Last season, Wisconsin’s offense averaged 41.5 points per game. In its annual spring game, UW failed to score a single touchdown.
Saturday, with a new format pitting first-team offense against first team-defense, head coach Bret Bielema got the more competitive game he was hoping for, with the defense winning 29-27.
The defense, also the White team, was spotted seven points at the beginning of each half, and a majority of the scoring came from the “rapid fire” kicking exercises after the first and third quarters.
Besides these points, third string kicker Kyle French scored the lone actual game points on a 44-yard field goal.
Despite the lackluster day offensively, head coach Bret Bielema was pleased with how the spring went overall.
“This was one practice out of 15,” Bielema said. “What you guys saw was one day, but I have been happy with the way basically both sides of the ball as well as our kicking game is coming around and continue to move forward.”
With questions as to who will fill in at quarterback, Bielema gave sophomore Jon Budmayr, redshirt freshman Joe Brennan and true freshman Joel Stave each a chance to lead the offense.
Budmayr started the day handing off to junior running back Montee Ball for five yards.
After two more carries from Ball, Budmayr threw an incomplete pass.
The offense looked just about the same through the rest of the game. Before the UW offense picked up a second first down, each quarterback had already thrown an interception.
Budmayr finished the day 10-for-23 with one interception, while Brennan finished 4-for-23 with two interceptions and Stave was 8-for-15 with one interception.
“Right away it’s going to jump out on the offensive side to replace the starting quarterback,” Bielema said. “The three guys that got the majority of the reps today aren’t anywhere where we needed to be for us to be a competitive team in the fall. They need to continue to move forward.”
With UW’s struggles most notably at quarterback, Budmayr knows he needs to improve his game, especially in pressure situations.
“Taking advantage of opportunities and not turning the ball over in crucial situations,” Budmayr said of what he needs to work on. “I think that’s one of the things I need to get better at. Crucial situations doesn’t mean end of the game; it’s first down you can’t turn the ball over, third down you have to keep the chains moving to keep our offense on the field.”
Brennan, meanwhile, characterized his spring as up-and-down and was quick to note his need to improve.
“My wide receivers did a great job of getting open, and it’s my job to put it in their hands,” Brennan said. “I felt like I left a lot of plays out on the field today.”
While the quarterbacks struggled to get the ball out to their wide receivers during the game, the youth of the wideouts was still noticeable.
There were several drops and poor angles taken.
With senior Nick Toon still out, sophomore Jared Abberderis has been leading the receivers through the spring. Saturday, Abbrederis caught two passes for a total of 40 yards.
“I think that we showed up a little lackadaisical today,” Abberderis said. “We didn’t really bring it as much as we should have. We had some nice plays, we just had some stopped drives, just didn’t finish them.”
While the quarterbacks and wide receivers struggled, the running backs and offensive line stood out as bright spots for the offense.
Freshman running back Jeffrey Lewis carried the ball a team-leading 11 times, averaging 2.6 yards per carry. But it was sophomore James White, junior Montee Ball and senior Zach Brown who stood out, moving the offense down the field.
“I’m very excited because I think Zach Brown gives us a three-deep at the running back; that may be as good as we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Bielema said.
Working with new running back coach Thomas Hammock, the trio showed it could control the game much like it did last year. Still, the tailbacks have higher expectations heading into the 2011 season.
“We’re trying to do better than last year,” White said. “We’re just trying to get better each and every practice. We’re trying to remember what happened last year and just try to improve off last year.”
Failing to record a touchdown in the spring game wasn’t exactly the start that White and the running backs were looking for.
“Going into the game, all running backs expect to score a touchdown, so I guess I didn’t expect not to score one,” White said. “I mean, things happen; you’re not going to be able to score every single game.”
The Badgers didn’t put together their best performance in the spring game, but they still found positives that they can take away from the experience. It’s the negative plays and missed opportunities, though, that will drive the Badgers through summer conditioning as they prepare for fall camp.
“There was some good and some bad,” Budmayr said. “The biggest thing is to just learn from the bad and carry it forward into the summer and into fall camp.”