Sixty degrees and sunny at 4:30 pm (the start of practice) meant heading back outside to the Camp Randall Stadium turf, in what was unquestionably the nicest weather day for any practice this spring. But by the end, after the sun set behind the west bleachers at Camp Randall, the temperature dropped about 15, maybe even 20 degrees.
That could be a good learning experience for the Badgers, who could certainly experience such drastic weather changes during a three-hour game.
"People started stiffening up in the second half of practice when it got cooler," running back John Clay said. "It was a little rough on the offense; we didn't have a good finish like we wanted to."
Good weather or not, UW head coach Bret Bielema agreed the defense held the upper hand.
"I thought the defense played with some good spirit and energy today," Bielema said. "The offense was a little bit behind; I thought we were a little sloppy with the ball. But we still have Thursday to go and then the finishing touches on Saturday."
The Badgers worked for 24 periods in a full rack of pads, and now just have one more tune-up practice before welcoming in UW's fan base to Camp Randall for the Cardinal-White spring game on Apr. 18.
From the Infirmary
Jon Budmayr returned to full action after being limited the last couple of practices and sitting out Saturday's scrimmage completely with a groin injury. Bielema was pleased with how he worked out, and there's still a chance Budmayr could participate in the spring game.
Isaac Anderson was in great pain after appearing to suffer a groin pull and needed to be helped away from the playing area, but did return later on, albeit at a slower pace. Defensive tackle Dan Cascone limped off during the final period; and fullback Sam Spitz missed practice with an illness. Still no sign of linebacker Michael Taylor (hamstring), who's running out of time to heal before the spring game.
The young wide receiving corps continues to make strides, and while consistency will be the focus all the way through August, the Badgers are starting to show off some nice catches as a result of that improvement.
On an 18-yard route, Nick Toon had to twist and turn on a pass thrown behind him, but made the catch cleanly while toeing the left sideline for the completion. T.J. Williams followed up a shoestring catch with an acrobatic one-handed grab on the right sideline.
During scrimmage drills, David Gilreath fought off safety Aubrey Pleasant and tipped the ball to himself, hauling it in just before going out of bounds on the left sideline, drawing an angry clap and disgusted shout from Pleasant.
Despite wielding a heavily taped left arm, tight end Garrett Graham brought in a gorgeous fingertip catch from Curt Phillips. Lance Kendricks also snagged one away from aggressive linebacker Jae McFadden for a first down.
But the catch of the day has to go to little-used Richard Kirtley, during 11-on-11 scrimmage-type drills. In the second-to-last period of the day, Kirtley went over the middle and received a pass, only to get laid out by safety Shane Carter (who, by the way, has shown much more interest in physical contact compared to last season). However, Kirtley hung on, and even sprung right up and jogged downfield to complete the play.
Not Good Enough
With the good plays came the bad. Toon, who has been a surehanded receiver this spring, let a bullet pass from Dustin Sherer go right through his hands over the middle during a skeleton drill. Bielema didn't approve, barking, "C'mon Nick, you've gotta make that catch." Gilreath, Graham and Williams also recorded key drops during the day.
Prince Moody had a tough day in his new role as a receiver after being switched over from the secondary, dropping three balls on routine out routes during individual drills. He received encouragement from some of the assistants, getting told to keep his head up and keep working on his hands.
Tight end Zach Davison had two drops in a row during individual work.
When practice was done, and most the team had finished interviews and headed back to the locker rooms, receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander talked to six of his wide receivers for about 15 minutes in the north end zone, away from everyone else. Toon said that Alexander wasn't pleased with his unit's performance on Tuesday.
"We didn't have a great day out here today," Toon said. "One of our biggest dilemmas this spring and last year has been being a consistent group. We've got to step over that hurdle and take care of that issue."
Curt Phillips fired a bullet intended for receiver David Gilreath, but cornerback Niles Brinkley stepped in front and made a clean, all-hands interception. It was a great catch, especially for a guy who came to UW hoping to play wide receiver.
Getting in the Act
With the running backs and wide receivers going through a gauntlet drill, UW coach Bret Bielema decided to join the fun. He jumped in at the back end of the line of blocking pads, using his left arm to block John Clay, Zach Brown, David Gilreath and the rest of the skill players. Bielema's arm must have been getting tired or sore, though, as moments later he grabbed a spare blocking pad and finished out the drill as the final obstacle.
During split team work with all-running plays with no tackling, John Clay reeled off three longer gains of at least 10 yards, which all broke out to the left side behind left tackle Gabe Carimi.
Erik Smith also had a couple solid gains up the middle, but did fumble the handoff from Phillips on one play, which won't please a UW coaching staff that has emphasized and overemphasized ball security this spring. On that note, Phillips also fumbled a snap from starting center John Moffitt.
That's a No-No
Jay Valai has been chomping at the bit this spring to establish himself as UW's most physical defensive back, but got a little too worked up during a non-contact drill. When he pounded Brown at the line of scrimmage with a full-body hit – not really using his hands to wrap up the ball carrier at all – the defense approved but Bielema did not, yanking Valai for the next play and giving him a talking-to.
Toon has initiated plenty of friendly competition with the defensive backs that cover him, and it's boiled over slightly from time to time. On Tuesday, Brinkley shoved Toon in the face mask a few seconds over the play was done
Bielema said the scoring system on Saturday will be similar to past years, where the second unit's points will count double.
Just one normal practice to go, on Thursday afternoon, before the UW Spring game on Saturday at 2 p.m