It wasn’t anything fancy, but the Wisconsin football team’s offense made two trips to the endzone in Saturday’s spring game, which is twice more than anyone could have said about the team a year ago at this point in the offseason.
The starting units of the “Cardinal” team took out the second-string “White” squad at Camp Randall Stadium, winning 21-10, scoring both touchdowns in the first half.
With Montee Ball and James White sidelined thanks to general precautions, redshirt freshman running back Melvin Gordon led the way for Wisconsin’s offense Saturday, with 159 yards and one touchdown on 30 carries.
Gordon capped off an 11-play, 51-yard drive with a 2-yard score in the second quarter to put the Cardinal up 17-6 with just over a minute remaining. His longest run of the day came on a 27-yard run off-tackle, where Gordon turned the corner and sprinted down the sidelines.
“A five-deep running back corps suddenly got slimmed down to two healthy guys,” head coach Bret Bielema said. “I would say at this time that [running backs coach Thomas Hammock] and myself both wanted to see Melvin grind it out, that’s one of the things he hasn’t had to do and that’s something I was happy to see today and he got stronger as the day went on.
Gordon ran exclusively with the first-team offense Saturday, while redshirt sophomore Jeff Lewis was the featured back for the second team, but also took occasional carries with the first. He ran for 18 yards on 12 carries, with his longest run stretching 11 yards.
As a pleasant surprise, Gordon’s play was complimented nicely by redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Chase Hammond, both of whom are part of position units that, as a whole, have struggled throughout spring camp.
Stave, who ran with the first-team offense for all but the third quarter, completed 14 of 25 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. He threw one interception and was sacked once, but his passes – especially the deep balls – looked crisp all day.
Joe Brennan, on the other hand, continued to struggle with the White team. He completed two of 11 passes for 24 yards.
Hammond, a 6-foot-5, 212-pound target with long arms, showed off his sizeable range of grasp with four catches for 48 yards and a score.
Stave and Hammond kicked off the scoring when the two connected on a seven-yard quick-slant pattern. Stave threw the ball high, where only Hammond could get it, and reached for the goal line as he got dragged down from behind.
With wide receiver Jared Abbrederis out all of camp and Nick Toon on to the NFL, the Badgers have been shopping for a new starter at wide receiver and haven’t quite seen anyone step up. But after Saturday, Hammond thought he had shown he can contribute to the UW offense.
“I really showed that when its time to play, I can make plays,” he said. “I really think that that’s been big on me. I may not always have the best practices but that’s what practice is for.”
Redshirt sophomore Isaiah Williams led the Badgers with five catches for 53 yards. Redshirt junior Jeff Duckworth nabbed three passes for 23 yards while sophomore Kenzel Doe and redshirt freshman fullback Derek Straus each had one reception for 19 and 16 yards, respectively.
However, redshirt freshman A.J. Jordan, redshirt sophomore Marquis Mason, along with Doe and Duckworth, all dropped at least one pass Saturday. Williams dropped two.
Still with plenty of work to be done, Stave and several other members of the UW offense thought the team had shown improvement in the spring game.
“Very up and down with the new offense, new coaches,” Stave said, who will battle with incoming transfer Danny O’Brien for the starting spot in the summer. “I think we took a step forward as a team.”
The Badgers are also in the market for new bodies on special teams – specifically kicker and punter. Redshirt freshman Drew Meyer led the punters with a 35.9 average on eight attempts while redshirt sophomore Kyle French led the kickers in the kicking contest by nailing eight of 10 attempts.
French hit both attempts from 27 and 32 yards. He went 2-for-3 from 37 and hit field goals from 42 and 52 yards while missing from 57.