seven passes for 142 yards with a touchdown. Quarterback Joel Stave hit Abbrederis for a 54-yard bomb on the team's first drive and later for a 29-yard touchdown to give Wisconsin a 20-3 second-quarter lead. Nebraska eventually came back to win 30-27.
"When you get those opportunities, obviously you've got to make them count," Abbrederis said. "They're huge to help out the momentum of your offense and your whole team."
Costigan took over as Wisconsin's starting right guard Sept. 22 against UTEP and has held down the position for every game but one. He missed a game against Illinois after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove 12 pieces of floating cartilage in his knee. The surgery was necessary after he dislocated his kneecap, slightly tore his meniscus cartilage and sprained his MCL during that first game against Nebraska.
Borland, meanwhile, did not play against Ohio State and Penn State but is one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten when healthy. He recorded nine tackles and two fumble recoveries against Nebraska during the regular season.
"I think I will be healthy enough to play in this game and I'm excited for it," Borland said this week. "I'm going to be vocal, both motivating and communicating on the field. Hopefully, I can make guys comfortable out there by recognizing some things and identifying some things. After that, it's just making plays. That's the best way to contribute."
Last week, backup linebacker Derek Landisch recorded a career-high 11 tackles in place of Borland. But Badgers coach Bret Bielema said Borland's experience playing in big venues would be a significant asset against Nebraska.
"Chris is a tremendous football player, and that's something for everyone in the world to know," Bielema said. "He's a very, very gifted leader. When times are tough or when things aren't going your way, he has an uncanny way of making a really big play."
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