Hopefully the first few throws weren't foreshadowing of what is to come during the 2011 season. On the game's first three passes, Jon Budmayr overthrew his receiver on third down, Joe Brennan threw an interception to A.J. Fenton on second down and Budmayr under threw a pass that was intercepted by Devin Smith on first down.
Unofficially, the four quarterbacks that played went a combined 22 of 61 for 241 yards, zero touchdowns and four interceptions.
"The three guys that got the majority of the reps today aren't anywhere where we need them to be for us to be a competitive team in the fall," UW Coach Bret Bielema said. "They need to continue to move forward."
Budmayr's numbers were marginally better from last year's spring game (84 yards and two interceptions last year, 10 of 23 for 113 yards and one interception this year), but the sophomore knows for a fact that his whole understand of the game is far greater than it was at this point last year.
"Really getting comfortable playing out there and the speed of the game, getting a full understanding of our playbook and our plays, (it's helped me) continued to grow," Budmayr said. "You get guys open, you've got to get them the ball, and that's my job."
Of the three quarterbacks, Stave was the most impressive, but that's not saying too much considering he went 8 of 15 for 77 yards. Stave, who is hoping to get back to Whitnall High for his senior prom on May 14, has taken advantage of the 15 practices and roughly four meetings a week to help him adjust to a foreign offense to put him in position to possibly be the backup quarterback.
"I just want to keep getting better every day and compete with myself to keep improving," Stave said. "I just want to get better and smarter."
Brennan unofficially completed just 3 of 17 passes for 42 yards and while the last five weeks have really been the first time he's run the first-team offense, the redshirt freshman knows that this summer is going to be a vital one for his development.
"I was very frustrated with myself," Brennan said. "I left three big opportunities on the field. My wide receivers did a great job of getting open and it's my job to get the ball into their hands. I felt like I left a lot of plays out on the field today."
Fifth-year senior Nate Tice even got some reps, but his point-blank interception made it a quick day for him.
The whole group will need to step up, seeing as the only quarterback who has seen time in a meaningful situation will miss another full football season. After an exploratory surgery Friday revealed further damage to his surgically repaired right knee, Curt Phillips will miss the entire 2011 season.
"Basically his knee didn't heal like the way that we projected or the way he wanted," Bielema said. "He'll have to go in for another procedure at some point, probably after school is out and he'll be out for the season."
Bielema would not reveal whether or not Phillips tore the ACL in his right knee for a third time in just over a calendar year, but said he has "no chance" of contributing in 2011. Phillips will look for a sixth year of eligibility and move forward from there.
"Devastating," Budmayr said. "Not only do we lose such a great player on our team, but he's a close friend and you hate to see a close friend go through that one time, even twice and now he's going through that for a third time."
Without question, the quarterback race won't be decided until the fall. Without question, the biggest issue going forward is timing, which hopefully will be developed over what is shaping up to be an extremely important summer of workouts.
Not much going with the run game until the second quarter, when James White broke a run for 17 around the left side of the line, finally getting taken down by senior Aaron Henry at midfield. That was it in terms of excitement from the first half.
White had another spark in the second half, this time around the left side for 22 yards, getting brought down inside the 25-yard line. That rush was the longest play of the game, as White finished with a team-high 47 yards.
"I am excited because I think Zach Brown gives us three deep at running back that may be as good as we've had since I've been here," Bielema said.
Everyone included, Wisconsin rushed 52 times for 135 yards, which averages out to 2.6 yards per carry, but don't expect anyone to be hitting the panic meter.
"Last spring game, it was worse, it was terrible and we still went to the Rose Bowl," Ball said. "I feel that we're going to do the same thing last summer that we did this summer and we're going to carry forward."
It's still early, but the Badgers should feel confident in the athleticism of Manasseh Garner as the team's No.3 receiver. Originally recruited to Wisconsin as an H-back, Manasseh Garner's abilities made Bielema anxious to move him to defensive end and bring some speed off the end. Now with UW have depth at defensive end and lacking it at wide receiver, Garner has been moved back to the offensive side of the ball with success.
Garner caught four passes for 57 yards Saturday and Bielema said he'll be used as both a receiver and a tight end in the fall.
"He's really excels and continues to grow all spring," Bielema said. "Today was a culmination of what we've seen through the other 14 practices. Manasseh is a very talented football player and gifted athletically."
Garner was a talented two-way player at Brashear (PA) High, catching 83 passes for 1,267 yards and 21 touchdowns and having 149 tackles, 10 sacks and four interceptions in his career.
"I enjoyed it," Garner said. "I was looking forward to my first spring. It came kind of fast actually. Just being out there, getting the feel for it and just going with the flow."
Kenzel Doe missed one ball, but called it jitters considering the atmosphere. Doe responded with two catches for 19 yards and because of the shrinking depth at the position, could be a factor in the fall, especially with Marquis Mason missing this upcoming season with an ACL tear.
"I really feel like I have the opportunity," Doe said. "If I keep working hard, keep catching the ball, being consistent each practice, I feel like I have a real good chance being in the rotation in the fall."
Chase Hammond had a golden opportunity for a 15-yard grab on third down, but the ball scooted through his hands. Sophomore Jared Abbrederis grabbed two passes for 40 yards and commented that this summer will be key for the group in working on timing and chemistry with the quarterbacks.
"We didn't bring it as much as we should of (today) … (but) summer is huge because we have so much time and our legs are going to be fresh," Abbrederis said. "Timing is going to be huge. Looking back at last year's spring game, we moved the ball a little better (last year), but it wasn't ones against ones like it was there. This summer is about being consistent."
From the naked eye, it was another strong performance by Wisconsin's offensive line going against a very talented front seven from Wisconsin. The Badgers look to be set with left tackle Ricky Wagner, left guard Travis Frederick, center Peter Konz (when healthy), right guard Kevin Zeitler and now have insurance should senior Josh Oglesby not be able to fully recover from knee surgery, as right tackle Robby Havenstein has been a consistent player at that position over the last couple weeks.
Defensively, Brendan Kelly was the most active of the defensive lineman during the spring game (finishing with six tackles), a good thing seeing that he hasn't played a down in a season and a half. David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu were also active, as both players finished with 2.5 TFLs and one sack.
"(Those guys) could give us a really nice rotation for us at the defensive end," Bielema said. "I thought Charlie (Partridge) has done a nice job getting our guys to convert run-pass really well at the inside position. That was showing up today and getting guys out of the pocket."
Once having a lack of depth, this spring was a huge benefit to new linebackers coach Dave Huxtable, who now has a wealth of talent as his disposal once middle linebackers Ethan Armstrong and Chris Borland return from injuries.
Redshirt freshman Marcus Trotter was again all over the field. He made six tackles and registered a forced fumble when he broke through a gap on the right side of the line and knocked the ball cleanly out of Budmayr's hands.
"I feel like we came out very hungry," Trotter said of the defense. "When (they) put the football down, we're going to beat you. That's our philosophy and I think we came in with the right attitude."
A.J. Fenton delivered the play of the game when he deflected a Brennan pass with his right hand and dove backwards to intercept the ball early in the first quarter. Conor O'Neill, who now estimates to have added about 17 pounds to his frame since last fall, made plenty of athletic plays and finished with six tackles.
Junior linebacker Mike Taylor finished a solid spring with five tackles, as UW looks to have a strong front seven.
With three seniors returning on the defensive side of the ball, Wisconsin has some playmakers, which both Devin Smith and Aaron Henry proved Saturday. Smith picked off Budmayr on a diving play and Henry notched five tackles, continuing to push himself as the vocal leader of the UW defense.
Junior cornerback Marcus Cromartie was whistled for two pass interference penalties, including a deep pass on Kenzel Doe on third-and-5. Cromartie did make up for the play later, breaking up a third-and-six pass intended for Jeff Duckworth in the end zone.
Josh Peprah made an outstanding play coming up in rush coverage. On third-and-one, Peprah read his keys and hit Lewis right as the running back was about to turn the corner, driving him back for no gain. UW punted on the next play after getting its fourth-down conversion nullified with an illegal procedure penalty.
"I was really concerned about the safety position, but Shelton Johnson, Aaron Henry and Dezmen Southward are three guys who can really give us some ability that I didn't know was going to be there," Bielema said.
Too bad the NCAA doesn't do rapid-fire field goals because Philip Welch would be automatic for Wisconsin. After missing all three of his field goals during the game, Welch made rapid fire kicks of 28, 33, 43 and 58 during the first session and 27, 33, 42 and 61 yards in the second set.
"He's got to be able to handle the pressure, be consistent where we are at and I think he's got one of the stronger legs I've been around," Bielema said. "He's got to learn to be accurate with it and going into his senior year, it'll be important for him to do so."
Redshirt sophomore Alec Lerner made kicks of 33, 35 and 36, but misses a 43-yard kick in the rapid fire and a 35-yard boot during the game. Kyle French, a redshirt freshman kicker, makes his first field goal on the Camp Randall turf (he missed one in the WIAA Division 1 state title game two years ago) from 44 yards, the only actual score of the game. French made rapid fire kicks of 23 and 33 yards.
There were no kickoffs and no punt returns, but Abbrederis and Doe didn't bobble any of the punts off Brad Nortman's leg. There were a lot of them too, as Nortman punted 12 times and had a 38-yard average with a long of 45. Nortman was so overworked that Bielema put in Borland for a punt, which went 32 yards in the fourth quarterback.
"He's really done a nice job all spring with the pooches," Bielema said of Nortman.
Dezmen Southward had a chance to down a punt at the one-yard line, but the kick went right through the five-hole, a summation of an uninspiring day from a fan's perspective.