Spring Practice Report: April 26

Going though red zone, third down and the two-minute drill, Wisconsin football put its finishing touches on the practice portion of its schedule with a two-hour workout Thursday.

MADISON - In the final tune-up for Saturday's 4 p.m. spring game, Wisconsin worked in full pads for nearly two hours on Thursday, going through almost every scenario the two squads will face in 48 hours with approximately 10,000 fans in the stands.

Third Down Notes

Overall in various third-down lengths, the Wisconsin first-team offense moved the chains on three of eight attempts with Joel Stave under center and went two for seven when he attempted a pass. A few of those failed conversions fall on the QB (he had Isaiah Williams wide opened with nobody within 10 yards of him but failed to make the right throw), a couple because of good coverage and one because of a nasty-looking drop by redshirt freshman Fred Willis.

Stave put his third-and-6 pass attempt in a perfect spot for Willis – who was receiving one of his few team reps this spring. Willis gained separation from the defense, but simply dropped the ball after hitting him right in the hands. That wasn't as bad as what followed, as UW coach Bret Bielema was irate following the lapse in concentration.

"I don't care how fast you are, you'll never (expletive) play," said Bielema, who yelled at Willis for a good minute as Willis jogged back to the sideline and stood there. "It's third down, you are wide open and the ball is on the ground."

When the drill was over, Willis made a nice acrobatic catch in one-on-one competition but his head coach was unfortunately at the other end of the field.

When Joe Brennan and the second-team offense was on the field, the Badgers moved the chains on four of their five opportunities and Brennan got a first down in two of his three passing opportunities. Brennan connected with Brock DeCicco on third-and-6 on a crossing route and utilized Melvin Gordon's speed on third-and-9, dumping the pass over the middle and watching the freshman go.

In addition to that play, Gordon continued to make plays. He took advantage of a misalignment by one of the linebackers to unleash a big run on third-and-2. He also used his speed on a toss sweep on third-and-4 to get to the corner and move the chains. Fans who come Saturday should keep their eyes fixated on the redshirt freshman.

7-on-7 Red Zone Notes

Bret Bielema made have raised a few eyebrows when he said the two-man safety combination of Shelton Johnson and Dezmen Southward has the potential to be the best in his tenure. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash doesn't share that sentiment … yet … but Southward made some positive strides with his pass defense.

After Sam Arneson out played him for a jump ball at the goal line, bringing down a Stave pass for a touchdown, Southward broke up a touchdown catch matched up with Jacob Pedersen and registered an interception off a deflection on back-to-back plays. Combine that with the steady play of senior Shelton Johnson, UW will have three seniors and Southward in the secondary.

"They've come tremendously far," Ash said of Johnson and Southward. "They both played last season, they've been around for a long time (and) they know the system. Those guys have been a great duo back there … I like where they are at right now. Those guys are really feeding off each other."

Stave completed his first three passes of the drills, including the completion to Arneson, but then missed on his next three throws. He threw one pass slightly high, resulting in the interception, one into the eighth row when it appeared he wasn't trying to throw the ball away and spiked one at the feet of Ball. He finished the drill unofficially 4-for-7 with two touchdowns and one interception.

Brennan completed a short pass to Arneson, but overthrew Chase Hammond, was victimized by a pass breakup by Jameson Wright and saw Michael Trotter jump a tight end route after Brennan telegraphed the throw, resulting in an easy interception. Unofficially, Brennan went 1-for-6 in red-zone drills.

Team Notes

It's sounding like a broken record, but the Badgers' receivers have yet to string together good consistent catches. Chase Hammond caught a nicely throw pass by Stave in traffic for a 10-yard gain and then made a catch following a bootleg. Once Brennan went under center, he suffered a pair of drops. It apparently was contagious as Jeff Duckworth (who has had a very quiet spring) saw a pair of passes go off his hands. Brennan was victimized by two drops, but he did sail a throw well over Gordon's hands that gave Conor O'Neill an easy interception.

Brennan did rebound late in practice during the two-minute drill. After letting Gordon moved the chains on two straight runs, Brennan through a dart to Marquis Mason on a quick inside slant, which Mason held on to despite a good breakup attempt by Wright.

Also in the drill, Stave took advantage of a good move by Pedersen, gained separation from his defender, and delivered arguably his best thrown spiral of the day, resulting in a 20-yard gain. Stave also looked good running the play-action pass during the drill, executing a believable fake and getting a good block from fullback Sherard Cadogan to give his receiver a chance to make the play.

Stave did leave some plays on the field – throwing a pass off his back foot that caused the ball to float and be broken up, dodging a sure interception by Shelton Johnson and overthrew a pair of deep of passes despite his receivers having a step on their defenders – but had a good practice overall.

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