MADISON - There was good, there was bad and, unfortunately, there was a lot of ugly – particularly from the quarterback position - during Wisconsin's scrimmage Saturday afternoon.
First to the good, Wisconsin's has got plenty of depth at running back. With John Clay getting a smaller workload today, the Wisconsin coaches asked "What can Brown do for us?" The answer was solid and unequivocal – a lot.
Zach Brown easily gained over 150 yards during the two-hour scrimmage and scored two touchdowns, one of the simple one-yard dive kind, but another going for 60-plus yards on a play where he simply out ran everybody.
"I thought Zach would do what you would expect a guy to do going into his third camp," Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst said. "I think he hit the ground running. I thought he did a great job running behind his pads. I was really pleased the way he attacked it. That was a good sign to get the ball rolling and keep it going."
Brown wasn't the only player that made an impact from the running back position, as redshirt freshman Erik Smith showed his burst to quickly get around the tackle and turn up field and freshman Montee Ball had the longest play of the day, showing a lot of speed and agility for a freshman.
"Montee is a gamer-type guy," Head Coach Bret Bielema said. "He gets the juices going and relies on physical strength."
More importantly, Wisconsin came out relatively healthy from the scrimmage with only a few bumps and bruises.
Now to the bad
Wisconsin was whistled for four penalties Saturday, not horrible considering they were one of the most penalized teams in the conference last year. Still, Bielema made sure all the players that were responsible for a penalty, a missed assignment or a fumble to pay the price.
Everyone that fell into that mistake group – players like Antonio Fenelus, Erik Smith, Mickey Turner., Ricky Wagner, Bradie Ewing and Jake Bscherer – had to run five yards, do an up-down and continue the length of the field. Next, the whole team did the same drill, going five yards, do an up-down and continuing.
"One of the big things we have to do is be smart before the snap," Bielema said. "We had some conditioning at the end of practice to reinforce that."
Although the defense performed well in the red zone, Bielema was not super pleased with some of the defensive miscues that caused big runs or pass plays.
"The part that we can't give us is big plays," Bielema said. "One play we had them backed up to about second-and-18 and we let a seam route get down the field in a Cover 2. We need to clean those things out."
And to the ugly – the quarterbacks, a group that threw five interceptions on Saturday afternoon, four alone by redshirt freshman Curt Phillips that have raised questions on who the clear favorite is, if there is one, to be the starting quarterback when the staff announces the decision on Wednesday.
On a day where Bielema wanted one of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job to step up to the plate, only fifth-year senior Dustin Sherer didn't have a turnover, although he threw fewer passes than the other two.
Two of Phillips' interceptions can be blamed on the wide receivers, as his fist pick was caused when Isaac Anderson stopped running his route and his third when it was bobbled in the end zone. The other two, however, were poor throws or, worse yet, poor decisions.
"Those are growing pains," Chryst said. "Picks kill you. I don't know if it was outstanding. We have enough things to work on, so we better come back next week. There is a lot that guys have to go through and quarterback is no different decision. I like a lot of the progress he's made, but he's got to keep going and get better."
While the day was a tough go for the quarterbacks, Chryst emphasized that it was only one practice and it was a good day of fall camp. The plan now is for the coaching staff to get together tomorrow for a personnel meeting, determining what players are going to be able to help them this fall. After today, Bielema has a better idea of what the quarterback situation will look like after today's scrimmage … although he was apt to share it.
"You've got to take a look at the bigger picture," Bielema said. "We've been here for two weeks. We weren't going to make a decision based on today, but today factors in."
Wide Receivers: David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson
Running Back: Zach Brown
Quarterback: Curt Phillips
When Watt lined up on the inside, Nzegwu was on the end. When Watt lined up on the outside, Dan Moore played inside
Running Back: Montee Ball
Tight Ends: Rob Korslin
Quarterback: Scott Tolzien
Solid Defensive Plays
Devin Smith registered an interception on Curt Phillips early in practice. With Isaac Anderson breaking off the route, and subsequently sitting out the rest of the day with a hip injury, Smith back pedaled in coverage and secured the pass with a leap.
Chris Borland came in during Wisconsin's Badger package. Chris Borland was solid all afternoon. He filled the hole nicely to make a solid form tackle on Erik Smith. He stayed home on a play fake and was in the perfect position when Phillips ran a bootleg to force the quarterback out of bounds after a small gain. Borland also registered a sack on Sherer when, combined with Michael Taylor, overwhelmed the second-string offensive line and got into the backfield.
Sherer's play-action pass was snuffed out by Marcus Cromartie, who made a solid play on Lance Kendricks by getting his left hand on the football, batting it out of harm's way.
Aaron Henry stood toe-to-toe with Clay on a couple occasions and won, one of which was when he blocked Clay's stiff arm and pushing him out of bounds.
J.J. Watt rotated between the defensive tackle and defensive end position and showcased his athleticism, getting his arms up from the end position and blocked an attempted out-route throw by Phillips. Phillips is lucky he did, as his pass more than likely would have been intercepted by the two defenders guarding Smith.
Tolzien's first series started out strong, making a solid throw to Graham over the middle on third-and-six to move the chains. That momentum was short lived, as Tolzien's next pass over the middle was tipped into the arms of Culmer St. Jean, who with help from an Aaron Henry convoy, scored a 38-yard touchdown.
Phillips' second interception when his pass intended for Richard Kirtley was thrown well behind him and into the arms of Niles Brinkley.
Zach Brown took a small hole on the right side of the line of scrimmage and sprinted by everybody, running 65 yards for the score down the right sideline. Chris Maragos had a chance for a touchdown-saving tackle, but his diving attempt didn't connect.
Lance Kendricks with a solid play, out running Culmer St. Jean and having Curt Phillips throw an excellent pass to him mid-stride. The gain went for 68 yards down to the two-yard line, where Jay Valai finally pulled him down.
Red Zone Part One
On Wisconsin's first series in the red zone, Clay was the work horse, carrying the ball four times, including one run up the middle for an eight-yard gain. On a thunderous collision, Valai, despite giving up 47 pounds to Clay, made a solid tackle. The drive, however, when Kirtley bobbled a leaping catch and watched the ball fall into the arms a Maragos, charging another interception to Phillips, his third of the day.
Moving the Chains … Sort Of
Starting on their own three-yard line, Tolzien had the task of taking the Badgers to pay dirt. After O'Brien Schofield made a nice lateral tackle on Brown, holding the speedy runner to a one-yard gain, and Valai smelled out a play-action pass, forcing Tolzien to quickly unload the pass into the void to avoid the safety, Jae McFadden and Valai combined to stop Smith on a third down run play. Three plays, one yard.
Phillips was next in the fold and immediately got relief with Smith went 22 yards inside the tackle before finally being pushed out by Shelton Johnson. Smith is extremely quick and because of his size, only needs a sliver of room and can be an elusive guy to bring down.
On second down, however, a holding penalty stalled the drive. Smith ran for eight up the middle and could have moved the chains with a third-down pass completion. However, Phillips was flushed out of the pocket and couldn't deliver the ball to Smith quick enough.
After a short break, Brown lit a fire under the offense and put the defense on its heels. After Sherer completed a 15-yard inside slant pass to Gilreath, Brown saw the offensive line perform admirably, opening up two big holes for him to run through to rack up 12 and eight yards, respectively.
After a holding penalty set the offense back to second-and-10, Brown got the Badgers back in business, carrying the ball 19 yards down to the nine-yard line. He eventually cashed in the drive with a gritty one-yard run up the middle.
Phillips was back under center after the touchdown and saw more of the same troubles, as Taylor broke up a sure catch when he outstretch his arm for a pass breakup. Phillips did recover, getting two passes completed to Appleton and Moore, and saw Ball have a solid burst up the middle to move the chains with a nine-yard gain.
Another poor pass, however, resulted in Phillips' fourth interception of the scrimmage. Seeing Rob Korslin have the insight step on his defender, Phillips unloaded the pass, but failed to see Josh Peprah in coverage, resulting in an easy interception for the freshman from Plano, Texas.
Red Zone Part Two
After Phillips' fourth pick, Tolzien took over from where the 20-yard line, and after three rushing plays failed to get a first down, sophomore Phillip Welch knocked in a 26-yard field goal from the right hash.
Phillips was back at it after the field. After a first down rushing play netted no gain, pressure forced Phillips to throw a second-down pass away. He would have had a touchdown on third down, but Kirtley was tripped up at the two-yard line, resulting in a pass interference penalty.
The touchdown wasn't a foregone conclusion, thanks to Briedis, who bull rushed through the line and stopped Smith for a five-yard loss. Phillips took in from there, however, as he chose to run the ball into the corner of the end zone after the UW defense successfully shut down all his receiver options.
Moving the Chains … Once Again
After finishing the drive with a touchdown instead of an interception, Phillips started the UW drive against the first-team defense on his own three-yard line. UW's defense stopped the run on the first two plays, UW's defense missed on Ball, who went right through the line of scrimmage for 82 yards. He ran out of steam at the end, as Devin Smith and Henry finally managed to pull him down at the 10-yard line.
It turned out to be a big play by Smith and Henry, as UW's defense stymied the offense. Two failed rushing attempts and big play by Nzegwu ended the drive. Phillips faked the handoff and rolled to his left, turning around to find Nzegwu right in his face, resulting in a big sack. UW settled for a Phillip Welch 31-yard field goal.
Sherer took over from the three-yard line, but primarily ran the ball with the second-team offense. Phillips did miss fire on a pass to Kirtley, throwing wide, and overthrew him and two defenders on the next play, which was third-and-11.
Jon Budmayr finished off practice with some reps, although he didn't attempt a pass. The first and only fumble of the afternoon happened when Smith bobbled a handful, but was quick to fall on the loose ball. Shelby Harris, a highly-touted defensive end from Mequon Homestead, got some reps at the end of practice, even making a solid tackle on Ball.
Nick Toon (quad) did not participate in the scrimmage and Anderson (hip) left early. Bradie Ewing needed to be helped off the field after it grabbed his hamstring but he participated at the end of practice. John Moffitt was in full pads and working on regaining his upper body strength with strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert. The two pushed the sled for roughly 10 seconds at a time, rested and went back at it again.
Wisconsin has the day off from the practice field tomorrow, but will participate in Family Fun Day starting at 3 p.m. The Badgers return to the practice field at 9:30 a.m. Monday.