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Sports

Badgers rest up before taking on Penn State

| Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2002

MADISON, Wis. — The results from the non-conference portion of Wisconsin's season couldn't be much better — a 5-0 record, already matching last year's win total.

Now, No. 21 Wisconsin will get a much-needed weekend off before heading into the final and most important part of its schedule: the Big Ten.

Coach Barry Alvarez said Monday that Wisconsin's bye week comes at the perfect time, giving the players time to recuperate from nagging injuries and take a break before the final eight games. He's keeping the players on a light workload this week and will give them the weekend off so some of them, particularly the freshmen, can make a quick trip home.

Then, it's back to work next week to prepare for an Oct. 5 game against No. 12 Penn State (3-0).

"I really think they can come back re-energized," Alvarez said. "This is a group that really wants to do what the coaches ask them and improve."

Alvarez said he was happy with the team's progress after beating Arizona, 31-10, on Saturday.

The offense had been unimpressive in several games, but Wisconsin clicked in all facets Saturday, rolling up 260 yards rushing while the line gave up no sacks.

The defense also held Arizona's high-flying offense in check, giving up just 138 yards through the air to a team that had been averaging more than 400.

Alvarez said the extra game Wisconsin picked up this season by playing in the John Thompson Foundation Classic is paying dividends for younger players.

Earlier this year, Alvarez talked about how younger players like receiver Jonathan Orr were having trouble adjusting to the speed of the college level. But Orr is now leading the team with an average of 18 yards a catch and four touchdowns.

"There is nothing like experience," Alvarez said.

One of the biggest questions left for the Badgers is when receiver Lee Evans will return.

Before the season, Evans singled out the Penn State game for his return from knee surgery after tearing ligaments in spring practice. He had dropped hints earlier that he could play against Arizona but did not.

Evans' addition would give Wisconsin another offensive threat. He was one of three finalists for the national Biletnikoff Award for receivers after catching 75 passes for 1,545 yards and nine touchdowns last season. The 1,545 yards receiving set a Big Ten record.

Alvarez said he couldn't say whether Evans will play against the Nittany Lions. He also said he couldn't guarantee Evans will be back at all this season until doctors give the receiver final clearance to play.

"I'm not asking questions. I'm waiting for answers," Alvarez said.

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