MADISON – Although sidelined for a month recovering from a left foot injury, it is evident that sophomore inside linebacker T.J. Edwards hasn’t lost a step.
Finally cleared for full contact on Tuesday, Edwards said he felt 100 percent after making his season debut during Wisconsin’s 54-10 victory over Akron in the conference opener.
“I was itching (to play),” Edwards said. “It’s hard for me to sit and wait through the whole fall camp and the whole LSU game prep. I really wanted to play, but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I had that extra week. Now I feel great.”
Playing four series, Edwards finished with two tackles and one sack – one of four on the day for the Badgers (2-0) in a performance that limited the Zips (1-1) to 224 total yards.
“I liked being able to move around and feel no pain,” Edwards said. “There’s things (Sunday) I’m going to see the film and just hit it. That’s the encouraging part. Now that I can just focus on that part instead of my health.”
Edwards said his goal at the beginning of fall camp was to be able to play in the season opener against the Tigers. He appeared close the last week of camp when he shed his protective walking boot but didn’t make enough substantial progress to get cleared.
That put the Badgers in a more perilous situation at the position with sophomore Chris Orr injured his right knee on the first defensive snap of the game. He has since been ruled out for the season.
Thankfully the Badgers saw redshirt sophomore Ryan Connelly step in a week ago and play well enough to earn his first career start vs the Zips. To help fill out the depth, Leon Jacobs flipped back to his old position and registered one of the sacks in the fourth quarter. True freshman Griffin Grady also played, making one solo tackle in his collegiate debut.
“We’re put up to a high standard, and we love that” Edwards said. “We strive every week to match that standard that we set. There are definitely things we have to improve on, but as of right now we’re feeling pretty good. And we’re only going to get better, so that’s encouraging.”
Hornibrook Shines in Debut
For a collegiate debut, redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook couldn’t have asked for much more. Taking over for starter Bart Houston on the second series of the second half, Hornibrook went 5-for-5 for 61 yards and a touchdown, leading the Badgers to three touchdowns.
“I was happy I got to get in there at the end,” Hornibrook said. “It was really fun being out there with the guys and just playing.”
After not playing the season opener, Hornibrook was told that he would see the field if Wisconsin jumped out to a big lead. Working on staying loose on the sidelines, Hornibrook entered with the Badgers leading 33-10.
He went 4-for-4 on the opening drive, including a 6-yard pass to tight end Troy Fumagalli on third-and-5 and a 6-yard touchdown pass to fullback Alec Ingold in the left flat.
“It wasn’t like I got thrown in a tie game,” Hornibrook said. “We kind of had a good lead, so it was a little less pressure than if it were a different scenario. It was just fun to be out there.”
His only other attempt was perfectly thrown, staying aware in the pocket to avoid the blitz and hitting wide receiver A.J. Taylor for 35 yards down to the 2-yard line. It was Taylor’s first college coach, and UW would score two plays later.
“I thought he did some good stuff,” head coach Paul Chryst said of Hornibrook. “It was good to get him some meaningful reps.”
Lotti Gets Good Surprise
Going through warmups thinking he was going to back up sophomore P.J. Rosowski for the second straight week, freshman punter Anthony Lotti received a surprise when it was sprung on him that he would be handling the punting job.
“It definitely threw me off my guard a little bit,” Lotti said. “I had a good week of preparation though. I was feeling good coming in anyway.”
It was a nice change from last week when Lotti was listed as the starting punter for the season opener, only to be told two days before that Rosowski would handle all the deep and he would handle all the mid-range kicks. As luck would have it, Lotti never got a chance to punt.
“Of course I’m disappointed to not play my first game,” Lotti said. “I’m a competitor. I want to play as much as possible, but coach felt like he needed to do that for what’s best for the team. I’m always down for that.”
Lotti’s first punt was perfectly pooched, a 33-yard kick that landed inside the 10-yard and bounced back toward midfield. Lotti’s second punt went for 42 yards but didn’t get enough hang time on the kick. With some coverage breakdowns, Akron’s JoJo Natson returned the kick 55 yards for a touchdown.
Lotti believes it’ll be determined on a weekly basis who handles the punts based on practice performance.
“We’re battling back and forth in practice,” Lotti said. “I had a really good week of practice this week, P.J. had a really good week of practice last week. It’s going to look good for the rest of the season.”
Sagapolu Secret Weapon
It was noticed during pregame warmups that sophomore nose tackle Olive Sagapolu switched his number from 65 to 99. It was evident why early on.
Sagapolu was utilized as a second fullback in Wisconsin’s “Jumbo” package near the goal line, an idea that was created by the 340-pound lineman messing around with Chryst at the beginning of the season that he could play fullback.
“I guess this week they were like, ‘All right, we’re going to try it out,’” Sagapolu said.
After being told about the plan on Tuesday, Sagapolu took reps at the spot Wednesday. The two plays didn’t yield a touchdown around the goal line, but Sagapolu used the vague “we’ll see” when asked if that was a formation he might be used in again.
“Hopefully I can get a carry, but I don’t know,” Sagapolu said. “We’ll see if Coach Rudolph lets me get the ball.”
Panos Calls it a Career
In less than three weeks Wisconsin has seen two former four-star recruits forced to retire due to injuries.
After missing nearly all of fall camp with a right shoulder injury, redshirt sophomore George Panos is no longer with the team.
“He battled as hard as he could,” sophomore center Michael Deiter, who is Panos’ roommate. “His shoulder, I don’t know if it ever would have been right, so he thought it best for him to step away. We respect his decision … It probably was the best call for him health wise.”
Panos had been plagued with shoulder injuries throughout the offseason, limited throughout the spring with a left shoulder injury only to be out most of spring with a right shoulder problem. The redshirt sophomore was taken off the Badgers’ fall camp roster Aug. 22 to bring in another healthy linemen for offensive coordinator/line coach Joe Rudolph.
Wisconsin saw fifth-year senior Dan Voltz announce his retirement August 23 after dealing with a plethora of injuries.
Panos, a graduate of Hartland (WI) Arrowhead High, played in two games during his UW career, against Miami (Ohio) and Northwestern last season.
The Badgers are working to classify Panos as a medical non-counter, meaning he could continue receiving financial aid from UW without counting against its allotment of 85 scholarships.
Panos’ father, Joe Panos, started 32 consecutive games on the offensive line for the Badgers from 1991-93, earning second-team All-American honors as a senior and co-captain for the team that captured UW’s first Rose Bowl victory in 1994.
Extra Points: Redshirt freshman Jon Dietzen made his first start at left guard after playing the entire second half against LSU in place of the injured Micah Kapoi … True freshmen receivers Quintez Cephus made his first collegiate catches … UW also saw fullback Austin Ramesh score his first career rushing touchdown and tailback Bradrick Shaw register his first collegiate score on an impressive 34-yard run in the final quarter … Cornerback Natrell Jamerson left the game with a leg injury in the fourth quarter ... In addition to Lotti, safety Patrick Johnson will not redshirt and made his college debut.