But with 13 more practices until No.12 Wisconsin gets into game week for their season opener against UNLV, there's no need to hit the panic button, especially with the offense finally breaking through during red-zone drills.
After back-to-back stops on John Clay rushing attempts, senior quarterback Scott Tolzien just missed a big-play connected with senior tight end Lance Kendricks, who had the position on junior linebacker Kevin Rouse over the middle of the field.
The next series started with junior defensive end Louis Nzegwu getting outside leverage against senior left tackle Gave Carimi, allowing him to push his way to Montee Ball on a sweep and register a three-yard loss. Nzegwu, battling with sophomore defensive end David Gilbert for the starting end spot opposite J.J. Watt, has looked much better in drills through two days of open practice and seems to be the early front runner for the spot, getting the majority of work with the first-team defense.
After the defense responded with a third-down sack, Head Coach Bret Bielema was in no mood to deal with the first-string offense getting shutout on two straight series, and was even more irritated when some of the group jogged off the field with their helmets off.
"You just got your (butts) handed to you on two straight series," Bielema chastised, making the offense come back on the field only to have them run off the field. "Stop wasting time."
Freshman quarterback Jon Budmayr, who threw six interceptions in two practices Monday, helped saved face by completing a first-down pass to Manasseh Garner and then an out route to senior David Gilreath. After a James White false start turned a third-and-four to a third-and-nine, Budmayr was the victim of a great defensive play by Marcus Cromartie, who out jumped wide receiver Jeff Duckworth to break up a sure first down.
With White replaced because of the false start, Zach Brown reeled off the offense's best run of the day. Taking the handoff and following the gap created by left guard Ryan Groy and center Travis Frederick against Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer, Brown burst through the line and well into the secondary, going untouched 20 yards before the whistle blew.
Later in the drive, after hearing his name from the stands being complimented throughout the drill, freshman Pat Muldoon saved the face of the defense, smashing through the line to wrap up White on a third-and-two running attempt up the middle.
The first-team offense got another chance after White was stopped in the red zone, but three passing plays couldn't get them past the chains, as Aaron Henry stopped Nick Toon on a pass over the middle for a one-yard gain on third and four.
Move the Ball
Tolzien got things started quickly with an out route to Gilreath, one of many connections the two dialed up Tuesday, but the drive stalled. After a five-yard run by Clay, Tolzien overthrew Toon on a pass and then saw his junior wide receiver drop a crossing route on third down.
After hooking up for long-range connections throughout spring football, Jon Budmayr and Jared Abbrederis went for a shorter play. Hitting Abbrederis on a wide-receiver screen, the freshman walk-on made a sharp cut to the middle of the field and cut back outside for a 15-yard gain. The two nearly connected again on a pass over the middle, but linebacker Josh Harrison got his right arm up to break up the play.
Red Zone Success
The first-team offense finally broke its end-zone drought at the end of practice. On third and four, Tolzien went for his number one target on a slant route. Toon cut underneath the defender, secured the ball and muscled his way into the end zone. It was the first 11-on-11 touchdown for the offense in three practices.
The scoring became contagious after that. With the second-team offense getting its shot, a dump pass from Budmayr to White turned successful when the freshman from St. Thomas Aquinas made a hard cut inside, eluding the defenders and allowing him to walk in the end zone.
While the first and second team front sevens worked on rush defense, Wisconsin's wide receivers and cornerbacks went mono-e-mono in pass drills. One of the more impressive early performers is Madison East freshman Marquis Mason. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds, Mason had a distinct size advantage over 5-10 junior walk-on Andrew Lukasko, but the way Mason used his frame was impressive.
On an early catch, Mason was in control his body and adjusted mid air to a throw, catching the past over Lukasko for a 13-yard gain. Later, Mason was able to use his strength at the line of scrimmage to get some breathing room and cut across the field, hoping up an easy passing lane for the completion.
Mason didn't get the best of everybody. On a curl route, Mason didn't pivot quick enough, allowing another true freshman, Jameson Wright, to close the gap and knock the ball out of his hands.
Gilreath looked impressive in a slant and sideline go route against junior Devin Smith. Getting the inside step on Smith, Gilreath tiptoed along the sideline and, with Smith on his shoulder, managed to haul in a beautifully throw pass from Tolzien.
Gilreath, who only managed 12 catches for 177 yards and no touchdowns, looks to be battling senior Kyle Jefferson for the third receiver spot.
Although his unit's 11-on-11 drill wasn't as sharp, Tolzien looked near perfect during 7-on-7 skelly drills. Starting with an 18-yard fade route to Gilreath along the sideline, Tolzien took advantage of every mistake the defensive gave him. Seeing a mistake by Devin Smith, Tolzien hit a wide-open Isaac Anderson for a nice gain along the sideline.
On another third and six, Tolzien took advantage of a little stumble by Smith and fed a pass through the tiny gap to Gilreath, who caught the ball and quickly turned up field for the first down. For his sets, Tolzien went 8-for-10.
Redshirt sophomore Curt Phillips also looked impressive in his limited work Tuesday. He hit Toon out of a three-step drop, Jefferson in the right flat and led Toon perfectly on a crossing route over the middle on third and four. For his sets, Phillips went 7-for-8.
Extra Points: Zac Davison did not practice rotated between wearing and not wearing a shoulder sling throughout the day …For the first time since practice was opened, Defensive Line Coach Charlie Partridge worked on kickoff return. On his number line was Devin Smith, Dezmen Southward, Jared Abbrederis, Chris Borland, Jacob Pedersen, J.J. Fenton, Marcus Cromartie, Kyle Zuleger, Antonio Fenelus, Kevin Rouse and Philip Welch … Showing a lack of energy and too much carelessness to his liking during split team work, Defensive Coordinator Dave Doeren took the whole second-team defense to the sideline for a good helping of up downs … Adam Burish, former Wisconsin Badgers hockey player and 2010 Stanley Cup winner, brought the Cup to practice and spoke with the team … A scout from the New England Patriots was at practice and was working on building a file on senior Lance Kendricks.