Someone might say that the reasons Wisconsin – which is out of the AP poll for the first time since 2009 - struggled on offense was because of former and recently terminated offensive line coach Mike Markuson wasn't doing his job. Fans know it all starts up front with the offensive line. If the offensive line fails to create holes for Montee Ball and James White and with no running game, it results in the passing game looking horrible. The line also didn't do a good enough job of protecting quarterback Danny O'Brien, who was sacked three times in the game.
Regardless of the reasons, the Badgers didn't play well enough to beat the Beavers this past Saturday. If the Badgers don't take a big step forward this coming Saturday against Utah State, Wisconsin might see a similar result.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week, and need. It was not easy determining who will be important in helping the Badgers who don't want to drop another game.
Last Weeks Rankings in Parentheses
1, The Captains, (NR) - If the team is complacent, it's not entirely the fault of the coaches. The team-elected captains need to step up. Right now, in my opinion, I don't think the captains are doing the best that they can. I don't think any of the captains are really vocal leaders and that's fine. But at the same time, somebody will have to step up and become more of a vocal leader because leading by example isn't working. One of the main reasons Montee Ball came back was to be a team captain and clearly the season has not gotten off to a great start for him. Players and fans know he's frustrated but he can't let it show. Clearly the offensive line had issues with how Markuson coached. They get to be coached by former graduate assistant Bart Miller. The offensive line will have to figure out how to get back on track and fast. In order for the line to get back on track it starts with captains Rick Wagner and Travis Frederick. The line can't have a bad week of practice considering Utah State is talented along the defensive line. If Wagner or Frederick sees one of their line mates slacking they need to get in their face.
Linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor both had good games but like Wagner and Frederick, they have to step up and be more vocal. The other captain on the defensive side of the football Shelton Johnson unfortunately broke his arm against the Beavers and he will not be able to play against Utah State. This means redshirt sophomore Michael Trotter will be making his first career start. Johnson will need to be able to help coach Trotter this coming week in practice to make sure he's prepared.
2, Danny O'Brien, QB (1) - O'Brien struggled on the road turning the ball over twice during the game and one time in the red zone. The only positive you can take away from O'Brien's game is that he was effective and finally got the Badgers offense into a rhythm late in the fourth quarter. But at the same time, he had trouble feeling when the pass rush was coming, something he needs to recognize so he doesn't turn the football over or he doesn't get sacked. O'Brien in his two games has struggled to drive the Badgers downfield and he has to improve in that area. Badgers fans saw two different quarterbacks in the first two games. The first O'Brien took care of the football and was effective. The second O'Brien turned the football over twice and just struggled with completing his throws. The question becomes which quarterback will Badger fans see this coming Saturday?
3, David Gilbert, DE (3)-It's an understatement saying that the Badgers are in a desperate need of a pass rush. Once again the Badgers failed to get any pressure on the Beavers quarterback, as the secondary registered the only sack on Sean Mannion. If the Badgers can get some sort of pass rush, it will take a lot of pressure off what is becoming a younger secondary. Until the Badgers generate some sort of pass rush, it's safe to assume the secondary will continue to struggle. Gilbert played OK (recording three tackles and one and a half tackle for loss), but he still needs to improve. Through two games, he hasn't lived up to what many fans are expecting out of him this coming year.
4, Jeff Duckworth, WR (NR) - With Jared Abbrederis possibly missing the game against Utah State, somebody from the receiver group has to step up. Even though Duckworth isn't a starter, he has the most experience of the receivers behind Abbrederis. Duckworth finished the game with seven catches for 55 yards. Expect Duckworth to be targeted by O'Brien throughout the game because Duckworth became O'Brien's go-to receiver late last Saturday. Duckworth may not be the most talented receiver on the team but fans know what he can do. If Duckworth can have a good game, hopefully he can help keep Utah State's defense honest so they don't put a lot of men in the box.
5, Jacob Pedersen, TE (NR) - Many fans thought Pedersen would get off to a fast start this coming season and possibly emerge as one of O'Brien's favorite targets. That has not been the case, as Pedersen has only caught six passes for 62 yards and one touchdown. If Abbrederis can't go, Pedersen, like Duckworth, will have to step up. If neither Duckworth nor Pedersen steps up in the passing game the offense will become one-dimensional.
6, Michael Trotter, SS (NR) - Trotter will be making his first career start as he'll replace injured senior captain Shelton Johnson. Trotter has seen action at the strong safety spot in the past but it has been in mop-up duty. When Trotter did enter the game against the Beavers, he did play well, recording the lone sack in the game. When Trotter signed his letter of intent in 2010, many fans figured he would have a successful career. Well Trotter's time is now to step up and to play well. Trotter will get plenty of game experience because Johnson is expected to be out for six weeks. He should be able to make the right calls through out the game, but the question is will he be able to trust his instincts and help prevent big plays that have plagued the Badgers so far this season?
7, James White, RB (NR) -If the wide receivers or Pedersen don't step up in the passing game then expect the tailbacks to become part of the passing game. Between White and Ball, White has a chance to be more effective in the passing game. Both tailbacks have good hands but White can use his shiftiness to make defenders miss and use his speed as well. Also if Ball is struggling to get into a rhythm running the football, it will be interesting to see if the coaches try White to see if he can get something going. White only carried the ball three times for 11 yards last week against the Beavers.
Others to Note
WR Kenzel Doe - Doe is probably the fastest receivers on the team but the Badgers haven't taken many shots downfield through two games. The Badgers will need somebody to stretch the field. The most likely candidate to do that is Doe.
RB Melvin Gordon - I'm sure through two games coach Bret Bielema would have thought Melvin Gordon would at least have 10 or more carries. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Gordon has yet to see the field as a running back but has returned one kickoff. If Ball and White are both struggling on Saturday, it's hard not to believe that Bielema might try Gordon to see what he can do. Bielema hyped Gordon through out fall camp, which got fans excited about the young tailback, but we have yet to see what he can truly bring with the football in his hands.
Warren Herring DT-Next to Gilbert, Herring probably has the best chance of being able to generate some sort of pass rush. Herring being a former defensive end needs to use his speed to his advantage so he can get off the ball quickly. With his speed he should be able to beat Utah States offensive lineman on a consistent basis.
Zac Matthias RG - With one start under his belt, Matthias now needs to take a step forward. If the Badgers want to run the football to the right side, he's going to have to get a better push so he can help create holes for the tailbacks. It will be interesting to see if Matthias takes to new interim offensive line coach Bart Miller better then he did with Markuson.
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