With that amount of offense, it's not a surprise that this week's Front Seven is offensive heavy, but give some credit to the first-team defense that has to reinstall a new defense on the sidelines to try and stymie the Pistol offense. Holding UNLV out of the end zone until the final minutes of the third quarter, the UW players won't consider it a success, but it should go down as one.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance, expectations and need — a wonderfully vague definition of valuable to justify just about any selection. Please vent debates and disagreements on the premium board, as it wasn't easy narrowing the last down to seven.
Last week's rankings in parentheses
1, Russell Wilson, QB (1) —One of the biggest debuts in recent Wisconsin memory did not disappoint. Wilson had some jitters early, missing both of his starting tight ends on routes over the middle, but was near perfect from that point forward. Finishing with 255 passing yards and two scores and 62 rushing yards and a score, Wilson's 317 yards of total offense was the highest total for a Wisconsin QB in his starting debut since stats starting being kept in 1951. His pass efficiency rating of 292.5 and 76.9 completion percentage are also the best for a Wisconsin QB who threw at least 10 passes in his starting debut and would have led the country and would have been the second-best single-game mark in UW history if he had the minimum of 15 attempts. The question is now, what next?
2, Montee Ball, RB (2) — Ball had four touchdowns against UNLV (three rushing, one receiving) and has scored 19 TDs in his last seven games. He has scored at least three TDs in four of his last five games and has 26 touchdowns in just 22 career games (only five career starts), numbers that are simply outstanding. Ball looked more swift, speed and agile on the field Thursday, showing that his decision to drop all that weight was a smart move.
3, James White, RB, (NR) — White had 181 all-purpose yards (64 rushing, 40 receiving and 77 on kickoff returns) vs. UNLV and seemed to do everything really well. White gives the Badgers a dynamic presence in the return game and another powerful weapon in the backfield.
4, Louis Nzegwu, DE (NR) — A week ago, we predicted that the pounds he added to his frame would make Nzegwu emerge as a legitimate pass rushing threat off the end for Wisconsin. What did he do in the opener? He registered his second career two-sack game and was one of just three Big Ten players to record two sacks in the opening weekend. Nzegwu is currently tied for fifth in the country in sacks, and showed in one game that the work he put in during the offseason has yielded some results.
5, Nick Toon, WR (6) — Toon moved up one spot in the rankings not because of his catches (although his 39-yard catch was impressive with a defender draped all over him), but because of his downfield blocking. On Wilson's 46-yard touchdown run, Toon was wide open on the play, but changed course when Wilson took off, sealing off his defender at the goal line to allow Wilson to go across the goal line untouched. It's that kind of unselfishness that Wisconsin needs if it wants to succeed.
6, Antonio Fenelus, CB (NR) —Yes, Fenelus was called for a questionable pass interference penalty on third down in the red zone, but the work the senior cornerback did against a stronger, bigger wide receiver was impressive. Fenelus held Phillip Payne to no catches in the first half and only was responsible for two of his four catches. Fenelus' showed his agility when on a corner fade route on third down, he timed his leap perfectly and swatted away the potential completion. Fenelus ended last season as one of the top corners in the conference, and looks to be headed back in that direction again.
7, Chris Borland, LB (6) — Borland gave himself a ‘C' grade following his UNLV game but considering it was his first game back in almost a year, and at a new position nonetheless, we'll cut him a little bit of slack, especially since he lead the team with seven tackles. Borland is only going to get better once he knocks the rust off and gets more comfortable at the middle linebacker position.
Others to Note
Wisconsin's offensive line – Russell Wilson wasn't sacked once (heck, he was barely touched) and Wisconsin's offense racked up 499 yards of offense. That sounds like a pretty good day.
FB Bradie Ewing – He's a team captain and a leader on all four special teams units, but his most memorable play as a 41-yard checkdown route that he took all the way to the one-foot line. Come on, Bielema, give the ball to your fullback when you are up 44-3!
K Kyle French – In his first collegiate game, French went 6-for-7 on extra points and made a 29-yard kick as time expired in the first half. With Welch gone for at least another week, the kicking position looks to be in good hands with French.
DE David Gilbert – With four tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble, Gilbert continues to make strides as a legitimate threat off the edge of the defensive line.
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