MADISON - Wisconsin secondary coach Daronte Jones recited one of the biggest themes of any college spring football scrimmage when asked to evaluate spring practice No.12 for the Badgers: It’s never as good as it looks and it’s never as bad as it looks.
So looking at the 26 full-contact series the Badgers went through in a scrimmage setting should be taken with a grain of salt, but there were plenty of things that the coaching staff can look at and get excited about.
Most of the rave reviews Sunday afternoon came from the defensive side of the ball, as Wisconsin’s top two defenses pressured the quarterbacks and the tailbacks early and often. All that pressure led to the offense only scoring on only 26.9 percent of its drives (7 for 26) and struggled moving the ball on sustained drives.
UW’s defense unofficially registered nine sacks, three interceptions and four pass breakups (a handful of which were dropped interceptions). Junior cornerback Sojourn Shelton continued with his strong camp with one of the three interceptions (a pick off quarterback Joel Stave that he returns 36 yards to midfield) and a team-best two pass breakups.
“He’s playing with confidence, and that is good,” said Jones of Shelton. “He’s playing within his personality, which is good. That gives him some flexibility to know when to jump some balls and when not to. Better to do it now in practice than in a game, know what you can and can’t do. We encourage him to play aggressive.”
UW also got good defensive play from redshirt freshman T.J. Edwards, who is made major strides towards becoming a starter for the Badgers in the fall at inside linebacker. Edwards registered a sack and had an inception off quarterback Bart Houston.
“He’s playing well and put some consistent days together,” said defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said of Edwards. “There’s always been flashes with T.J. and the biggest improvement he’s made is reducing the negative plays, plays where he knew he should have been somewhere and recognizes right afterwards. Those have gone away. We’d like to be able to eliminate all of them but he’s getting excited. I’m excited about the program he’s making. I know he’s feeling more confident.”
With a rotation on the defensive line of players mixing and matching with one another, Wisconsin’s defense held UW tailbacks and quarterbacks to no gain or negative yards on 14 of 47 rushing plays, unofficially. UW’s front is trying to replace two senior starters in Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski and got some good production from senior James Adeyanju (two sacks) and pressures from others.
“Right now we have a corps of guys adapt at playing the run, a corps of guys who can rush the passer when needed and then we’re trying to find guys who can do both,” said Aranda. “That’s where the mixing and matching is. Today was the first day where the quarterback was live, so we struggled tackling the quarterback.”
More specifically, UW struggled tackling D.J. Gillins, who was one of offense’s big bright spots. The redshirt freshman went 5-for-8 on his five series for 66 yards and two touchdowns. He capped a seven-play, 45-yard scoring drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Taiwan Deal and a two-play, 20-yard scoring drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to receiver Rob Wheelwright, who was practicing for the first time in more than a week.
He also frustrated defenders with a number of scramble plays that generated plenty of oohs and aahs from the players, including scrambles of 20 and 14 yards that could have both easily gone for losses. He finished with 64 yards on six carries.
“I just like the way he compete,” said offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph of Gillins. “I think it’s starting to slow down a little bit for him, so he’s getting the words out, the verbage and the calls. As he goes on through the spring you can see that emerge. That’s what you are hoping to see.”
Gillins would have been the team’s leading rusher if not for a stellar afternoon from junior tailback Corey Clement. On only 10 carries, Clement finished unofficially with 95 yards and two touchdowns, one of which started a red-zone drill. It was one of three runs over 20 yards for Clement, who had a 30-yard scamper around the left end of the line that was the longest run of the day.
“His talent shows off when he’s scrimmaging or goes live,” said running back coach John Settle of Clement. “During the week guys think they made that tackle. Today you see that those wouldn’t have been tackles. I love his big-play ability.”
It’s not an area of major concern yet, especially since Stave mentioned earlier this week that UW was working on a different cadence for snaps, but 11 penalties certainly was eye opening. Among them, nine false start penalties (including seven by the offensive line), an offensive facemask penalty and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that happened when UW’s offense advanced to the defense’s 10-yard line.
“There was times where we lack a little bit thinking through mentally, all the details, the importance of not beating yourself assignment wise, pre-snap penalties and ball security,” said Rudolph. “If we’re going to be successful, you’ve got to bring that to the table.”
The offense wasn’t alone in the miscues. The secondary was flagged for two holding penalties, a pass interference penalty on senior cornerback Terrance Floyd and one penalty for too many men on the field when sophomore Natrell Jamerson couldn’t get off the playing surface in time.
Play of the Day
Junior quarterback Bart Houston threaded a pass to Alex Erickson between two defenders that would have gone for approximately 20 yards, but the senior receiver broke from the pack and out ran safety Tanner McEvoy for a 54-yard touchdown.
Rudolph on the offensive line
“Today they worked from the standpoint (of) I didn’t see guys waiting to see how long they were going to go. They worked … Defensively they do a great job of stressing you right down to the last minute, but then you got to make those decisions at the last minute and execute. It was great for us. Every rep we get is ultra-valuable. We need to have our best week this last week.”
7 plays, 45 yards, Gillins 6-yard TD to Deal
2 plays, 20 yards, Gillins 15-yard TD to Wheelwright
7 plays, 80 yards, Stave 9-yard pass to McEvoy
1 play, 20 yards, Clement 20-yard run
3 plays, 80 yards, Houston 56-yard TD to Erickson
Andrew Endicott had a 37-yard FG
Jack Russell had a 34-yard FG
Joel Stave (seven series with ones) 11-for-18 for 117 yards, one touchdown, one interception; Bart Houston (seven series with ones) 6-for-10 for 113 yards, one touchdown, one interception; D.J. Gillins (five series with twos) 5-for-8 for 66 yards, two touchdowns, one interception; Alex Hornibrook (five series with twos) 2-for-8 for 14 yards; Austin Kafentzis (two series with twos and threes) 2-for-4 for 22 yards.
Erickson 5 for 95 yards, one touchdowns; Krenwick Sanders 5 for 79; Austin Traylor 2 for 51; Ogunbowale 4 for 40; Rob Wheelwright 1 for 15; Reggie Love 2 for 14; Clement 2 for 12, Tanner McEvoy 1 for 9, touchdown; Deal 1 for 6, touchdown; Kyle Penniston 1 for 6; Jazz Peavy 1 for 5; Trezy 1 for 1; Derek Watt 1 for 0.
Interception: Edwards, Lubern Figaro, Shelton
Pass breakups: Shelton (2), Figaro, Jamerson
Extra Points: The scrimmage started with Jamerson receiving a kickoff and showing he’s got enough speed to handle the job. The sophomore found a crease and exploded into the open field. Had the whistle not blown, it would have been a 92-yard touchdown … In 7-on-7, Stave went 4-for-4, Gillins went 2-for-4, Houston went 0-for-1 and Hornibrook went 1-for-2, but his miss turned into an interception on a beautiful leaping grab by safety Michael Caputo over the middle … Thirteen days after leading Wisconsin to a second-place finish in the NCAA tournament, Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan addressed the football team before the start of practice. After the team broke for individual drills, Ryan spent a good 15 minutes talking to one of the officials. He never stops … UW returns to practice Wednesday night.