MADISON - Two weeks away from the season opener against No.3 Alabama in Arlington, Texas, No.18 Wisconsin went through its only scrimmage of fall camp, a telling 90+ minutes that head coach Paul Chryst will evaluate and realize a lot more work needs to be done.
“As we said before when we had our team meeting, we told the guys this is an opportunity to go out and play,” said Chryst. “We’re looking to see guys who can play, who we can trust and guys who can react to different situations.”
In terms of trust, it appears Wisconsin can put a good deal of it on senior quarterback Joel Stave. Stave was efficient during his reps, unofficially going 10-for-18 with three touchdown passes and one interception. He hit Corey Clement on a little screen pass that went for 40 yards and a touchdowns, found Alex Erickson for a 20-yard red-zone score and another touchdown to tight end Austin Traylor for 20.
“I thought he did some good things,” said Chryst. “We had a couple of plays where we just hadn’t gotten enough on tape and wanted to get them. Those were some that we had to work through. I think that was one of the picks. That’s the first time he’s run it, but I wanted to run it so we don’t have as many issues in the red zone.”
There were some other hiccups offensively, as Wisconsin’s units turned the ball over five times. While the quarterbacks threw four interceptions, including two in the red zone, arguably the most frustrating one was the fumble by redshirt junior Dare Ogunbowale. On a lengthy 40-yard run, Ogunbowale was caught from behind, stripped of the football at the six by sophomore safety Lubern Figaro and senior cornerback Terrance Floyd returned it to near the 25.
“I think we’re doing a better job of punching at the ball and getting it out,” Chryst said. “Whichever hat you want to wear on that play, you get pretty fired up, but we’ve got to be a lot better in games. Some guys are playing consistent and some guys need to keep working on being consistent.”
Turnovers have been the big point of emphasis for the defense all spring and fall after failing to capitalize on opportunities last season. That brings junior safety Leo Musso into the trust category, as the former Waunakee standout intercepted two Bart Houston passes, including one in the red zone when he came from outside Houston’s sightline to prevent a touchdown.
After being a special teams player most of his career, the 5-10 Musso is slowly carving out a niche for himself in the Wisconsin defense.
“The thing I appreciate from Musso is he’s taking advantage and you saw it today,” said Chryst. “We’re bouncing Tanner back and forth and guys can let that affect them one of two ways … When he gets his turn he’s locked in. He puts himself in good positions so if there is an error or if something happens, he can capitalize on it.”
LINE STILL UNSETTLED
Just when it appeared senior left guard Ray Ball would be named the starter at left guard with freshman Jon Dietzen still out and junior Walker Williams being moved to right tackle because of injuries, the Badgers threw a curveball and gave Micah Kapoi all the reps at left guard, putting Ball with the twos.
Kapoi redshirted last season and has been working at all three interior spots of the line throughout camp.
“He started thinking a little less and playing a little more,” said Chryst. “He has enough ability now. It wasn’t like it was all perfect and clean, but he was putting some things on tape that earned him the right to get more snaps.”
With all the uncertainty still on the line, Chryst didn’t mince words about the importance of the next seven days as Wisconsin transitions from camp into Alabama prep.
“This next week is certainly a big week for us in the offensive line,” he said. “So much of that is learning to work with each other … getting a feel for each guy and communication. That’s got to be a focal point for this next week.”
PLAYS OF THE DAY
Appearing that someone zigged when they should have zagged, Erickson and Traylor both met at the exact same spot where Stave’s intended pass landed. The two collided but it appeared Traylor initially caught the ball and quickly flipped to Erickson as he was being tackled. Erickson ran for what was ruled an 80-yard touchdown, but the officials changed it to a 55-yard completion after Taylor’s knee apparently hit the ground.
Senior Derek Watt continues to emerge as a dual threat in Wisconsin’s offense, setting himself up to have a stellar year catching the football. Watt was a perfect outlet pass for a number of quarterbacks during the scrimmage, with his standout play being sneaking out to the flat on third-and-5 from the six and catching a Stave pass for 26 yards.
It was mostly a quiet day from the running back standpoint in terms of running the football, but Ogunbowale had a nice 20-yard run around the left edge of the line and Erickson registered 16 yards on a jet sweep to move the chains.
“He’s used to, maybe not that position, but playing in games,” Chryst said of Ogunbowale. “He’s got some good football intelligence. When he trusts himself he’s a pretty good player. We’ve got to help him get to that point where he can consistently trust himself.”
Sophomore D’Cota Dixon, transitioning back to safety from linebacker, got beat on a touchdown pass from Stave to Traylor but bounced back on the next drive to intercept a Stave pass near the goal line.
BACKUP STILL UP FOR GRABS
Houston appears slightly ahead in the battle for the backup quarterback but it’s still too close to call. Houston played OK during the scrimmage but didn’t do anything that really flashed.
Redshirt freshman D.J. Gillins ran mostly with the twos and looked off most of the day. Of his few completions, his inside crossing route throw to George Rushing was on the mark and gave the offense a 25-yard gain. He also hit Rushing for a 75-yard touchdown, but the sophomore receiver had about 55 yards after the catch and the play took ages to develop. A close second was the final play of practice, a back-shoulder throw to receiver Henry Houden for a 24-yard score.
For the most part, however, Gillins was rushed with his throws, scrambled a lot under pressure and never appeared dialed in. He also had a botched snap at the defense’s 1-yard line he managed to pounce on.
True freshman Alex Hornibrook got his most extensive work of fall camp but didn’t register anything notable other than having a pass picked off by outside linebacker Tyler Johnson off a deflection. He appears headed for a redshirt this season.
FROM THE INFIRMARY
Wisconsin suffered three injuries during the scrimmage and none appear to be serious: Troy Fumagalli injured his left foot on the first play of the scrimmage, Reggie Love (head) was hurt late and offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk (left ankle) was also dinged up.
Redshirt freshman right tackle Beau Benzschawel was spotted for the first time since his injury over the weekend. Sporting crutches and a heavy brace on his right knee, Chryst doesn’t expect Benzschawel to return until after camp is complete. Redshirt sophomore Hayden Biegel is still MIA as he goes through concussion protocol.
Other than Rushing, Wisconsin’s young receivers didn’t do much to help their chances. Krenwick Sanders had two drops (including one that would have put the unit close to a first down) that overshadowed a 15-yard catch on third down. Jazz Peavy had a 9-yard catch and not much else, Love had a drop before leaving and Rushing also had a drop.
McEvoy had two catches for 25 yards and Chryst said UW will need him on both sides of the ball this season.
“Everyone has got to own it,” said Chryst. “Some guys have got to know what to do better. Other guys have to know the details within it. Other guys have to keep pushing guys that I think are ahead of the curve … We still have a lot of work for us to be as good as I think we can be.”
Extra Points: Senior kicker Jack Russell made both of his field goals from 37 and 28 yards while sophomore Rafael Gaglianone missed his only kick from 47. Gaglianone has missed very few kicks in open media practices … The No.2 offensive line drew five of the six penalties, being whistled for four false starts and a holding penalty. The defense was whistled for one hold … Wisconsin’s Sunday afternoon practice is closed to the media.