Falcon quarterback Omar Jacobs is considered one of the best players in college football. His top returning receivers, Charles Sharon and Steve Sanders, caught more than 2,000 yards worth of passes last year. And tailback P.J. Pope is a two-time 1,000-yard rusher.
Bowling Green's players alone are a challenge to prepare for, but UW's defense must also get accustomed to the Falcons' tempo within its spread scheme.
"It's no huddle. Sometimes… it's fast break," UW head coach Barry Alvarez said Friday morning, following the Badgers' last practice of their fall training camp. "It's hurry up, get lined up, official cranks the clock — boom — snap the ball and go."
Other times, however, Alvarez said Bowling Green will use a no-huddle, but Jacobs will start his cadence, then step away from the line of scrimmage, calmly survey the field and look to the Falcons' sideline, where a coach will signal in a play.
"Now they signal their play in, they've got 20 seconds or so left on the (play) clock," Alvarez said. "Next time it's just take your time, and it's no huddle, but it's shuffling people in the game, making substitutions, that type of thing. Sometimes they go to a huddle."
And Bowling Green is not married to the spread-out passing game. Jacobs and Pope can challenge defenses with a sprint option game, and the Falcons can impersonate a power running team behind a line that averages 307 pounds per person.
UW's scout signal callers — Dustin Sherer, Bryan Savage and Matt Morrison — have been doing their best to impersonate Jacobs' style, and the sometimes frenetic pace at which Bowling Green runs its offense. And the Badgers have been simulating the quickly changing personnel packages in practice by alternating between sets of scout team skill players.
"When we go two skilled areas running at them, as we're preparing, I think we're doing it the best we possibly can," Alvarez said. "You still won't understand it until you get into the game situation… You can't emulate someone like that quarterback throwing it as well as he does. But we'll give them the looks the best we can."
Alvarez does not expect his team to have difficulty matching Bowling Green's substitution patterns. He pointed out that the Badgers do not huddle defensively and are used to receiving defensive signals from the sideline. They have also been practicing wearing wrist bands, for quick reference to defensive play calls.
"We've worked on it all camp," Alvarez said. "From day one the guys are looking to the boundary to get signals. If you had to get in the huddle, you are normally a huddle defense, it would drive you crazy, you couldn't do it."
Before camp, Alvarez said he would be surprised if the Badgers did not have a good defense this year. With camp in the books, he is standing behind that statement.
"I think we put a lot of athletes on the field," Alvarez said. "…. They've been very good. Still have to wait and see.
"I still think defense being sound, preparing players, it's effort and attitude. And I think these guys have a good attitude and I have seen them give us good effort. I think the way offenses are playing now, they try to spread you out, get guys to play in space and so you have to have good athletes on defense. I see good athletes running around there for us."
Alvarez said that UW is awarding scholarships this fall to six players who originally arrived as walk-ons: fifth-year senior Joel Nellis, who is in the depth at tight end; third-year sophomore Steve Johnson, who is the first-team long snapper; third-year sophomore cornerback Ben Strickland, who will be on most, if not all, of UW's special teams; fourth-year junior Zach Hampton, a second-team free safety who, like Strickland, is one of UW's best special teams players; redshirt freshman fullback Bill Rentmeester, who Alvarez said was promised a scholarship after his first year; and third-year sophomore linebacker Casey Hogan, who Alvarez said was promised a scholarship after his second year.
For more information on scholarships, check out BadgerNation.com's program depth chart
Consistent Rowan to push for playing time?
Junior tailback Dywon Rowan, UW senior cornerback Levonne Rowan's brother, has proven himself to be a capable player throughout camp, and his consistency has caught Alvarez's eye. The Badgers seem confident in No. 2 tailback Booker Stanley's ability to complement starter Brian Calhoun, but Alvarez said he wants to see more out of the presumed No. 3, sophomore Jamil Walker.
"I don't think Walker's been consistent," Alvarez said. "Dywon, I think, has been more consistent. I think Dywon is a tough kid, he's tough-minded. I think he's a guy that deserves a good look. He'll do what he's asked to do. Walker has tremendous potential, you see flashes of it, but for consistency right now… my opinion is that Dywon has been more consistent than him."
Final take on camp
What was Alvarez's final assessment of fall training camp?
"I said going in it was going to be a very physical camp," he said. "I don't know if there was a day where we were in full pads that we didn't scrimmage some phase of the game. When you do that normally you are going to miss some guys with bumps and bruises. But that's the only way we can get young guys game ready and teach them the speed of the game.
"All in all I think we accomplished what we wanted. Had a chance to see a lot of kids, see which young guys are ready to play at this speed. As a head coach, as many years as I have done it, you still always worry, are they ready for the first game? But we have a week where we can let them get their legs back and they can really focus on game planning and move forward. The important thing is they know what they're supposed to do and they can turn it loose."
Alvarez felt the team adjusted well to housing camp practices in Camp Randall Stadium, after previously hosting it at the Bishop O'Conner Center on Madison's far west side.
"I don't have any complaints with camp," Alvarez said. "I was very satisfied with the move down here. I think the kids were very positive about it. It made it much easier for lifting, much easier for us with video, meetings and that type thing. All in all, I'm happy with it."