"We reflected back about last year's spring game, and some of the comments that were thrown out after that," Bielema said.
The commentary a year ago pretty much focused on how miserable Wisconsin's offense was. Quarterback John Stocco was an erratic 13 of 29 in the 2005 Cardinal-White game, and the first offensive touchdown was not scored until 35 seconds before halftime.
Of course, the 2005 Badgers went on to have one of the best offenses in school history. So perhaps the offense's stronger performance in the 2006 edition of the spring football game — played yesterday at Camp Randall Stadium — should be taken with a grain of salt.
Then again, the offense has quite a bit to hang its hat on, especially the performance of the Cardinal (first team) offense in the first half, facing the White (second team) defense.
"I think the offense did real well," said tailback Dywon Rowan, who had 96 total yards on just six carries and three pass receptions. "We moved the ball like basically any time we wanted to. Sometimes we had a couple stalls but overall I think we moved the ball real well."
The couple stalls were a pair of costly turnovers, but the Cardinal had two long touchdown drives in the first half to leave the game tied at 14-14. The White, which received double points, led 14-0 after Zach Hampton's 59-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Stocco was 10 of 13 for 154 yards and the one interception.
"I thought we did some good things today," Stocco said. "Obviously there's a lot we can improve on. I felt like as the game went on we kind of got into a rhythm on offense and that was a good thing to see. We've got a lot we've got to improve on, but I think from practice to practice we've gotten better, from when we started spring practice. So that was our No. 1 goal and I thought that we did that."
Spring practice and fall training camp are typically skewed toward defense for several reasons, first among them: it usually takes an offense longer to develop chemistry, and the defense has a pretty good scouting report of what its offensive brethren are up to.
"I think we're going to have to do a lot better job, just because we're so used to our offense," said cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu, whose Cardinal defense held the White to 65 yards total offense in the first half. "We're so used to seeing the same plays over and over again. So we kind of have an idea of what's coming."
Saturday, the fresh-faced Badger offense — with only three returning starters in the spring-game lineup — also had to deal with the early departure of No. 1 tailback P.J. Hill, who re-aggravated a neck "stinger" after running twice for seven yards. And as much as Bielema wanted the game to be realistic, there is only so much you can do when your left tackle — who is filling in for an injured All-American — is wearing a black jersey so he can play for both teams.
"The big part that kind of is a hard thing to judge is we're not where we need to be at the offensive line just because of people not practicing, and putting people in the right spots," Bielema said. "Mike Van Someren — on (April 15) he took over 90 reps (in a scrimmage) and that's a big body taking that many reps — he was out there today wearing that black jersey going both ways.
"Obviously there's a little bit of wear and tear there, but I feel once we get Joe Thomas back into that position, get (right guard) Kraig (Urbik) and (right tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel) and all those other guys competing in there — I thought (left guard) Andy Kemp made progress throughout the course of the spring. (Center) Marcus Coleman isn't where we need to have him to be for that opening game Sept. 2, but he made some strides this spring and we're excited to see him continue to make those."
The most impressive drive of the game was the Cardinal's 13-play, 87-yard march that took up 7:14 in the second quarter, culminating with Jamil Walker's 9-yard game-tying touchdown run, 4:14 before halftime.
The drive included a 9-yard swing pass to Walker to convert a third-and-six from the Cardinal 17, a nifty 9-yard catch-and-run by Rowan on third-and-four from the Cardinal 44, a 13-yard Rowan run through the left side of the line, and an impressive 14-yard catch by tight end Sean Lewis to set up first-and-goal at the 9.
"We have so many young guys on offense we are trying to gel and figure out our identity," Stocco said. "And hardly any of these guys have much game experience, so I think it was good for them to get out here and get in front of some fans. Like I said, for the most part I thought we did a pretty good job."
Tailback Jerry Butler struggled with his hands throughout spring ball, but did well in that regard Saturday, catching two passes for 19 yards in the second half with the Cardinal team.
"Jerry had kind of had some troubles catching the football throughout the spring, but today I thought he was 100 percent on everything he was doing," Bielema said.
Butler has outrageous speed, so if he can consistently hang onto the football the Badgers will likely find a way to get him on the field.
Hill was the only player who remained out of Saturday's game after suffering an injury, the effects of which are not expected to linger.
The following players did not participate in the game due to injury: wide receivers Jarvis Minton (foot), Jeff Holzbauer, Luke Swan and Shane Phillips (hand), safety Aubrey Pleasant (shoulder), linebackers DeAndre Levy (groin), Casey Hogan (leg) and Ryan Flasch (knee), defensive ends Jamal Cooper (knee), Matt Shaughnessy (knee) and Adam Purcell, left tackle Joe Thomas (knee), tight end Nathan Quist and kicker Adam Schober.
Cooper is progressing well after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last season, one week before the start of Big Ten play. If Saturday's game had been a regular-season affair Cooper probably could have competed. He took part in every drill of a light contact practice a week ago, and participated in parts of practice Friday. He took part in some drill work throughout spring, and UW's training staff was erring on the side of caution with more than four months before the season opener.
"We're keeping Coop out of contact," Bielema said after practice Wednesday. "He's pretty much full go but kind of just on the edge of things a little bit. We just want to make sure he's 100 percent for the fall."
Shaughnessy is also progressing well in his recovery from a torn ACL.
"He's not too far behind Coop," Bielema said last Saturday. "If spring ball was a month later we probably would be able to get him in it, but he's progressing nicely and doing good things in the weight room. I like—I'm sure you guys have seen Joe Thomas standing around. He looks good. He's got a little bit more thickness to him. I like what's happening with our guys that are in a rehab situation."
Shaughnessy was seen jogging around the sideline often throughout the spring. Thomas ran the stadium steps while the team scrimmaged last week, just three months after his own ACL surgery.
Cardinal and White
At the beginning of Saturday's spring game, the rosters broke down as follows:
Cardinal (first team)
Quarterback: John Stocco (sat out second half)
Offensive linemen: Kraig Urbik, Eric Vanden Heuvel, Marcus Coleman, Mike Van Someren (played for both teams), Andy Kemp.
Tailbacks: Dywon Rowan, P.J. Hill
Fullback: Chris Pressley (sat out second half)
Tight ends: Andy Crooks, Sean Lewis
Tailbacks: Jamil Walker (switched to Cardinal after P.J. Hill injury), Jerry Butler (played for Cardinal some in second half), Dion Foster
Linebackers: O'Brien Schofield (played some with the Cardinal in fourth quarter) , Josh Neal, Elijah Hodge (Cardinal second half), Ben Landgraf, Jae McFadden, Adam Ludovic, Jammar Crane (played some with the Cardinal in fourth quarter).
Defensive backs: Joe Sibley, Phil Ayeni, James Kamoku, Chris Eernisse, Johnny White (Cardinal second half), Nate Egholm, Shane Carter (Cardinal second half), Ben Strickland (Cardinal part of second half), Zach Hampton (Cardinal second half), Jameson Davis, William Hartmann, Tony Morrissey, Brian Hermann, Prince Moody
Scoring summary for Saturday's spring game
White: Zach Hampton 59 interception return (Matt Fischer kick) – White 14, Cardinal 0, 9:01 remaining, first quarter.
Cardinal: Dywon Rowan 2 run (Taylor Mehlhaff kick) – White 14, Cardinal 7, 6:48, first quarter. Five plays, 70 yards.
Cardinal: Jamil Walker 9 run (Mehlhaff kick) – White 14, Cardinal 14, 4:14, second quarter. Thirteen plays, 87 yards.
Cardinal: Safety (Mike Newkirk's pass rush forced a penalty in the end zone). – Cardinal 16, White 14, 6:52, third quarter.
Cardinal: Mehlhaff 41 field goal – Cardinal 19, White 14, 6:07, fourth quarter. Thirteen plays, 56 yards.
Cardinal individual statistics
Rushing: Walker (13-54-1), Rowan (6-50-1), Butler (3-25), Donovan (4-18), Randle El (3-15), Hill (2-7), Stocco (6-(-13)).
Passing: Stocco (10-13-1-154), Donovan (8-14-0-107).
Receiving: Randle El (5-50), Rowan (3-46), Ruffin (2-58), Hubbard (2-35), Kirtley (2-33), Walker (2-23), Butler (2-19), Lewis (1-14).
Punting: DeBauche, two attempts for a 50.0-yard average.
Fumbles-lost: Stocco (1-0), Donovan (1-0), Hubbard (1-1).
Field-goal missed: Mehlhaff, 43.
Tackles: Casillas (5), Hayden (4), Stellmacher (3), Hodge (3), Rogers (2), Langford (2), Zalewski (2), Kelly (2), Ikegwuonu, Monty, Chapman, Carter, White, Joran, Ostrowski, Strickland, Schofield.
Tackles for loss: Rogers, Hayden (sack), Kelly (sack), Newkirk (sack).
Pass breakups: Rogers, Ikegwuonu, Langford, Hayden.
Fumble recovery: Chapman.
White individual statistics
Rushing: Sherer (4-26), Walker (3-20), Foster (5-17), Butler (1-2), Donovan (3-(-12)).
Passing: Sherer (6-11-0-72), Donovan (1-4-1-(-1)).
Receiving: Beckum (3-14), Graham (1-25), Foster (1-15), Peck (1-13), Konkol (1-4).
Punting: Standring, six attempts for a 36.3-yard average.
Fumbles-lost: Donovan (1-1).
Tackles: Hodge (7), Neal (7), Carter (6), Hampton (6), Ware (5), Crane (4), Strickland (4), White (3), Jamison (3), Kamoku (3), Schofield (2), Behnke (2), Hartmann (2), Ostrowski (2), McFadden (2), Hermann (2), Newkirk, Langford, Strickland, Landgraf, Sibley, Morrissey.
Tackles for loss: Hodge, Hampton, Ware, Jamison (sack), Ostrowski (sack), Schofield (sack), Behnke (sack).
Pass breakups: Hartmann (2), McFadden (2).
Forced fumble: Hodge.
Fumble recovery: White.