Looking to spice up Saturday's spring game and hopefully draw a bigger crowd, Wisconsin's first-team offense will compete against the first-team defense with the second and third string following suit. In years past, the first team offense and defense would go against the second team, resulting in a one-sided, uninteresting affair like last year's 33-11 result.
"I think it will give us a true assessment of where we are … and let guys compete," UW coach Bret Bielema said Monday. "I think it'll be a cleaner game. It'll be a little bit of a different twist that I will think will give us a better quality game and fans an outlook of hopefully one of the better teams in the league competing out there."
One of the unsaid reasons for the switch could be that the Wisconsin coaching staff wants to really put the pressure on the quarterback position, primarily Jon Budmayr. With Scott Tolzien headed to the NFL, the Badgers have a quarterback vacancy for the first time since the '09 season. Last year, Budmayr struggled in his first public showcase, finishing 12 of 25 84 yards and two interceptions, most of which came against the first team defense.
This spring will show Budmayr's moxie, considering he'll be working with a bevy of young receivers, many of whom have not started a game, let alone have a collegiate catch or played in a game yet. With junior Curt Phillips out, redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Brennan is expected to be the starting quarterback for the second team.
"If I am an established player, if I am a Louis Nzegwu or a Patrick Butrym, and I am in bed Friday night or getting ready Saturday morning knowing that I am going against twos, it's not as competitive as we want it to be," Bielema said. "I think we have enough guys, especially communication wise, that I would like to see ones working against ones to get a realistic picture of what can happen."
The game will cost fans $5 to attend and will be run by the UW School of Nursing. All proceeds from the ticket sales are to be used for the School of Nursing's capital campaign. Officials are trying to raise funds to build a new home for the school, and Bielema estimates that at least four thousand tickets have been presold. The weather outlook is favorable with highs in the mid 50s and only a 20 percent chance of rain.
Wisconsin will also hold a Badgers Sports Kids Fair before the game from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. that features a variety of sports simulations and a chance to meet Wisconsin student athletes. Admission to the fair is free.
"It's a pretty neat experience for one-on-one contact," Bielema said. "It's very rewarding not only for the kids that want to come, but for our players, as well."
Battles to Watch
Bielema highlighted the development of right tackles Casey Dehn and Robby Havenstein, who have received the majority of reps this spring with senior Josh Oglesby out and recovering from a knee injury. Bielema is hopeful that both Oglesby and Phillips can go through drills and be involved throughout summer conditioning.
Bielema also lauded the efforts of sophomore Ryan Groy, who was transition to center to take repetition before spring ball and had struggled with it until junior Peter Konz went down with an ankle injury. Since then, the snaps have been relatively clean.
"I think Ryan in the last week has had his best football in our program," Bielema said.
Defensively, Bielema expressed confidence that he has three safeties that can compete at that position at the Big Ten level. While the Badgers know they will have senior Aaron Henry in the fold, Saturday will be a big test for sophomore Shelton Johnson and Dezmen Southward to separate themselves from each other and for one of them to gain the upper hand heading into the summer.
"If you watched (Saturday's scrimmage), he had some very good plays, is very athletic and has got a better understanding," Bielema said of Southward. "Dez has probably played a little bit better as of late."
Under the Lights
Acknowledging there has been discussions, Bielema said no time has been set for when Nebraska plays its first Big Ten conference game at Camp Randall Stadium on Oct.1, but the opportunity exists for the conference to promote the historic meeting by having it being played in primetime.
"There has been talk about it," Bielema said. "Nothing has been confirmed. If I'm a person who watches Big Ten football, I know that is a pretty big game and pretty big exposure. I think if we're doing things right and Nebraska continues to (win) it will be a showcase game."
Since 1998, UW is 8-2 in home night games. UW has won 26 of its last 29 night games and will open the season with a night game, Thursday Sept. 1 against visiting Nevada-Las Vegas. Kickoff time is to be determined.
Changing the Rules
Just like every season, the NCAA rules committee has added some new rules and some tweaks for the 2011 football season, most notably the ability to run 10 seconds off the clock at the end of each half should a team commit a penalty that would have previously stopped the clock.
"Obviously that could be a very big thing," Bielema said. "Teams got a motion penalty that stopped the clock with about three seconds left (referring to last year's Music City Bowl between Tennessee and North Carolina) whereas now the game would be over and done with. During the summer I'm going to try to set up some game sequences to see how you would handle that exact situation on the clock."
The NCAA also instituted a rule that protects linemen from cut blocks below the waist, a rule that could benefit Wisconsin with the amount the Badgers run the ball and the frequent habit of defensive linemen trying to cut the UW offensive line's legs out.
"That's always a little bit scary, but now it's going to be illegal in a lot of ways on the field both offense and defense," Bielema said. "So It could really change the game."
Extra Points: Sophomore tight end Jacob Pedersen sprained his ankle in Saturday's scrimmage and is doubtful for the scrimmage … Senior linebacker Greg Russo is nursing a shoulder injury and his chances of making the team in the fall is up in the air, but Bielema did say he likes having the two-tour Iraq War solider around because of his energy … With the graduation of David Gilreath, the Badgers are looking at sophomore Jared Abbrederis to be the No.1 punt return with Aaron Henry and Kenzel Doe backing and a variety of players at kickoff return, including a healthy Nick Toon and freshman Jeff Lewis.