Throughout Monday's morning practice, Wisconsin's defensive unit was the stars of the show, consistently frustrating a stacked offensive unit through the 2 hour, 30 minute practice.
During 11-on-11 drills, the defense didn't allow a single first down, churning out three-and-out series between the first- and second-team defense. In the first series, Antonio Fenelus, who had an excellent practice, stayed step for step with junior Nick Toon and timed his jump just right to knock away a completion.
On the next play, Scott Tolzien went back to Toon on a receiver screen, but Niles Brinkley was right there for the wrap up to keep the gain minimal. Throughout the practice, Brinkley and Fenelus worked with the top defense, while Devin Smith, who stated all 13 games last season, worked with the second team.
On third down, Defensive Coordinator Dave Doeren threw Chris Borland and Blake Sorensen on a blitz up the middle. Catching the offense by surprise, both registered a sack on Tolzien to force a fourth-down punt.
Although UW appears set with Borland, Sorensen and senior Culmer St. Jean starting the opener September 4 at UNLV, the Badgers got glimpse of their depth at the linebacker position. In an earlier 11-on-11 drill, redshirt freshman Ethan Armstrong, who led the white squad with 14 tackles, tipped a Budmayr pass that landed into the hands of safety Shelton Johnson.
In the second-team offense first 11-on-11, true freshman Josh Harrison made good use of reading his keys, seeing a gap that allowed him to break through the line and stop the running back on third down.
That theme continued at the end of practice during Wisconsin's red-zone drill. Wisconsin's defense, ranked eighth in the red zone last season, stopped UW's top-ranked red-zone offense on three straight plays, blanketing the secondary to force Tolzien to scramble on first down and force a pass in on third down.
The second team offense faired no better, as the defensive stopped a run up the middle on third and two. Toon bobbled an open pass to end practice, an epitome of the day for the offense, causing senior guard John Moffitt to speak up. After Bielema finished his talk, Moffitt jumped up and went into a profanity-laced tirade about not letting opportunities slip, especially on the offense.
With the amount of defense in practice, the big plays were made by the defenders.
- After well defending Toon earlier, Fenelus jumped a Budmayr route for an interception on third and four and returned it 20 yards. On the next play, Conor O'Neill jumped a curl route, nearly picking off a pass in front of Jacob Pedersen. O'Neill got Budmayr on an interception later in practice, but incorrectly tried to cut across the field for more yards. That brought the fury from Secondary Coach Chris Ash for not reading his blockers.
- After getting a helping hand from Armstrong on his first interception, Shelton Johnson got a gift on his second one, as apparent miscommunication caused Budmayr to heave a deep pass to an area where no offensive player was even close to. Johnson camped under the pass for his second tally.
- Junior linebacker Kevin Rouse went step for step with Lance Kendricks on a fourth-down attempt, staying between the senior and the passing lane to knock down the attempt. Rouse later found a gap between Peter Konz and Bill Nagy on the offensive line and charged through the line virtually untouched for the sack.
- J.J. Watt and Gabe Carimi are the two best players on their respective lines, but Watt was the better player on this particular play. Watt ran right through Carimi, pushing aside the 6-foot-7, 327-pound right tackle for the easy sack.
The first-team offense lineup up with Scott Tolzien at quarterback, John Clay and Montee Ball rotating in at running back, Kendricks and Jake Byrne at tight end, David Gilreath, Nick Toon and Isaac Anderson rotating at wide receiver and an offensive line that consisted of Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt, Peter Konz, Bill Nagy and Josh Oglesby (from left to right).
The first-team defense had Louis Nzegwu, Ethan Hemer, Patrick Butrym and J.J. Watt on the defensive line, Sorensen (SLB), Culmer St. Jean (MLB) and Chris Borland (WLB) at the linebacker position and Niles Brinkley, Jay Valai, Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus in the secondary (from left to right).
The second-team offense lineup up with Jon Budmayr at quarterback, Zach Brown and James White rotating in at running back, Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak at tight end, Anderson, Jared Abbrederis, and Manasseh Garner rotating at wide receiver and an offensive line that consisted of Casey Dehn, Ryan Groy, Travis Frederick, Zac Matthias and Ricky Wagner (from left to right).
The second-team defense had David Gilbert, Beau Allen, Eriks Briedis, Tyler Dippel on the defensive line, Kevin Claxton, Ethan Armstrong, Josh Harrison at the linebacker position and Devin Smith, Shelton Johnson, Conor O'Neill and Marcus Cromartie in the secondary (from left to right).
Needing to Be Special
After being appointed the coach in terms of punt return and punt block, Chris Ash wasted no time in perfecting the latter part of the equation. After Borland blocked a punt against Wofford and David Gilbert blocked one against Purdue, Ash appears to want more from his special teams.
Running a new special teams drill, Ash had UW punters attempt a punt, and have gunners shed a tackling dummy and take aim on blocking the kick. Just like everything else he does, Ash was high intensity, getting in the face of punters for going through the motions and with his blockers for slowing down at the point of attack.
There will be no controversy as to who will start under center for the University of Wisconsin in 19 days, but neither Tolzien nor Budmayr looked particularly sharp in the week's first practice.
In 7-on-7 drills, Tolzien finished 4-of-8 with his best pass during the drill being a timing route to Anderson. The senior made a good cut on a comeback route and Tolzien delivered the ball to his far shoulder right on the sideline where only Anderson could catch it.
Budmayr went 6-of-11 during the drill with his best pass being a timing route to Kyle Jefferson for 24 yards. The redshirt freshman also avoided a costly interception, throwing a pass right into the chest of Devin Smith that the junior simply dropped.
As noted above, team drills didn't go well for Budmayr, getting picked off four times.
- True freshman Manasseh Garner spent time with the first-team offense during three wide receiver sets. On a wide receiver screen to Toon, Garner got out in front and sealed off the cornerback, allowing for Toon to get a nice gain up the sideline.
- The poor play of the offense resulted in two scrums breaking out. The first started with defensive tackle Beau Allen and center Travis Frederick in a pushing and shoving match. At a combined 651 pounds, it took quite a few people to break the duo up.
The second tilt came at the end of practice. With Oglesby practicing with the No.2 offense after Wagner was pulled, an altercation ensued with him and linebacker Kevin Claxton and defensive end David Gilbert. Claxton appeared to be knocked to the ground by Oglesby and Gilbert came in to stand up for his teammate. A good amount of shoving followed and it appeared Oglesby even took a swing at Gilbert. Unfortunately, that was the most life the offense showed all morning.