With 140 days until the first kickoff of the 2009 season, the University of Wisconsin football team will take the field Saturday for its annual red versus white spring game.
The game will look just like any other home game for the Badgers with the exception of its players being on both sides of the ball and the lack of kickoffs and kick returns.
And although the game’s results will not count for anything in the record book, the Badgers are treating it just as they would any other game, something they consider an important part of their preparations for the fall.
“You’ve definitely got to treat it like a normal game,” linebacker Jaevery McFadden said. “After this we aren’t going to do anything football-wise until August in fall camp. You’ve definitely got to try to be focused and take it one play at a time the best you can.”
The red team will be lead offensively by quarterback Dustin Sherer and running back John Clay as they work together on the first string offense. Quarterbacks Scott Tolzien, Curt Phillips and Jon Budmayr will be featured primarily on the white team while also rotating in on the red squad.
UW head coach Bret Bielema noted while many teams like to mix up their players for the spring game, he and his staff chose to keep most of the depth chart intact, giving the team a better idea of what the fall will be like.
“Some places go with a draft where they pick, you know, have players get up and draft certain guys all over the team,” Bielema said. “I really wanted our ones to have a consistency within those five linemen playing together up front (and) those four D linemen playing together with those three linebackers behind them.”
The three positions mentioned by Bielema are those still unfilled near the end of spring ball. For the players at those positions, Saturday’s game provides an opportunity to evaluate the progress made so far.
According to defensive lineman O’Brien Schofield, he’s aware of the importance of the game, but isn’t making it out to be anything bigger than it really is.
“It’s a big day for us to put everything we’ve been working on all spring together,” Schofield said. “I’m just going to go in and watch film for this practice and look back at the things Coach (Bielema) said I need to improve on this spring and try to show him that I improved on it in the game.”
One player that will be looking to make the most of Saturday’s intrasquad game is redshirt freshman running back Erik Smith. After sitting out last season, the Chicago native has been impressive so far this spring.
Bielema believes Saturday’s contest will give his staff a look at how Smith will react this fall to playing in front of a crowd and under the pressure presented by a game atmosphere.
“The guy that’s exciting and everything jumps out at you is Erik Smith,” Bielema said. “[He has] been pretty productive in some of these scrimmages, but now he’s going to be in game uniform and now he’s going to be in Camp Randall with a little bit of people in here.”
Bielema also noted sophomore defensive lineman J.J. Watt has improved over the course of spring ball, although it may not always be noticeable to the casual observer.
McFadden agreed, tabbing Watt as the player to watch Saturday on the defensive side of the ball. Still, the Badgers’ mike linebacker knows what everyone is coming to see Saturday.
“The spring game, it’s all about offense,” McFadden said. “We all know it — defense gets no love in the spring game. So I’m going to say guys like Curt Phillips, Erik Smith and of course Clay — those are the guys to watch offensively.”
No matter what happens Saturday, the top priority for Wisconsin — besides evaluating its players — is keeping everyone healthy. Injuries often are commonplace in football, so if the Badgers can escape the spring game without a major injury, they’ll consider it a successful outing.
Bielema, McFadden and Schofield all mentioned remaining injury free as one of the most important things in looking at the game.
“My goal is just to come out injury free,” Schofield said.
“I like good weather and if we stay healthy,” Bielema added. “That’s a big thing always at the end.”