On Saturday, I covered just my second Wisconsin football spring game since being on campus. And let me tell you, like every other year, it was much ado about nothing.
As great as it is to touch base with the team and see how it’s starting to develop in the offseason, the fact remains that there are three-and-a-half months before fall camp begins. Frankly, that’s plenty of time for a lot of things to change.
For instance, after last year’s spring game, Jon Budmayr was largely expected to be the starting quarterback in the fall. Then Russell Wilson arrived and everyone let out a huge sigh of relief.
But regardless, upon watching this year’s spring game, it because apparent Wisconsin has a few problems on its hands.
It was said all season long last year, Brad Nortman was taken for granted. He didn’t have to punt all that often but when he did, he was great — as proved by the fact he was one of only two punters selected in the NFL draft (sixth round).
Now without Nortman, it’s time for a new guy to step in. But based off Saturday, no current UW punter will be giving an Oscar-worthy performance that would send UW to another Rose Bowl.
It is fair to say that the cold, rainy overcast conditions for the game were not ideal for punters and kickers alike, but when it came to those punts, it was not a pretty affair.
Redshirt freshman Drew Meyer led the corps with an average of 35.9 yards on eight attempts. Ryan Howard only punted twice one for 35 yards, the other a measly 18 yards. Freshman Stephen Salata only attempted one punt, sending it off for 33 yards.
For reference, Nortman averaged 42.2 yards a punt last year through 46 attempts. Wisconsin’s opponents last season averaged only 38.3 yards per punt through 74 attempts. Essentially, Badgers of all kinds didn’t know how good they had it with Nortman around.
To their credit though, sitting behind Nortman, Meyer and Co. never got much game experience — heck, Nortman didn’t get much game experience. Saturday was one of the first game-like experiences for the corps — one of the first times they had to punt under pressure. But if Wisconsin wants to be a strong player in field position, the punting needs to get better come fall camp.
The Gordon conundrum
Not all problems are bad. In fact, the Badgers have a great problem on their hands — they have an extremely deep running back corps with a lot of potential.
All eyes were on redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon as he raced to 159 yards on 30 carries, averaging 5.3 yards a carry.
Despite his outstanding performance, he still remains buried on the depth chart behind Heisman hopeful Montee Ball and James White. While White didn’t quite have a sophomore season on par with his freshman year, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native has been looking stronger so far this spring and has made some impressive moves through Wisconsin’s other non-public scrimmages.
Essentially the Badgers have a lovely predicament of trying to get all three of these backs on the field. Ball is far and away the No. 1 back, but White and Gordon will probably trade off a fair amount.
Or, as the Badgers have run a few times through spring camp, offensive coordinator Matt Canada may have some tricks up his sleeves with several two-back formations or lining a back up as a slot receiver from time to time to get each of them some more game minutes. Either way, Canada, Bielema and Hammock have quite the happy problem to orchestrate.
As always, who will be under center next fall remains a question. Joel Stave far and away outperformed Joe Brennan on Saturday as they went 14-25-1 and 2-11-0, respectively. Stave threw for 135 yards while Brennan managed a meager 24.
But of course, Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien has yet to arrive and vie for the position. So while Stave looked decent, he’ll still have to fight off O’Brien for the starting spot come fall.
Most of what can be taken away from spring camp is simply this: We have to be patient. We can speculate all we want now, but until the season starts this August, many of the concerns surrounding the team just can’t be answered yet.
Kelly is a junior majoring in journalism. Think the Badgers will resolve their issues without a breaking a sweat? Let her know @kellymerickson.