Created:Tuesday, September 1, 2009 10:38 p.m.CDT
Updated:Wednesday, September 2, 2009 2:39 p.m.CDT

Big Badgers 1st test of season

Northern Illinois defensive tackle D.J. Pirkle (96) looks on at practice on Tuesday at Huskie Stadium. (Beck Diefenbach -

DeKALB – Wisconsin's reputation as a big, physical team dominated Tuesday's news conference with Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill, and with good reason.

"Physically, they'll be better than anybody we play," Kill said.

With the season-opener between the two now finally on the horizon after a month of practices, Kill and the NIU players were excited to talk about a game rather than the grind of camp. And with the Badgers the first team on the schedule, that meant talking about eight-man fronts and power rushes, even with Wisconsin starting to incorporate more of the spread offense.

"They're going to do what they do," Kill said. "They're big up front. They run well. They're going to get eight, nine in the box on you. They're going to run the football and about the time you fall asleep they're going to hit you with the play-action pass."

Junior defensive tackle D.J. Pirkle said the key to stopping the Badgers' run game, led by 6-foot-1, 248-pound sophomore running back John Clay, is to stay low.

"Their big guys are all 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5, so we've got to stay low and eat up blockers so Cory [Hanson] and the linebackers can come down and fill hard and do what they've got to do," Pirkle said.

Situations like the one Pirkle described are where the Huskies hope their work in their second summer with strength and conditioning coach Eric Klein pays off on Saturday.

"I think a big key [is], can our strength handle their strength?" Kill said. "Are we going to be able to use our strength and our quickness to handle their big guys up front? That's the determining factor of the whole game."

Had to ask: This past October, NIU and Wisconsin made significant changes to their schedules with this year's game, which was scheduled to be played in DeKalb, being moved to Wisconsin in exchange for the two teams to meet at Soldier Field in 2011, plus NIU receiving an extra $500,000 to play in Wisconsin this season.

Linebacker Cory Hanson was asked if he would rather have played the Badgers in DeKalb.

"Yeah, I would have loved to play at home," Hanson said. "I would have loved to bring a Big Ten [team] home to Huskie Stadium. That would be great for me."

Ready to return: The depth chart was released Sunday with redshirt freshman cornerback Tommy Davis on top at punt and kick returner (he'll return kickoffs with safety David Bryant) after a long battle in camp with running back Me'co Brown, who is listed with Davis at punt returner, as well as wide receivers Perez Ashford and Martel Moore and linebacker John Tranchitella.

"He made plays, now we've got to see it on Saturdays," Kill said. "Tommy's a confident kid. He's worked his tail end off. I wasn't going to redshirt him last year but decided to do it and that was a smart move now. He can go now."

Quotable I: "You can't prepare for ghosts." – Kill on how a team can game plan only for so much.

Quotable II: Kill again, this time on the Wildcat package that's become popular in college football and the NFL. "The Wildcat package, which was being run 20 years ago and they put a new name on it and it's nothing new, but somebody acts like they invented football."

Will NIU football win the MAC this season?