MADISON - If first-year Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst had his way, he would want another 15-20 practices for the Badgers football team. It’s not that things are going horribly wrong through the first 13 spring practices; it’s just that Chryst is having fun.
“I’ve enjoyed getting to know this team,” said Chryst, “and this is just the start of it.”
It’s part of the reason why Chryst practices the Badgers longer and harder than the expected end time of practices and why he continues to test them. Wednesday night could be considered the perfect example.
With temperatures in the mid 40s and despite a cushy, heated indoor practice facility a couple hundred yards away, Chryst had the offense and defense go through 22 series of team drills that saw minimal tackling and multiple big plays be registered by the defense.
“I thought the guys came out and worked, and I appreciate that,” said Chryst. “Every time you play, you’ve got stuff that guys are doing well, and they’ve got to continue to do that. And things that need to be cleaned up. Two more practices left and got to make the most of them.”
Chryst put Wisconsin in a variety of situations throughout the 22 series – two-minute drill, red zone, midfield, inside the 30 and inside the five. No matter the situation, Wisconsin’s defense continued to set the tone. The Badgers scored touchdowns on only three drives, although two come with asterisks.
Senior quarterback Joel Stave completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to receiver Reggie Love, but that came one play after defensive end Alec James stripped tailback Corey Clement of the football and recovered it and two plays after Stave was given a first down despite clearly being sacked by defensive end Chikwe Obasih and linebacker Vince Biegel.
One drive later, redshirt freshman quarterback D.J. Gillins completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Krenwick Sanders in the back of the end zone off a scramble, but it appeared as though Gillins crossed the line of scrimmage before attempting that pass.
Stave worked 11 series and finished 16-for-33 for approximately 172 yards and two interceptions. Both interceptions came courtesy of redshirt freshman inside linebacker T.J. Edwards, who continues to have a terrific spring camp.
On the first interception, Edwards jumped fullback Derek Watt on a checkdown route for a diving pick at the defense’s 20-yard line. Later he stopped a driving offense by picking off an ill-advised pass in the back of the end zone. Edwards also added a sack and plenty of pressures.
“I think T.J. has done a nice job, and I love the way he’s approached it,” said Chryst. “He’s done well, so that gives him some confidence, and I’d say he’s building on that. I like the way that he’s going about it. It’s important to him. Every snap, he’s wanting to grow, wanting to learn from him. You see him a little bit more comfortable in the situations … He certainly needs to keep going, but I like the way he’s progressed this spring.”
Backup quarterback Bart Houston had four drives and went 8-for-16 for 100 yards. The redshirt junior had the best offensive play of the day – throwing a perfect fade route that receiver Jazz Peazy caught over his shoulder with senior cornerback Terrance Floyd covering – and the best drive. Houston drove the offense 72 yards in nine plays but had to settle for a field goal when he couldn’t punch it in on third-and-goal from the three.
Gillins went 3-for-6 on his four drives for approximately 64 yards. He had a freshman moment when he was put in a first-and-goal on his own three and stepped accidently out of the end zone when he was blitzed by two defenders.
While his first pass went for a touchdown, Hornibrook missed on his next four passes and finished 2-for-7, including an interception by Garret Dooley on the true freshman’s third and final series. Fellow true freshman Austin Kafentzis did not participate.
In addition to the three turnovers and James’ unofficial strip recovery, Wisconsin’s defense forced another red zone turnover when Natrell Jamerson recovered Derek Straus’ fumble at the 10 (he likely could have returned it for a touchdown), didn’t give up a run over 20 yards twice held on two “fifth-and-one” situations after Chryst decided to give the offense one more opportunity to pick up the extra yard.
“We were going for sixth down,” he joked.
More Line Troubles
Already down four starters with three players graduated and Dan Voltz out with an ankle injury, the problems continued when senior left guard Ray Ball – UW’s most experienced reserve - left the field with an athletic trainer roughly an hour into practice after individual drills. He did not return.
When it came time for team drills, UW shifted junior right guard Walker Williams to left guard and has true freshman Jon Dietzen play left guard for the first half of the team drills and redshirt freshman Beau Benzschawel play for the second half.
“I don’t think we’re where we want to be certainly,” said Chryst of the line. “I think the one thing injuries do provide is opportunities, so there are a lot of guys who have gotten a lot of snaps and that’s always good. Maybe as much as any unit, the continuity is something that’s important there, and we haven’t gotten it.
“Hopefully guys have been exposed to some things, maybe even different positions, and I think that does end up as positives. That can give maybe a better understanding of the whole scheme and what you are trying to do, but certainly makes for moments that aren’t what we want to look like.”
Spring Game Set Up
Hoping for decent weather despite a questionable forecast, Chryst said Wisconsin’s players will all be on the same sideline and that the starters will go against the second string. It will consist of four 20-minute running quarters with some special guests.
“We’ve got a couple good guest coaches; Josh Gasser is going to coach one team and Duje Dukan is going to coach the other team,” said Chryst, referring to two now former members of the Wisconsin men’s basketball team. “We might have a few surprises up our sleeve, too. They’re working on it right now. That’s why they weren’t at practice. They’ll be find though. They’ll be ready. Josh might even take a couple snaps at quarterback.”
Chryst has not determined which players will or won’t play Saturday.