And things are starting to come together, on both sides of the ball.
The Badgers took nearly the entire 24-period practice to scrimmage, with the ball being snapped 132 times (including kicks and penalties). The defense is starting to create that chemistry, getting key contributions from several players on the inexperienced front seven.
O'Brien Schofield, J.J. Watt and Brendan Kelly are all standing out at defensive end, and Jeff Stehle and Dan Moore are wreaking havoc from the interior. Of course, the secondary remains deep, with Aaron Henry continuing to make his mark as the No. 1 cornerback and Antonio Fenelus growing into a playmaker.
But the offense is starting to figure it out, too.
After settling for a couple of field goals early on, Paul Chryst's units ended up finding the end zone seven times on Saturday.
Interestingly, it was seven different players recording the scores: John Clay (1 yard) and Erik Smith (8 yards) on short-range runs, Dustin Sherer on a 17-yard bootleg and Curt Phillips on a 90-yard bootleg (yes, 90 yards), and TD receptions by Garrett Graham (23 yards, from Sherer), Nick Toon (30, from Tolzien) and T.J. Williams (17, from Phillips).
"I liked the way the defense started off the day and I liked the way the offense responded," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "I was happy with some things, but definitely a long ways to go."
Former UW tight end Travis Beckum, who's hoping to be a late first-day NFL draft pick two weeks from now, roamed the sidelines. Saturday was also a popular day for families to take in practice, with many parents, siblings and coaches' families watching the scrimmage from the east-side bleachers. Probably about 50-60 spectators for today.
As expected and reported by Badger Nation, Mullen (Co.) quarterback Jonny Miller came and took an unofficial visit. A 6-foot-2, 205-pound dual-threat quarterback, Miller, who was offered by UW in late March, also has a scholarship offer from New Mexico State.
Also on campus this weekend was running back James White, a 5-foot-10, 173-pound running back from St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.). A former teammate of 2009 recruits Conor O'Neill and Dezmen Southward, White has offers from Boston College, Clemson, Iowa, Minnesota, N.C. State, Rutgers, USF and a offer from Wisconsin in the past two weeks.
From the Infirmary
Luckily for UW, nothing serious came of Saturday's scrimmage, as opposed to the first runthrough a week ago when Erik Prather suffered a serious knee injury and several other Badgers limped off with leg issues. However, a few players were limited or sat out the scrimmage altogether.
Quarterback Jon Budmayr was "a little sore" coming into Saturday, and ran just one series before being removed for the day. Bielema is hopeful he'll be able to participate in the Spring Game in a week.
"I know he's pretty disappointed," Bielema said, "but we knew if we sat him out the majority of today, we'll get through Monday, a lighter practice; then maybe he can go Thursday and Saturday."
After sitting out Thursday with an ankle injury, John Clay returned to work Saturday, but was limited to just 13 carries, with a couple long gains and a 1-yard score.
Linebacker Mike Taylor aggravated a hamstring injury on Thursday and didn't suit up; fellow ‘backer Tony Megna played, but suffered an undisclosed injury and left the scrimmage.
News and notes from the scrimmage
-With 14 penalties being called by Bielema's count – albeit with an officiating crew that was instructed to throw flags when in doubt – the Badgers coach wasn't happy with his guys as a whole for racking up infractions. So at the end of practice, Bielema took a page from his Iowa days, and the entire team was punished with an arduous 200-yard drill with squats, pushups and army crawls down the field and back.
"It was something we stressed during the offseason, one guy affects everybody," Bielema said. "So rather than penalize the guys that had the penalties, I wanted to make sure everybody felt the effect."
Jake Bscherer was unable to complete the task, and was bending over heaving for air when trying to walk it off. Jordan Bergmann and Josh Oglesby barely finished, with the entire team surrounding Bergmann as he fulfilled the last 20 yards or so.
-Play of the day, without question: Curt Phillips completely fooled the defense on a naked bootleg, and hustled 90 yards down the field with Mickey Turner as his lead blocker and nobody getting particularly close to bringing him down. Phillips had a nice day throwing the ball too, including a deep strike to T.J. Williams for seven points.
-Scott Tolzien pulled off one of his most impressive plays of spring, catching a low snap from Jake Current out of the shotgun and quickly reeling an 8-yard completion to Lance Kendricks on the left side. Tolzien had the longest touchdown pass of the day, finding Nick Toon in stride behind the secondary for a 30-yard score.
-Jay Valai, still working his way back in with the No. 1 squad after back surgery earlier this offseason, was spry right out of the gate, making three plays happen on the first five snaps of the scrimmage. He started by knocking down John Clay at the line of scrimmage, ran down David Gilreath on a reverse and knocking him out of bounds, and picked off Dustin Sherer by jumping the route on a throw to Gilreath.
-There's no doubt at this point who UW's top downfield receiver is, and that's big Nick Toon. But Toon will have to be careful this fall using his hands on cornerbacks during downfield routes; the officiating crew let a couple of Toon's offensive pushoffs go, and even hit cornerback Aaron Henry with a defensive interference. That irked defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks, who got his money's worth in bickering with the sideline official and back judge over the call.
-Garrett Graham did not have a pass thrown his way until the 50th play of the scrimmage. But he made it count; it was a 23-yard touchdown reception from Dustin Sherer, with two defenders failing to bring Graham down before he nudged across the goal line.
-Linebacker Jae McFadden led the team once again in tackles, and though he's moved to the will position, he's still got that mike linebacker mentality of being around the ball no matter where it's run or thrown on the field.
"Jaevery plays well on the edges, but he had that experience at mike," Bielema said. "He's one of those guys that could potentially be a big-play guy for us just because of that athleticism."
-The players kept a little bit of a nasty streak going, with freshman fullback Sam Spitz tussling with linebacker Tony Megna after a 2-yard run by Erik Smith. Receiver Nick Toon was also busy riling up his defensive opponents all day.
-Former All-American kicker Taylor Mehlhaff was automatic during his four years at Wisconsin, and the more you watch Phil Welch, the more you think he could do the same. Welch was perfect on three field goal attempts from 37, 41 and 27 yards, and also connected on all his point-after attempts. Walk-on kicker Pat Hughes was also true on all four of his point-after tries.
Throw in punter Brad Nortman's booming (and growing) leg strength, and it's a far cry from last spring when legitimate concerns abounded for UW's special teams, from a kicking and punting standpoint.
-The scoreboard at Camp Randall Stadium was on and operating, but wasn't exactly updated to reflect the down and distance on the field. Oddly enough, the scoreboard displayed the final score from UW's season-ending victory over Cal Poly … sort of. The actual result of that game was 36-35, but Camp Randall showed it as 39-35.
The Badgers will have Sunday off before returning Monday night for practice No. 12 of 15.