State of The Hogs

Early on in bowl camp, Reggie Herring was discussing the decision to elevate senior Desmond Sims to the starting spot as the strongside linebacker over gimpy Matt Hewitt.

Herring talked about needing a more physical tackler against Wisconsin's tough running game, featuring 242-pound tailback P.J. Hill.

"We have to tackle that big tailback and we'll need both Sims and Hewitt for this game," said Herring, the UA defensive coordinator. "Remember, someone is also going to have to cover No. 9 at some point in this game."

That would be sophomore tight end Travis Beckum, the Badgers' top receiver with 56 catches for 821 yards on the season.

Finding Beckum is the first priority and that isn't so simple. Beckum, a Parade All-American when he was the state of Wisconsin's top high school player two years ago, is listed as the Badgers' backup tight end. But he'll line up at fullback, H-back and in the slot as well as in a conventional tight end spot.

"The first part of the game will be about trying to figure out how they are going to use Beckum and how we are going to counter that," said Louis Campbell, the UA secondary coach. "First thing on every play, you got to find No. 9 and account for him.

"We'll have to evaluate what they are doing with him and then find a solution. They do something different in each game and they've had some time to make some adjustments for the bowl and it will probably be something new."

The solution could be Sims or Hewitt, if they are the strong linebacker. Or it could be Randy Kelly, the Hogs' senior safety who has lined up at both free and strong safety as Herring shuffled his schemes to fit offenses this season.

"I'll get a shot at him, for sure, sometime in the game," said Kelly. "He's big, fast and he runs great routes. I wouldn't say he's my assignment because I know Coach Herring will have different things for us in this game, just like other games. But I know I'll get a turn somewhere along the way."

Beckum, at 6-4, 219, is a little like Ben Cleveland in that he's probably not the traditional tight end size. But at 4.5 or better in the 40, he's faster than Cleveland.

"Yes, he runs very well," Campbell said. "They make it tough on you by moving him around and then they have that great running game with the power tailback.

"I'd say what they do in the passing game is not nearly as complex as what we've seen this past month, but they are tougher to cover because they make you account for the running game first. You are playing run, run, run and then they throw it and throw it well. You are using everything you have to stop the run and then they raise up and throw it."

That makes how the Hogs want to cover Beckum extremely tough. If Sims (or Hewitt) and Kelly are working hard to join in to gang tackle Hill, Beckum could be running free and that might be more dangerous than what Hill can do running the ball.

It's much like Arkansas utilizes Marcus Monk in play-action situations. Monk, a big split end, is a fierce blocker in Arkansas' sweeps and counters with both Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Like Beckum, Monk will fake a block, and release to a pattern and that can be devastating in play-action passing situations.

It makes what both defenses can do with their front four all the more important. If Jamal Anderson, Keith Jackson, Ernest Mitchell and Antwain Robinson can get penetration against the massive UW offensive line, the Hogs can control Beckum with their linebackers and safeties. If the Hogs get gobbled up by the UW line, it's going to be a long day for the defense.

"This game will be about getting off blocks," said Tracy Rocker, UA defensive line coach. "We've worked so hard on fundamentals the last two weeks. We've had a lot of middle drills. We've worked on the power and the iso plays. That's what we are going to see over and over from Wisconsin. We have to defeat blocks and make plays up front."

The good news is that the Hogs are probably quicker than most team's the Badgers have seen this year. That better be an advantage the Hogs can exploit. Last year in the Capital One Bowl, Auburn's small, quick defense was mashed by the Badgers in what turned into an easy victory.

"We know what happened in that game," Kelly said. "We know we have to be ready to play. We've worked very hard in our preparations. We think we have a good scheme and we think we'll play well."

It's an important game for Kelly, who hails from Palmetto, Fla., some 70 miles south of St. Petersburg, Fla., on the gulf coast. It's a two-hour drive to Orlando from his hometown and he has asked for close to 30 tickets for friends and relatives.

"I've got my mom, my sister, my aunties, cousins and a bunch of home boys coming," Kelly said. "It's a big game for me. I've had my mom at four or five games this year and it's always special when she's there. I play better knowing she is watching me in the stands. She raised me as a single parent and did a good job of keeping food on the table and a roof over our head for me and my older sister. I know it was hard for her and she was a hard worker for me and my sister. I want to play good for her."

More than relatives are going to be watching Kelly. He knows how he tackles Hill, some 50 pounds bigger, and the decisions he makes on when to shadow Beckum, will be featured on replay after replay for those watching at home.

"We've got to stop the running game first," Kelly said. "But we know they are going to look for (Beckum), too. We know we are playing a good offense and a good team.

"But we are excited to be going to this bowl. We've worked hard and we have prepared well for this team."

That goes double for Randy Kelly.



Hawgs Daily Top Stories