MADISON – Even though he knew he was walking into a program with a loaded defensive line, Garrett Rand had playing opening week as a goal in his mind.
Now that he’s achieved that, Rand’s next task is far simpler.
“Individual goals is do my job and don’t mess up,” Rand said. “That’s all I got to do. If I do my job, I’ll do great.”
On the first depth chart released Friday in advance of Saturday’s opener against No.5 LSU at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, Rand finds himself in as the No.2 nose tackle after beating out sophomore Jeremy Patterson. Rand will back up sophomore Olive Sagapolu, who played in all 13 games with four starts last season, and be tasked with help swallowing up the double teams to make room for Wisconsin’s linebackers.
“I don’t know how many snaps he’ll play, but he’ll play,” defensive tackle Inoke Breckterfield said of Rand. “I like the way he works.”
Like most freshmen during the first week of their first college camp, Rand admitted that things tended to be a blur. Primarily a three technique in high school playing defensive end, Rand was tasked with learning both end and nose tackle entering camp, not knowing where his full time spot was going to be.
With UW having strong depth at end, Breckterfield put Rand in the mix at nose.
“I threw him in the fire to let him learn through the reps,” Breckterfield said.
Rand eventually settled in at nose tackle, adjusting to new calls and assignments, rather than the high school philosophy of the coaches, “making a couple calls, you put your hand down and you go.”
“It was a little difficult but every week I got a little better,” Rand said. “I would just focus on one thing each practice, and I think that really helped me out.”
Only losing Arthur Goldberg off last year’s unit, Breckterfield said his group met his expectations through fall camp, allowing him to go deeper with the group’s abilities.
“We’ve got the same guys coming back, so they’re experienced,” Breckterfield said. “We’ve worked on how to attack protections with different moves and different pass rush technique, so we’ll see how it translates.”
Like many others on the roster, this Saturday’s game is huge for Rand’s family. With his mother’s side hailing from Stevens Point. Rand said his allotment of four tickets went to her.
“She’s taking it good,” Rand said. “She’s not over exaggerating or anything like that. She’s just being really supportive right now and being a good mom.”
In the last meeting between the two schools, Wisconsin held Leonard Fournette to 18 yards on eight carries. If the Badgers could equal that number from Fournette’s first game as a collegiate back, UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox would likely do a backflip.
Just 12 yards away from 3,000 in his career, nobody in college football is harder to tackle than the LSU junior. According to Pro Football Focus, Fournette broke a total of 95 tackles last season (85 as a runner, 10 as a receiver), a reason why 834 of his 1,916 rushing yards last season came on runs of 15 yards or longer.
Wilcox doesn’t like to compare players from one year to the next but using adjectives like big, athletic, strong and quick to describe Fournette shows that he hasn’t seen too many players with the combination of power, physicality, speed and quickness.
“He’s a unique talent,” Wilcox said. “He’s very, very explosive, he runs very hard and he can make a cut in a hole that most people his size can’t make.”
Wisconsin has a front seven loaded with experienced players that won’t likely be shocked by Fournette’s skill set, but the Badgers will start three secondary players with a combined nine starts (six of those belong to cornerback Derrick Tindal when he played nickel). Boil it down further and true freshmen safety Patrick Johnson and cornerback Caesar Williams will be playing in their first college game.
“I know they are both excited,” Wilcox said. “It’s been a lot for them. It’s been a pretty significant change from high school to here, but they have handled it really well. Such a big part of that transition is obviously physical. The game is faster, more explosive, it happens quicker, but the mental part of it and to be able to stay focused day in and day out every walkthrough, every practice, that’s probably been one of the most impressive thing about those guys.”