Although the Wisconsin defensive unit features several new faces in starting positions, it certainly didn’t look that way in Saturday’s spring football game.
Both the Cardinal and White squads impressed, even if the combined 70 points allowed doesn’t make it appear that way.
The two Badger squads combined for 10 tackles for loss, including seven sacks for a loss of 53 yards. Redshirt senior O’Brien Schofield led the way with a pair of sacks for the No. 1 defense on quarterbacks Scott Tolzien and Jon Budmayr.
Schofield did not start the game with the first string defense, however, due to disciplinary action taken by head coach Bret Bielema.
“O’Brien did that to himself; he was two minutes late to the team meeting yesterday afternoon, so he was moved down to the twos,” Bielema said. “One of our things we really talked about was being on time, and he wasn’t able to do that for yesterday’s meeting. … We have to set the example at the top and he understands that now.”
Following the game, Schofield echoed Bielema’s sentiments, saying he needs to be a leader of the defensive corps. He believes the move down to the No. 2 defense was a test from his head coach.
“He just wanted to see how I was going to respond, if I was going to still be able to play ball and focus,” Schofield said. “At first I really didn’t like it, but you know, as a football player in general I love the game and it was still a privilege to be out there in general.”
The highlight of the day for the white defense came in the first quarter when linebacker Tony Megna intercepted a Dustin Sherer pass at the 24-yard line and returned it for a touchdown. With points worth double for second-stringers, Megna’s interception gave the White squad a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Megna had been in the secondary for the Wisconsin defense, but Bielema opted to switch him to the linebacking corps after seeing him play a few times.
“I just saw him making plays. … Tony is a scrappy kid,” Bielema said. “He’s got a great energy, great attitude (and is) probably one of the more enjoyable kids to be around on the team just because of what he feels is important and how he kind of handles himself.”
For the Cardinal defense, the game went according to plan.
With Budmayr and Tolzien behind center for the White squad, the Cardinal defense did not allow an offensive touchdown to the No. 2 offense. On eight drives Saturday the white offense managed just 21 yards, punting five times and giving the ball away once on a Devin Smith interception.
Still, the No. 1 defense knows it needs to continue to improve before the start of fall camp and the regular season.
“We know we’re going to play against some better teams out there in the Big Ten and other conferences,” linebacker Jaevery McFadden said. “At the same time it is a good feeling to be able to say we shut them out in the spring game.”
Maragos, Watt receive scholarships
After transferring to Wisconsin and proving their worth, safety Chris Maragos and defensive end J.J. Watt got some big news at Friday’s team meeting.
Bielema announced the two defensive starters would be receiving scholarships in the fall as a reward for their hard work and dedication to the team.
It was an exciting moment for Maragos and Watt, as well as the rest of their teammates.
“To have all those players react in a certain way when I announced that last night to the team, that gets me excited,” Bielema said.
For Watt, being a scholarship player is nothing new, as he had previously been under scholarship at Central Michigan before transferring to Wisconsin.
After giving up a scholarship and sitting out a year, getting a scholarship from the Badgers proved the decision was the right one for Watt.
“It’s a great feeling to get a scholarship, especially after working hard for a year and giving up a scholarship at Central Michigan to come here,” Watt said. “I’m very grateful that Coach B gave me the opportunity to come here, and I’m very, very grateful that he gave me the scholarship now.”
Maragos, on the other hand, was never offered a scholarship from Western Michigan before transferring to Wisconsin. To finally earn one from the University of Wisconsin means a great deal to the Racine native.
“My first reaction was, you know, thinking back on just what the Lord had brought me through and just kind of how he had been working in kind of the hard times,” Maragos said. “Now just to see the end result of his work and his hand in everything I was flooded with a lot of different emotions.”