MADISON - It had been teased that senior Tanner McEvoy would be involved in some aspect of the offense but onlookers had yet to see the 6-6, 222-pound prospect do any in-practice work at anything other than safety. That changed Friday.
McEvoy did his usual work with the defense during Wisconsin’s 11th spring practice of the season but finally was integrated into team drills with the second team offense. He did not disappoint. McEvoy caught a pair of touchdown passes in the red zone, showing a good deal of skill in his route and proving that he is a mismatch problem.
The first touchdown was during 7-on-7 drills when McEvoy took advantage of single coverage (and his height) for an easy touchdown. On his first rep of red zone team drills, McEvoy faked to the sideline and cut back inside, gaining a step on senior cornerback Terrance Floyd and hauling in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Bart Houston.
“I’m trying to get a feel for both positions,” McEvoy said earlier this spring. “Obviously safety I’ve been doing that more these first few practices, but I’m sure as spring ball goes on there will be more and more switching up, at least that’s what I think. I just have to learn as much as I can. I have a lot of time before anything actually counts, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Wide receiver isn’t a completely foreign position for McEvoy. As a high school junior, caught 35 passes for 550 yards and three touchdowns at the position.
No Problem for Houston
Still a likely backup heading into the season, Houston was on point during team drills after shaking off an ugly interception in 7-on-7 drills. After the first two plays of his first series went for only two yards, Houston connected with true freshman tight end Kyle Penniston for a 39-yard pass – the longest of the day for any quarterback.
Houston also hit sophomore Krenwick Sanders for nine yards and a first down and hit Troy Fumagalli for a 14-yard touchdown, although linebacker Jack Cichy could make a case for a sack. On two drives, Houston was 6-for-7 for 79 yards, unofficially, with two touchdowns.
Stave went 3-for-6 in 7-on-7 drills with the best play of the drills coming courtesy of Jazz Peavy. The sophomore receiver got a step on two receivers and caught the pass at its high point and got a foot down before stepping out of bounds. Stave put the pass in the right spot.
Alex Hornibrook went 2-for-4 but one of his misses was a hanging throw that made for a perfect interception for Sojourn Shelton. T.J. Reynard also made a nice read on a route to register a pass breakup.
D.J. Gillins went 3-for-4 and Houston went 2-for-4, but the redshirt junior telegraphed a pass to the flat that Shelton easily read and intercepted for a pick-six.
During red zone 7-on-7 drills, Stave had the touchdown to McEvoy, a potential touchdown that was dropped by tight end Austin Traylor and had Shelton drop a potential interception. Houston also went 1-for-3 on his drills, throwing a touchdown to Reggie Love on a post route and having George Rushing drop a pass.
Stave’s red zone series started off productive with a seven-yard completion to Alex Erickson and a seven-yard run by Corey Clement to move the chains. The drive stalled from there. After Alex James registered a pass breakup at the line of scrimmage and the defense held Clement to no gain, T.J. Edwards registered a pass breakup from third-and-goal from the 11. Andrew Endicott cashed in the drive with a 30-yard field goal.
“There’s a lot of new pieces (to the defense) but what has been great in having the same defense is we’re pretty good with communication,” said senior defensive end Jake Keefer. “We’re communicating pretty good with calls. We’re familiar with new installs, so that’s been huge to be on the same page. We know what our job is to execute. Guys can just cut it loose, so that’s been nice this spring. Guys aren’t worried about making mistakes. Guys are just worried about making a play.”
11-on-11 Full Field
Stave had four drives with the offense that yielded mixed results. On his first series, after back-to-back passes to Erickson for 22 and 18 yards, the defense stepped up on three straight plays: Michael Caputo had a one-yard tackle for loss, the defense held Dare Ogunbowale to only a two-yard pickup and Vince Biegel registered a third down sack. If it wasn’t for the sack, Shelton would have had his third pick.
Stave’s second drive was extended with a 10-yard pass on third down to Traylor, who showed good concentration despite Shelton coming in for a near pick. Stave followed that with a 16-yard completion to get further into the defense’s territory, but a two-yard pass, a Clement run for no gain and a Leon Jacobs sack on third-and-long forced a punt.
Stave’s third drive was third-and-out after Ogunbowale gained one yard on two carries and sack on third down negated a nice leaping on-handed catch by Love. Given a short field on his fourth drive, Stave bounced back from a Love drop to hit Traylor on a tumbling touchdown that was just out of the reach of Edwards.
“We’re getting better and better each day, to be honest,” said Edwards of the starting front seven. “At first we just installed our different coverages and practiced it that same day (last week), so it was still a little gray for us as backers. Now I think we look really good as a defense.”
Gillins recovered from a first-down sack to hit Sanders for eight yards on third-and-7 to move the chains but couldn’t save the offense twice. After tailback Serge Trezy’s first-down carry went for minus-2 yards, a low snap (the unofficial third of the day) caused a mismatch in timing and cornerback Natrell Jamerson to register an interception on the sidelines.
Hornibrook had a nice start to his series by completing a 19-yard pass to tailback Taiwan Deal by rolling out to his left and a four-yard pass to Deal by rolling out to the right. However, the third play of the drive started with another fumbled snap, the ball recovered by nose tackle Jeremy Patterson and a turnover on downs.