As a Badger Fan, this is just my evaluation of UW's offensive players at their given position as an introduction to PSU fans. This UW team overall is very young and is ranked 110 out of 117 per Phil Steele's rankings using a combination of a team's two deep depth chart and class year. That means there are only 7 programs at the beginning of the season using younger and or less experienced players.
The UW's offense coming into the PSU game returns its QB, TB, and entire OL, from last season, which have been the main ingredients to UW's bread and butter offense for the past decade. Last season UW was the first Big Ten team to produce two QBs who threw for more than 1,000 yards each, a TB who rushed for more than a 1,000 yards, and a WR with more than a 1,000 yards in receiving in the same season. All four of these players are returning, but WR Evans status to play is unknown vs. PSU do to an injury that occurred in the spring game. However, of the remaining four positions this year's, FB, TE, and two WRs, none have started for the Badgers prior to this season.
The QB position has #5 Brooks Bollinger (left), a 5th year Sr. who has started since the ‘99 season and led UW to a Rose Bowl victory in '99 vs. Stanford and another bowl victory vs. UCLA in '00. His overall record as a starter is 26 and 7 and some of those wins were not the prettiest. His strength in the past was his ability to move the chains and get first downs by either handing off to a back, throwing, and running the ball himself. He's not a gifted athlete, but a solid football player that happens to play QB. He knows his performances this year has been less than expected as far as stats, but he finds a way to get the job done. Maybe his biggest asset to the program is that he is smart and plays within his abilities as evident by the fact that he has thrown only one interception this season. Backing up the position is #19 Jim Sorgi, a 4th year Jr. who started games and came off the bench last year and was productive throwing over a 1,000 yards. Sorgi is a QB who has no fear of throwing deep. Last season Sorgi shared the QB duties with Bollinger, but that is not likely to occur this season while Bollinger is healthy and the game's outcome is still yet to be determined.
TB position returns #28 Anthony Davis (right, Andy Manis/AP), a 3rd year So. rushing for over 1,400 yards last season with nine games of a hundred yards or more as a redshirt freshman. Since last season he has added ten pounds to his 5'08 frame due to weight training and now is at 195lbs. Davis is the current leading rusher with 499yds and a 4.8 yd per carry average in 5 games. Getting some reps at TB is #30 Dwayne Smith, a true freshman who has been a pleasant surprise. #20 Jerome Pettus a 3rd year So. possesses the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make tacklers miss.
The FB position has #45 Matt Bernstein a redshirt Fr. and #37 Russ Kuhns a 5th year Sr. leading the way for the TB. Bernstein is listed as the starter at 6' 2" and 259lbs and is a force in short yardage and goal line situations. He has displayed the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Kuhns is solid and can step in having played a little at FB last year.
UW's OL could be the best ever at UW, which is saying something because I believe UW currently has more OL in the NFL than any other program. As a group this year however, they have not lived up to the pre-season hype, with mental mistakes resulting in penalties, regression in blocking technique, and failure to control the line of scrimmage. The OL is the biggest disappointment so far this season in their inability to either create lanes for our TB and or allowing time for our QB to set up in the pocket. They, as a group, are just not playing on the same page resulting in problems such as properly identifying and reacting to the DL schemes and blitz packages confronting them. Hopefully, their solid performance vs. UA last week is the turning point for the season.
#72 Al Johnson, a 5th year Sr. started every game last season at OC and is listed this preseason to be an All-American candidate. If he continues to play as he has so far the season, he could be the best OC in UW's history by season's end. Listed behind Johnson are two redshirt freshmen, #53 Donovan Raiola and #52 Jason Palermo. Both Raiola and Palermo are learning to play OC and OG. Raiola has already played all three positions. Raiola's older brother was an All-American OC at Nebraska and Palermo's father is UW's DL coach.
There are three solid OGs returning to the lineup. RG #50 Jonathon Clinkscale, a 3rd year So., started the last six games there and is versatile enough to backup OC. At LG is 3rd year So. #67 Dan Buenning who started the entire season there. He came into fall camp this year late because of an illness (mono), however, he recovered and played in the opener against FSU. Backing up both OGs position is #58 Kalvin Barrett, a 3rd year So. who started the first six games at RG last season before Clinkscale won the position outright. Due to Buenning's illness, Barrett started at LG and played very well in fall camp.
Both OT starters are 5th year seniors. #64 Ben Johnson is at LT and at RT is #56 Jason Jowers. Johnson was considered this preseason to be an All-American candidate, but has not lived up to the billing yet. Jowers just simply and consistently gets the job done. Behind Johnson is 3rd year So. #75 Morgan Davis, while #61 Mike Lorenz a 3rd year So. fills in behind Jowers. Both Davis and Lorenz played vs. WVU and Lorenz entered the game vs. NIU when Jowers was injured.
The starting TE is #81 Bob Docherty, a 2nd year So. who fills the spot left by graduating senior Mark Anelli. Docherty did start in two games last season that opened using a two TE set, but did not catch a pass. The TE position was productive in the passing game last year and it is Docherty's time to step it up which he has this season. Backing up or playing in a two TE set is #85 Anthony Paciotti, a 3rd year So. described as a good physical player along with another 3rd year So. #88 Mark Bell.
UW's WRs will start the season without their best player in #3 Lee Evans, a 4th year Sr. who broke the Big Ten record for receiving yardage in a single season with 1,545 yds. He is scheduled to return this week against PSU, but that is uncertain at this time. The likely starting WRs are #87 Darrin Charles a 6'06", a 2nd year So., and #9 Jonathon Orr, a 6'03" 2nd year Fr. Orr broke UW's single game receiving yardage for a freshman with seven catches for 150 yds vs. UNLV. Other WRs to play are #84 David Braun a 5th year Sr, #1 Byron Brown a 4th year Jr, true freshmen #25 Brandon Williams (right) who had 6 catches for 125 yards vs. WVU, and #8 Brandon White.
Coming into the season, the strengths of UW's offense should have been the QB, TB, and the OL. The fact of the matter is that this group has not played to the level expected by many. Opposing "D" may not be getting the credit they deserve by us UW fans or the absence of WR Evans may be playing a bigger roll than we want to believe. Either way, UW "O" has not controlled the game. The "O" needs to eliminate mental mistakes and establish a running game. UW's "O" game plan under coach BA is simple: 1) Eliminate mental mistakes and penalties, 2) no turnovers, and 3) move the chains and get first downs by running the ball. The "O" has failed on #1 and #3. The failure of #1 has caused UW to find itself in 3rd and long situations and as a result, leaving only a passing option to convert 3rd downs. The "O" could be in for a long night if they are not able run with the ball or execute a game plan that forces PSU out of playing 8 or 9 in the box.
The Badger's defense is only returning two players who started in the first half of last season, Jeff Mack at LB and Scott Starks (left) at DB. On "D", the starting DL consists of 1 senior, 1 junior and 2 sophomores. At LB, there are 2 juniors and 1 sophomore. In the secondary are 1senior and 3 sophomores. The "D" 2 deep depth chart totals 2 seniors, 7 juniors, 10 sophomores and 4 freshmen. What this year's "D" lacks in experience, it makes it up for with size and speed. The DTs are averaging 302 lbs. this year vs. 274 lbs. last season and the DEs are averaging 268 lbs. vs. 244 lbs. last season. The LB are clearly faster with our OLB of last season moving inside and being replaced on the outside by a player having safety speed. The other ILB was listed as a TB last year. The Secondary has a new coach this season who has taken over a group with limited experience and moved some players around allowing the best four, regardless of prior experience, to get on the field.
The graduation of Wendell Bryant at DT will be felt, but this season's group collectively should be better. The starting DL last season is gone and is replaced with a group of bigger athletes. UW's DTs have size, depth, and limited experience with starters #77 Anttaj Hawthorne, a 2nd year So., and #74 Jason Jefferson, a 3rd year So. Hawthorne started as a true freshman by the end of last season and Jefferson's game appears to have come together this spring by being listed as a starter. So far this season, both have played beyond their experience and are a huge part in UW's success in slowing down opponent's running game. Depth at this position consists of 4th year jr. #97 Nick Cochart and redshirt freshman #79 Mike Kleber. Both have contributed this year.
At DE, #90 Erasmus James, a 3rd year jr., is a burner who has run people down from behind when he is not putting pressure on the QB or getting sacks. He gained thirty pounds since last season and has kept his speed. #99 Jake Sprague is a 5th year sr. who has the experience, strength, and some speed to take advantage of any given situation occurring during a game. The backup, #98 Darius Jones, a former LB, at either DE should be seen as a solid asset to the DL with his combinations of size and speed. Also #92 Jonathan Welsh with his speed and increased size did take his game up a step this season. The DE players have made their presence known on the field and could be the strength of the "D."
The graduation of Nick Greisen at MLB is a huge loss as he led the Big Ten in tackles last year. Of the three LB positions, OLB, MLB, and ELB, the only LB who started last season and played meaningful minutes has been moved from starting OLB to MLB. Four of the other five LB, counting two deep, did not play last season at LB.
Starting at the MLB position is 4th year jr. #46 Jeff Mack. He is a better fit at MLB than OLB where he played last season. Mack is a different player at MLB compared with last season at OLB. His backups are #43 Kyle McCorrison, a 3rd year jr. who is a transfer from Northern Iowa and played great in the spring game, and true freshman #47 Elliot Goode.
At ELB is JUCO All-American 3rd year Jr. #12 Alex Lewis. Head coach Alvarez listed Lewis as a player who stood out during fall camp. He appears to have gained the understanding of the assignments and reads needed to properly react and make plays at ELB. Backing him up is #27 Brodrick Williams, a 4th year jr. who was listed as a TB last season and moved over to LB this spring. Williams started the first two games and will continue to see a lot of playing time.
At OLB is #34 Kareem Timbers, a 3rd year so. recruited to play in the secondary. Timbers has the speed to cover TE, a weak spot for UW last season. Timber was listed at ELB last season and rarely played but recorded a memorable sack against WKU. Timbers is all over the field this season and the more he plays the better he'll be at the position because he still finds himself taking bad angles and not making proper reads. His back up is true freshman #24 Lamarr Watkins who played TB and LB in high school.
The secondary is a combination of young studs with athletic ability and limited starting experience under a new position coach. At the two safeties positions we have two new starters. At FS will be #6 Brett Bell, a 2nd year So., and his back up #7 Ryan Aiello a 3rd year Jr. Bell, who is versatile and can also play DB, appears to have developed a greater understanding of the game and reading and reacting to the picture in front of him. Aiello has improved at being an enforcer in the running game.
At SS is #18 Jim Leonard, a walk-on that played special teams last season as a true freshman. At 5' 9" and 179lbs, he won the slam dunk contest within the football team recently. He's a great athletic talent with great instincts. He played great vs. FSU and was selected the Big Ten "D" player of the week. His has four interceptions this year. Backing up Leonard is #42 Robert Brooks, a 2nd year so, who also saw the field last season as a true freshman.
The starting DBs are #2 Scott Starks, a starter last season as a true freshman and #23 BJ Tucker, a three letterman speedster who has the skills but failed to apply them in a meaningful way. Starks displayed not only the skills of a good Big Ten player, but also the proper mental attitude needed as a true freshman playing the position, which is a short memory. This season he has just been solid in his play, covering and tackling. BJ Tucker reportedly during spring practice developed into the player the staff believed he could be. If Tucker applies his talent to the game, he could be a force against an opposing offense that likes to throw. Tucker had two picks in the last game and we Badger fans hope it is the start of good things to come with him. The 2nd team DBs are Chuckie Cowans, a 3rd year So. and true freshman #24 Levonne Rowan.
In five games, the defense has forced 16 turnovers, 8 fumbles and 8 interceptions. Verses PSU, the "D" needs to continue being a thief in order to give our "O" some time on the field to score points and wear down the Penn State "D." This year's front seven has shown a lot of growth so far this season, and because of its youth will likely getting much better as the season goes on. I see UW's "D" focusing on stopping the Penn State running game first with only their front 7. If successful, then the DL can apply pressure by getting to the Penn State QB. The secondary must avoid the simple error in allowing anyone to get behind them.