Plan A was crossed out sometime last season, and plans B and C went into the trash soon after that. Now the Wisconsin football program is left with an agenda new to almost everyone involved.
With Thorpe award-winner Jamar Fletcher and running back Michael Bennett now playing on Sundays for the Dolphins and the Vikings respectively, and other key players gone to either the NFL or eligibility expirations, the Badgers are left with a depleted roster filled with replacements and newcomers.
This situation has left the Badgers out of some Top 25 polls and hanging onto rankings in the lower portion in others — unlike last year, when Wisconsin was ranked in the top 10 in most polls and was considered a contender for the national title.
But everything is changing this year — even the game plan.
With chants of “Ron Dayne on the carry” a distant memory, and Bennett’s name now being yelled in Minnesota, UW is turning its attention away from the run and towards the passing game.
After Northwestern passed its way to a portion of the Big Ten title last season using the spread offense, the Badgers initiated the passing attack during the off-season. The new system should showcase the talents of returning receivers Lee Evans and Nick Davis, and will provide a diversion from the rushing game.
“Our talent level at receivers now is way up,” Evans said. “We got a lot of people that can make a lot of plays, so putting more of them on the field is an advantage to our offense.”
In its Aug. 25 debut, the new formation featured Evans, Davis, Darren Charles and David Braun.
This new offensive scheme not only provides more diversity in the offensive game plan, it also showcases the receivers’ talents more than in the past.
“As a receiver, you always want the ball,” Evans said. “With the running backs we’ve had in the past, it’s hard to say, ‘All right, let’s open it up and throw the ball.’ We’ve got to do what it takes to win. If the strongest point of the team is running the ball, then you’ve got to focus it on the run. Now we’ve got a couple of young running backs [in Anthony Davis and Jerone Pettus] so we’re going to throw a little more.”
Whatever experience the backfield lacks, the QB position makes up for it. The Badgers have two talented QBs that are both capable of running UW’s offense — a topic of controversy that has plagued UW since backup Jim Sorgi successfully replaced starter Brooks Bollinger last season against Indiana and Michigan State.
When Bollinger went down against Virginia with a contusion of the liver, Sorgi once again proved his worth, and the controversy was revived.
Sorgi will fill in for Bollinger until he recovers, but after that, it will again be debated as to which of the two styles of QB will be more effective for UW.
“As a coach, you’d like to be strong at the quarterback position,” Alvarez said. “I think that’s one of the strengths of our football team. Brooks Bollinger can do a lot of things to beat you, can do a lot of different things. He can throw the ball, he’s an excellent runner and he’s probably as good a leader as I’ve ever been around. Then we have the luxury of a young man by the name of Jim Sorgi who was a redshirt freshman last season and was forced into duty and probably performed better than I ever anticipated. He really does an excellent job of throwing the deep ball. His strengths are just the opposite of Brooks,’ and I think they complement each other really well.”
The two QBs will lead an offense that returns five starters from last season.
The situation is the same on the other side of the ball as well. The defense also returns five starters and will be clinging to the back of all-American Wendell Bryant on the defensive line and Mike Echols in the secondary.
Bryant was supposed to have the size of new rusher Darius Jones on his line, but an injury during pregame warm ups kept Jones out the game against Virginia.
The linebackers have the luxury of having Nick Greisen back to enrich an inexperienced secondary. He proved his value against UVA with three tackles and one interception.
Following the Aug.25 game against Virginia, Alvarez said he was pleased with his young secondary, but that they had a lot of work to do to improve. The new DBs were not really tested by Virginia, so it was hard for Alvarez to evaluate how much work the young corps needed to do.
This defense will be tested even more Sept. 1, when the Badgers take on Oregon on the road. UW gets a bit of a breather when they return to Camp Randall to host Fresno State and Western Kentucky before kicking off the Big Ten season Sept. 22 at struggling Penn State. The Badgers will also have to travel to Ohio State, Illinois and Minnesota. UW will host Indiana, Michigan State, Iowa and Michigan, and they will get a fortunate schedule break in not having to play a tough Northwestern team or a defensively stacked Purdue at all.