Different kind of offense

Badgers explore quarterback situation, use uncharacteristic receiving game in spring game

The annual spring game was definitely a bit of an atypical performance for the Badgers' offense. For a team that has historically been primarily a rushing-based team, Saturday's game saw an uncharacteristically high percentage of passing plays, as Wisconsin worked on its revamped passing attack.

Fans at Lussier Stadium got a glimpse of the new-look Badger offensive attack, though the results were far from spectacular. After struggling to consistently pass the ball last year, the team's coaching staff shook up its game plan this year, implementing a much faster paced passing attack based on timing and consistency.

Yet Saturday's performance showed the new attack is still a work in progress. Quarterbacks John Stocco, Tyler Donovan and Craig Meier combined to unofficially complete just 36 percent of their throws, while also throwing three interceptions compared to two touchdown passes.

"You want to make it look like football," co-offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said following the game. "We need to clean those things up, give guys a chance, win when you've got a one-on-one. It certainly doesn't all go to John (Stocco), but that's where we've got to improve."

Stocco, who has outplayed his counterparts this spring, had the most success with the new system, going 13-for-29 for 158 yards and a touchdown. The junior tossed several textbook passes, hitting tight ends Owen Daniels and Jason Pociask in stride for big gains before completing a 25-yard pass to Jonathan Orr in the back of the endzone for his lone touchdown of the day.

However the day wasn't all rosy for the junior. Stocco had several balls batted down at the line of scrimmage, at times struggling to find a rhythm with his quick passes. On more than one occasion Stocco overshot big targets Daniels, Orr and receiver Brandon White. The Richfield, Minn. native also had a pair of under thrown passes intercepted in his one half at the helm.

"I'm not discouraged, I'm disappointed. That's just the competitive side of me, that I didn't play a little bit better," Stocco said.

With freshman Bryan Savage out 3-4 weeks after suffering a leg injury earlier in the week, Donovan saw the bulk of the snaps Saturday, playing the first three quarters and part of the fourth, before giving way to Meier.

But Donovan's increased playing time didn't equal increased production. Surrounded by younger players, Donovan struggled to find a rhythm early as the first team defense smothered the Hartland, Wis., native. The sophomore completed only one pass in the first half, a six-yard toss to Marcus Randle El, on his way to a 7-for-22, 87 yard, and one touchdown performance. However, Donovan remains excited about the new passing system.

"It makes it a lot easier on us quarterbacks," Donovan said. "It makes us be more decisive, knowing where we need to go with the ball that much quicker to make a better throw. We really didn't exploit too much of our passing game in the offense today, but I feel like in practice things are really starting to click."

At the other end of the passing spectrum, a pair of receivers posted notable performances despite the offensive struggles. In just one half of play, Orr, leading all UW receivers, caught five balls for 72 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. Randle El caught the eye of coaches after missing the first seven practices of the spring season, nabbing three receptions for 57 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown toss from Donovan in the third quarter.

"I want him to learn the receiver position," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "I do want to take a look at him some as a punt returner. We won't experiment with him at quarterback like we did a year ago. I'd like for him to learn one position and be solid, and have confidence in that position and have the quarterback have confidence in him."

While Stocco acknowledges that fans may not be impressed with what they saw Saturday, he cautioned that there is no reason for panic. Yet the Badger signal caller is still prepared for the worst in fan criticism following the performance.

"When we were 9-0 I was still taking heat from people and so that's something now that I just forget about," Stocco said. "That's just the way it goes around here, that's part of playing quarterback and that's part of being in the spotlight. If I couldn't handle it, I wouldn't be doing this."

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