Big Ten Spring Football Review: Wisconsin

Year two under Gary Andersen will see a lot of change on defense, but what about the offense? Tanner McEvoy made a lot of waves in the spring and could unseat returning starter Joel Stave.

Quick 2013 review:

Wisconsin spent much of the first 12 weeks of the 2013 season considered perhaps the best two-loss team in the country thanks to the bizarre ending at Arizona State on Sept. 13 and a seven-point setback two weeks later at Ohio State, but the Badgers ended the year with a thud. First they were upset by Penn State 31-24 in the regular season finale, then they fell by 10 points to No. 8 South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. In both games, a secondary that ranked in the top 20 nationally in both yards and passing efficiency was lit up as the Nittany Lions and Gamecocks combined for 660 yards. Overall, that veteran defense ranked No. 7 nationally and third in the Big Ten in yards allowed and fifth and second, respectfully, against the run while finishing sixth and second in points allowed (16.3 per game). The Badgers did that without generating many tackles for loss and sporting only a so-so pass rush, but they were very good on third downs. Even under new leadership, the offense remained a run-first attack, and almost no one was better at running the ball than Wisconsin.

As far as Football Outsiders rankings, Wisconsin came in ninth nationally and trailed only Michigan State in the Big Ten in terms of overall S&P+ (a metric that measures overall efficiency combined with explosiveness). The advanced numbers don't stray too far from the traditional ones in any one category, though they show and offense not surprisingly better on standard downs (16th) than passing downs (34th). The defense was eighth nationally in drive efficiency and 16th in play efficiency with similar numbers to the offense in terms of standard downs (14th) and passing downs (36th).

Spring game recap:

Austin Ramesh led all players with 71 rushing yards on 12 carries as the Cardinal beat the White 6-0 in an abbreviated spring game that followed a period of scrimmaging between the offense and defense during which a score was not kept. Cardinal quarterback Tanner McEvoy completed 4 of 10 passes for 55 yards while Jazz Peavy led all players with 30 yards receiving. Jack Russell provided all the scoring with a pair of field goals. He also missed one. Cornerback Shelton Sojourn had a pair of tackles and broke up two passes for the Cardinal defense while Austin Hudson of the White squad led all tacklers with five stops. Jesse Hayes of the White had a sack. Returning standouts such as quarterback Joel Stave and running backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement did not take part in the scoring part of the contest.

Issues addressed:

Stave missed the last week of spring with a sore shoulder, and McEvoy may have created a quarterback controversy in his absence.

"I would say we are exactly where we started spring, but now Tanner has some reps," head coach Gary Andersen said. "When we walked into spring, it was more of a situation to where I thought Tanner deserved that opportunity and he wanted that opportunity, and he saw himself as a quarterback, and I think he's proven through spring that he's continually gotten better. He had a nice day today. He threw the ball well. He showed you what he can do with his feet.

"There was a lot of the offense that you have with an athletic quarterback that we'll have with an athletic quarterback that did not show itself today. That's by design. And there's a lot of things that you can do to open it up if that's the direction, but we haven't spent that time in spring football on that stuff except for the last, you know, four or five practices. No need to work with that today. But I'm proud of both quarterbacks. I'm proud of Joel. Joel fought like crazy. He's got an injury, and it's hard to deal with and we expect him to be better. He's got a great attitude, so does Tanner, and it will be a fight."

While Stave has the experience of 19 career starts, he was inconsistent at times last season as he threw 22 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. He is a big, strong drop-back passer while McEvoy brings the ability to hurt teams with his legs.

Whoever is the quarterback when the Badgers open the season against LSU, he figures to benefit greatly from the return of Gordon and four starting offensive linemen.

The other side of the ball is a different story, though, as the defense lost eight starters to graduation, including the entire front seven.

Among the players who figures to be a key up front is Warren Herring, a senior who was noticeable in spot duty inside last season and brings the ability to play nose guard or end in the Badgers' 3-4 scheme, where Bryce Gilbert or Arthur Goldberg could play the nose with Conrad Zagzebski joining Herring at end.

Derek Landisch brings some experience at one inside linebacker spot, and the same can be said of Vince Biegel on the outside. Hayes, a three-star prospect from Cincinnati Moeller, hopes to secure his first meaningful playing time at outside linebacker, where Sherard Cadogan is also in the mix.

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