The way the quarterbacks practiced Thursday, it's obvious UW ran the ball … a lot.
Nevertheless, UW made solid progress on the defensive side of the football during its 13th practice of the fall season, including working extensively on kickoff coverage.
A day after Head Coach Bret Bielema did a lot of work on kickoff return, the Badgers were focused on kickoff coverage, displaying a newer coverage.
In addition to Phillip Welch handedly the kickoff duties, the Badgers' first-team stationary line consisted of Antonio Fenelus, Kevin Claxton, Blake Sorensen, Louis Nzegwu, Lance Kendricks, William Hartmann, Prince Moody and Devin Smith. Lining up with Welch and getting a head start down the field were Chris Borland and Shelton Johnson, as the two hit the line of scrimmage with a full head of steam.
Welch, with the wind swirling, delivered multiple solids kicks that landed two-yards deep in the goal line.
Jake Bscherer was back on the first-team offensive line after missing both practices Wednesday with a stomach virus. Other than that, UW had no chances on the offense or the first-team defense.
The second-team offensive line remains a young group. For the first time this camp, Zac Matthias saw some time at left tackle. The freshman offensive tackle from Hemlock, Michigan, was a first-team all-state, all-area, all-conference as a senior. Next to Matthias was fellow freshman Ryan Groy, redshirt freshman Peter Konz, redshirt freshman Joe Schafer and freshman Casey Dehn.
Redshirt freshman Erik Smith continues to show why Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst and running back coach John Settle feel that Smith can bring some pop to the offense; a fact that limited the running game a year ago. Smith showed his burst multiple times on Thursday afternoon, cutting between the guard and tackle and speeding to the outside before cutting up field.
Zach Brown laid a vapor trail on a couple of his runs. After flying past a solid seal block from RT Josh Oglesby and streaking down the right sidelined before the play was blown dead, Brown watched his offensive line counter a blitz, find the hole and burst through the middle after taking the handoff.
It's evident by the way Bielema jogged downfield to give David Gilreath a low five on a running play that the UW head coach is expecting solid downfield blocking from his wide receivers. After position coach DelVaughn Alexander worked individually with his players on that very thing the last couple days, Gilreath sealed his defender to the sideline, giving Montee Ball plenty of room to move the chains.
Gilreath also showed he can still catch the ball, elevating over freshman walk-on Kyle Zuleger to secure a 25-yard pass from Sherer.
Dustin Sherer started his 7-on-7 session with a bang, throwing a perfect deep past in stride with Isaac Anderson for a 65-yard touchdown. That was the highlight for Sherer, as his next pass was nearly interception and his following three were simply check down passes to his running backs.
Later in practice during a red-zone drill with the first-team offense against the first-team defense, Sherer looked solid again. First, Sherer rolled out to his right and hit Gilreath in stride for a 10-yard gain. The next play, Sherer faked the dive to perfection and hit Maurice Moore on the next play, resulting in a touchdown and a solid three plays in the redzone.
But as you will read in the defensive notes, there were A LOT of interceptions thrown Thursday, especially by Curt Phillips and Scott Tolzien. It got so bad that during the red zone drill, Phillips simply dropped the ball moving forward in pass coverage.
With so few completions and touchdowns, there were very few ‘wow' plays Thursday, expect for a huge block Erik Smith laid out. The next play after Phillips dropped the ball, the defense threw a kitchen sink blitz at the redshirt freshman. However, Smith was there to back him up, stepping up and throwing his body into two charging backers, knocking them both to the turf, giving Phillips plenty of time to hit Kraig Appleton on an inside slant route for the touchdown.
Overall, there were a lot of drops, a lot of miscommunications, a lot of interceptions and a lot of poor throws that made Thursday a forgettable day for the quarterbacks.
Sophomore Louis Nzegwu set the tone of the practice from the very first team drill play, shooting right through the gap to stop Montee Ball in the backfield. The very next play, Nzegwu used a bull rush on Robert Bunge and used his fully repaired right knee to sky high into the air, knocking down a Phillips' pass.
Devin Smith made a diving interception on a Phillips' pass along the right sideline. The interception could be pinned on Nick Toon, the intended receiver, who didn't turn to face the pass until it was in Smith's hands.
Adam Hampton picked off Phillips with an easy interception and returned it for a touchdown. A dozen plays later, Hampton registered another interception after Tolzien's pass was tipped in the secondary.
Linebacker Nick Hill is starting to throw his name in the hat for a playmaker for Wisconsin. During split team work, Hill out muscled senior Garrett Graham, pushing the tight end deep into the backfield and was able to ‘sack' Sherer before the fifth-year senior was able to throw the football.
A.J. Fenton showed a good break on the football, reading the eyes of Tolzien and jumping in from walk-on Jared Abbrederis for the pick, subsequently running untouched into the end zone.
Aaron Henry made a nice defensive play, breaking up a Tolzien to Lance Kendricks pass with his right hand. Tolzien's completion percentage continued to drop when he appeared rattled by a blitzing backside backer, firing an attended pass over the middle way over target. Tolzien tried to test Henry again on the far sideline, but a poor pass attempt to Appleton allowed Henry to make the pass breakup.
Marcus Cromartie even got into the act for the defense, sticking close to Nick Toon and was successful in breaking up a low Phillips' pass attempt by diving and extending his arms to get a hand on the ball.
Wisconsin will return for two practice, No.14 and No.15, tomorrow morning at 9:40 a.m. and tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m.