While last week's scrimmage was dominated by the defense, the offense, particularly the play of Melvin Gordon and the offense line, were the standouts. With Montee Ball (coach's decision) and James White (knee contusion) out for the scrimmage, Gordon was the heavy horse and again showed that he is going to be hard to keep off the field in the coming season.
"I was very happy today, offense in particular," said UW coach Bret Bielema. "I think they responded from last week. I thought they ran the ball really well. I thought Melvin really stood out, a couple guys made it happen."
That could be shown on what arguably could have been UW's best drive of the spring with its first-team offense. Late in practice with his offense backed up on the 2-yard line, Gordon broke a tackle at the 6-yard line and managed to accelerate to the 18.
On the next play, Gordon was the benefactor of a wall of offensive linemen and fullback Sherard Cadogan, clearing a huge gab on a sweep play that got the Badgers' offense to the 50-yard line. With Gordon sitting down for a play, Kyle Zuleger took a formation that utilized three tight ends on one side, creating a massive seam for him to run through. Throw in the fact that Zuleger shown some wheels, he sprinted 44 yards before being brought down at the 6-yard line.
When asked about that drive afterward, going 92 yards in three plays and finishing the drive with a touchdown pass, Bielema was understandably pleased with the progress he's seen at the end of week four.
"Matt (Canada) wanted to run the ball and establish a mentality there," said Bielema. "I thought the o-line did a nice job at the point of attack. On the flip side, Melvin can make an impact. Obviously Zul made a nice play, too.
"I thought that was good for our defense. We're kind of putting them at a disadvantage. We don't allow cut tackles on some of those bigger plays. I think if the guys were cutting, they'd be down, but we don't want to do that against our guys."
QB – Joe Brennan. RBs – Kyle Zuleger, Jeff Lewis. WRs – Marquis Mason, A.J. Jordan. TE – Austin Maly/Brock DeCicco. OL (from left to right) – Jon Coon, Zac Matthias, Dan Voltz, Kyle Costigan and Tyler Marz.
Stave Steps Up
After offensive coordinator Matt Canada has shown equal reps with the first-team offense between his two healthy quarterbacks, Stave, the redshirst freshman walk-on, was the man in charge of the first-team Saturday, taking all the reps with the unit.
Stave wasn't perfect, but helped his offense move down the field. He even completed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Cadogan, which unofficially was the first touchdown all spring in a move-the-ball segment.
"I thought Stave really has done a nice job this week controlling the huddle, making some good decisions down the field," said Bielema. "We thought he had a little more continuity with the ones … I think Stave has impressed me from day. His composure, his presence, he's got that little bit of ‘it' to him and does a nice job of just taking the big picture."
Stave's promotion wasn't an indication that he's won the job, but Brennan didn't do himself a lot of favors. In one drill, Brennan needed Jordan to turn from wide receiver to defense, as the redshirt freshman broke up a pass that looked intended for a defensive back. One play later, Brennan threw behind DeCicco, which meant he went 4-for-4 on his incompletions.
Brennan did bounce back in the move-the-ball segment, going 3-for-5 on his throws that included a beautiful 25-yard catch-and-run by Mason, who dragged a defender the last 10 yards.
"(We) wanted to stress to Joey to keep moving forward," said Bielema. "He's got to be consistent with his plays, his throws, his reads and his reaction. He has got a nice arm. He just has to be consistent."
First-team center Frederick didn't have any problems getting the ball to Stave, but the tandem of Brennan and Voltz had no problems putting the ball on the turf. Unofficially, the two had seven fumbles off exchange issues, a combination of either a bad snap or Brennan not leaving his hands underneath the freshman long enough.
"Dan has never played center, so I hate to (knock him)," said Bielema. "It was a little bit of combination … looked like a mixed bag."
As Bielema addressed the issue, both Brennan and Voltz were working on their connection with offensive line coach Mike Markuson looking on.
From the Infirmary
In addition to White being held out, Brian Wozniak (sports hernia) was held out of the scrimmage. Jordan Kohout started, but was forced to end his day early because of migraines. Darius Hillary and Jeff Lewis were scratched from the scrimmage after their hamstring flared up in warm-ups.
Etienne was the biggest injury of the scrimmage when his shoulder popped out of its socket in team drills. Bielema said early indications were that nothing was wrong structurally and the true freshman should hopefully be back early next week.
In the week leading up to the scrimmage, wide receiver coach Zach Azzanni expressed his desire to have someone in his group stand out and make some plays. Halfway through the scrimmage, Bielema needed to do the same, yelling that, ‘somebody (expletive) step up at the wide receiver position, (and) you'll play.' The comment drew chuckles from the media, but illustrated how far the drop off in consistency is after receiver Jared Abbrederis, who continues to be limited this spring.
Both Caputo and Southward delivered the best hits of scrimmage from a defensive perspective, going face-to-face with the ball carrier and delivering a loud blow that drew reaction from the sidelines. Although defensive coordinator Chris Ash likely will not be pleased with some of the big plays, he'll be pleased that both players wrapped up and drove the players down.
Muldoon continues to be a nice surprise off the defensive end position and will provide a needed lift as junior defensive end David Gilbert works back into the rotation in the fall. Matched up one-on-one with Pedersen, Muldoon outmuscled the Mackey Award semifinalist and forced Stave to make a quick through on a QB rollout. The pass was completed to Arneson, but the gain was limited because of Muldoon's quick burst.
With three running backs banged up, Zuleger – a redshirt junior from Appleton – was again a pleasant surprise in the backfield. A player UW had to recruit hard to walk on at the program, Zuleger grinded out some tough yardage between the tackles in addition to his 44-yard scamper. He'll be a great emergency back and a solid special teams player.
"I love Zul," said Bielema. "I thought he could be a good player and you could see it today. He took advantage of his opportunity."