The Wisconsin badger offense is as close to a sure thing as we’ll see in college football. The defense…not so much. Wisconsin was predicted to finish third in the Big Ten in large part because of their defense. The UW finished #1 in the conference in scoring offense and will return nearly all of that production. The defense suprised many and finished #4 in the conference in scoring defense. They will return seven starters on defense, holes are present however. UW will have to replace both DT’s and playmaking safety Chris Maragos.
Upfront: O’Brien Schofield is irreplaceable for this team. Schofield was a force in all phases of the game. He was a strong candidate for conference defensive player of the year. He rushed the passer, he played the run, and set the tone with his energy. Schofield has taken his game to the NFL and will be replaced by Louis Nzegwu. Nzegwu brings tremendous athleticism to the field, he starred in high school as a tailback, but has grown into a 6-4 250 lb. DE. His athleticism cannot be questioned, his experience can. He showed flashes last year, but his uneven spring performance led some to wonder if he might be supplanted by playmaking sophomore David Gilbert. There are no such questions on the other side. J.J Watt burst onto the scene and has caught the attention of NFL scouts. He has long arms, a high motor, and a quick burst off the ball. He figures to be the leader of this defense. The tackle rotation is the defenses uncertainty. There are some impressive young players in this roation including Jordan Kohout and Patrick Butrym who figure to start in September. These players fit the traditional mold of UW DL, they are powerful run stoppers who play with a high motor. Their biggest challenge will be their experience. UW has brought in some very promising DT’s in recent recruiting classes including Beau Allen and Anthony Mains.
The Backers: No player captured more attention on the UW team last year than Chris Borland. I have to admit, he is rapidly becoming this writers favorite all time Badger. Quite simply all he does is make plays, and big ones! He started out in spot duty but was pressed into a larger role as a result of injuries. He didn’t disappoint. He proved assignment sound and impacted the game in all areas. His amazing instincts and motor would seem to have poised for stardom. Several publications have him pegged for first team all conference. He is unlikely to unseat defending defensive player of the year Greg Jones as the leagues top player, but it is likely that he will hold that title at some point. Culmer St. Jean has the confidence of the coaches and seems sure with his assignments. He seems limited athletically and doesn’t make a ton of plays. Mike Taylor returns with a clean bill of health and hopes to build on a strong season cut short by injury. Should he stay healthy, he has significant ability and can really help this group. Should he get hurt again, Blake Sorenson is the groups top backup. This is not a group blessed with great depth.
Secondary: This is an area with a lot of questions. Aaron Henry was a decorated HS player who held an offer from Fla. but has struggled with injury. He has shown flashes of being a very good player, but injuries have forced him to move to safety. Some have felt this is his best position, 2010 shall show us. Jay Valai is the groups most experienced player, he is a ferocious hitter, but he is limited in coverage. The corners surpassed expectations, but the group is hampered by a lack of depth by starters Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
Overall: Wisconsin figures to be very good against the run. 2009 saw UW finish atop the league in rushing defense. There is little to suggest that they won’t be very good against the run in 2010. Their pass defense is however an area of concern, 2009 saw UW finish 10th in the conference in this area. Concern looms as their is little to suggest that the UW has improved measurably in this area, particularly with the loss of Schofield. Wisconsin was 4th in the league in forcing turnovers and returns some players who have shown ability in turning the ball over. Replacing Chris Maragos will be a significant issue in this regard. Whether or not UW can stop the pass is likely going to be the key to their season.
Here are some things you may have thought about or noticed from Saturday’s game:
- On Scott Tolzein: “I take it all on myself,” Tolzien said. “Protection was good. Just bonehead decisions.” Here is a quandary. We’ve all been fascinated by this story–cool kid (check out story about his relationship with an Appleton Youth in the JSOnline). However, he beat out Curt Phillips who is obviously more gifted physically because of his cerebral decision making. Count me as one person amongst many who now believe that Phillips should be given a chance to start. Ala Bollinger relieving Scott Kavanagh in 2001 against Michigan. It is time.
- On Bret Bielema: the decision to assert Phillips in the midst of momentum–boneheaded. His assertion that it was planned? Great call. So if you are planning not to meet a beautiful women and lo and behold the opportunity presents itself…do you turn your back on said women because it wasn’t part of the plan? No.
- On Bielema: he has now been running UW’s special teams for about a year. His performance in that regard has been putrid. UW’s kick return unit is the worst specialist unit in the conference. Their motto? “Thank god for our kick coverage unit”. Not sure if you noticed how many core players are on that kick coverage unit…try O’Brien Schofield, Chris Borland, Chris Maragos, Jay Valai, and Antonio Fenelus. This isn’t a unit consisting of reserves, these are defensive regulars, and the result: hideous. Considering his poor run as a recruiter, I am of the opinion that after 2009 it is time to move on. I also had a dream that Alvarez pulled the plug and stepped in…that was a good dream.
- On Schofield: wow. That’s about all I can say. I forgot about Tom Burke in praising him the other day. Next time I’m in Poplar, I’ll drop in to apologize for that omission. Schofield is putting himself in position to play on Sundays.
- On Chris Borland and assignments: Borland is in, doing what he does…which is make plays. He is removed in favor of the more assignment sure Blake Sorenson–next play Sorenson vacates his gap Adam Robinson scores the key touchdown. Sometimes you ignore your instincts and follow realism. The kid just makes plays, case closed. It may not make any sense to see him doing it given his height and age, but he does…so go with it. He may have to kick, as we’ve read he was quite the jack of all trades. Since Phillip Welch’s struggles, he may have to give it a go.
- On UW receivers: time to look at frosh Kraig Appleton. Maurice Moore proved that he can do a great David Gilreath impression–be a non factor and drop passes. Let’s go with the young kid see what he can do. Big, fast, and highly touted…better than small, slow, and drops.
- John Clay: was he walking to holes in the second half?
- Antonio Feneuls: the ball is that oblong shaped object with the half stripes on it…look for it.
- My thoughts on Kirk Ferentz and Norm Parker…right on.
- Remember UW football when they would pound you physically with Wisconsin kids in the trenches, beat you with superb special teams, and refuse to yield defensively? Now our special teams are the worst in the conference, they affect the outcome adversely each week, and we can’t get off the field on third downs. Pretty easy to see why we fail in games against superior opposition.
- On Wisconsin.