During this morning two-plus hour work through, it was evident that Wisconsin's defense had the better intensity, flying to balls, creating turnovers and preventing either offense from finding any ounce of rhythm.
In Wisconsin's two-plus hour workout this evening, the offense was able to get back some credibility, thanks to a couple impressive drives led by Russell Wilson.
"I thought the offense was noticeable improved," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "I think the more Russell is around them, they get more and more comfortable with him in the huddle as far as checks on the line of scrimmage. Tonight they were very crisp."
QB: Russell Wilson, Joe Brennan
FB: Bradie Ewing
C: Peter Konz, Ryan Groy
SLB: Cameron Ontko
From the Infirmary
The only new injury was that Rob Havenstein did not practice Monday after rolling his ankle after Saturday's practice. In a walking boot, Havenstein should be back by early next week.
Fredrick wore a green no-contact jersey for the second straight day and Philip Welch returned from the walking wounded to kick for the first time in over a week.
"He looked real good," Bielema said. "He said that quad has been bothering him the last month coming into camp, so we decided to shut it down. He came out and kicked real well today. Kyle French kicked extremely well, so we have a good thing going there, and Alec Lerner will handle the kickoff responsibilities.
"He's just got a knack for doing those things," Bielema said of this morning's pick. "I think he's very caution when he is going down (to the ground) now."
Getting an Idea
Wisconsin is still over two weeks off from its opener against UNLV in primetime on September 1, but Bielema is starting to get a sense of what freshmen could potentially be contributors this fall. In last year's 2010 recruiting class, only three (Beau Allen, Manasseh Garner and James White) played as a true freshmen. That number may increase this season as the talent in Wisconsin's recruiting classes continues to improve.
"I think on the defensive side of the ball, there was a chance for (Michael) Caputo, one of the corners, maybe (Darius) Hillary might have a chance, but Terrance Floyd had a great day on scout. He can definitely cover people. At the linebacker position, probably (Derek) Landisch if any of the three freshmen. Nobody really at the defensive line. I think Jesse Hayes is going to be a real good football player.
"Offensively, I think Melvin (Gordon) more likely. Freddy Willis … here is a kid that got up for a drill and his bone is sticking up front his hand and he didn't flinch an inch. He was chomping at the bit to get back out here today. I think Fred or one of the freshmen wide receivers and maybe Sam Arneson at the tight end position."
Bielema also said he's getting close to determining who his returns are going to be.
"On punt returns, if we had to do it, would probably be (Abbrederis)," Bielema said. "I do like the fact that Kenzel … I like his shiftiness and what he can bring us. I just need to see him be more confidence catching the ball. On kick returns, I think James White. I like Borland being back there. We're trying to force some guys to see if they can do it. I think Melvin Gordon could maybe eventually step into that role. He seems pretty conscientious about it.
"For them to be the starting kick returner for the first snap of the college football season, that's just kind of an unfair thing to put a guy into."
There was no denying that Wisconsin was a productive unit inside the red zone last season. During the regular season, Wisconsin was second in the country in red zone touchdown percentage, converting 80.0 percent (52-of-65) of its trips inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns. During Big Ten play, the Badgers converted 34 of their 40 red zone trips into touchdowns (85.0 percent).
The unit is getting close, but there is still work to be done. Wilson and the first-team offense ran nine third-down plays inside the red zone and scored on five of them. On one of the plays (a third-and-7 from the 15) Wilson scrambled for the touchdown, but it wouldn't have happened at Ball not blown up a blitzing linebacker. The Badgers also ran two play-action passes to near perfection and hit either the tight end or fullback out in the flat.
"I think what Russell brings to the table, Paul (Chryst) is constantly molding what he can do," Bielema said. "What I get excited about is if the answer is not there, he has the ability to make something out of nothing.
"The difficult thing of defending him, in my opinion, is you've got running quarterbacks, but it's the quarterback in our system that has the ability to escape and make something happens, then when he's really dangerous. You basically have to spy somebody or really make sure you contain responsibility."
After a solid practice in the morning, Brennan went 3-for-5 on his third-down red zone conversions that included two touchdowns, including one 15-yard touchdown pass to Sherard Cadogan in which Brennan threw a perfectly placed pass.
Move the Ball
Wilson got the offense moving right away from his 20-yard line, hitting Abbrederis on a 20-yard strike to the middle of the field. Ball kept the momentum going, bursting through a hole on Wisconsin's makeshift right side of the offensive line of backups Groy and Dehn for an 8-yard gain.
"There are two guys that were there (at the start of) fall camp but both have played football," Bielema said. "The thing I like about this group overall is we have six o-linemen that have started games for us."
Wilson kept the sticks moving, when a breakdown in the secondary left Pedersen open for 24 yards along the left sideline. On first-and-10 from the 28, Wilson went back to Doe, who dropped the last past in red zone skelly drills, the freshman hauled in a throw for six. After White broke Ethan Hemer's ankles on a nasty cutback run, moving the chains to the 15-yard line, Wilson took off running when his receivers were fully covered. With Ball out on front, Wilson got down to the 7-yard line for a second-and-3.
Wisconsin's defense had a chance to stop the drive when Wilson tired to get the pass to Abbrederis on an inside slant. Not only was Fenelus in blanketing coverage, Johnson read the play almost perfectly, but got there just a step late and couldn't quite make the interception. That was costly when Duckworth hauled in a 5-yard pass to get Wisconsin down to the 2. The Badgers came up empty on their first attempt, a run through the left side, when O'Neill filled the gap and met White at the line of scrimmage.
"I really challenged him coming into this camp to play physical," Bielema said of O'Neill. "We tried him at safety and he never really learned to play with his hands that first year. I think it's very evident to me and (Dave Huxtable) when he is really playing physical and with his hands, he's really quick and has a big-play mentality."
Wilson was looking for Ewing on a play-action pass that was similar to his touchdown toss in the third down drill. With Ewing being covered this team, Wilson looked back to his left and saw Byrne wide open moving to the sideline. A perfectly executed jump pass gave Wilson and the first-team offense its best series of the day.
After Jean's aggressive defense led to an incompletion on a pass attempt to Cummins and an overthrow by Brennan set up a third-and-10 from the 20, Brennan had a perfect opportunity for a big gain with Frederick open 15 yards down field. Although he was breaking to the middle, Brennan threw the ball where Fredrick was, resulting in the pass being thrown behind the freshman and a third straight incompletion.
Resetting the drill, two Lewis runs got the Badgers to third-and-5 from the 25. Brennan couldn't convert, as his fourth straight incompletion resulting in his drill being over.
Giving Stave a chance, Jake Keefer almost ended practice immediately. Tailing the back coming out of the backfield, Keefer read the play but was a step slow, only getting his fingertips on the pass, resulting in an incompletion instead of an interception. Stave misfired on second down, missing the open receiver on a slant, but threw a perfect deep pass to Willis, who made his triumphant return from a dislocated thumb and got into a 57-yard foot race with the secondary before the play was whistled.
After that catch, it's no surprise that Stave went right back to Willis, who caught a pass after a three-step route for seven yards. After no gain on second down, Stave went back to fullback Derek Straus to move the chains, giving him a first down. Stave's best play was when he sold the naked bootleg that Frank Tamakloe and Landisch got fooled on, giving the offense an 8-yard gain and second-and-2 at the 4. Gordon finished practice by faking inside on a handoff, only to break to the outside and go untouched into the end zone.
Play of the Night
After the offense misconnected throughout the morning, Wilson got the group on the same page early during the first set of team drills. On a play-action pass, Wilson looked off the safety and delivered a perfect strike to Pedersen down the left sideline. Pedersen hauled in the catch with his left hand for a 30-yard gain before the whistle blew.
Extra Points: Curt Phillips, who is out his season rehabbing his torn ACL, made his first known appearance this fall, watching practice from the sidelines. He is going to have ACL surgery tomorrow … Wilson went 7-for-11 during red zone skele drills, throwing touchdown passed to Ball (2), Abbrederis and Traylor. His numbers would have been better if it weren't for a couple drops … Bielema says Wisconsin will definitely scrimmage Thursday if they get some players back, but wants his defense to tackle.