Wisconsin paid Wofford $500,000 to help the Badgers football team prepare for the Big Ten season, and it appeared to be worth every penny with UW’s 44-14 victory being instructive in more than one way.
With six fumbles — three of which were lost — head coach Bret Bielema knows what he must focus on this week in practice for the upcoming Michigan State game.
On the other side of the ball, however, the Badgers showed they are more adept at handling option offenses, a major concern with Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor and Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez’s zone option scheme on the horizon.
“This is a totally different offensive structure than [we] have played, but they zoned in on it, you know they focused in on it,” Bielema said. “When you are playing in the Big Ten — for instance Michigan State, they are going to run a different spread attack. … Their spread is totally different from Minnesota’s and I don’t even know what Purdue is going to run. In the Big Ten you have to focus in on the style of play your opponent has every week.”
Wisconsin limited the Terriers potent ground game to 214 yards rushing and merely 259 yards of total offense along with forcing four turnovers. At the head of the attack was junior middle linebacker Culmer St. Jean, finishing with 15 tackles and two for a loss.
“I think the biggest thing that helped us was being disciplined and just trusting each other,” St. Jean said. “In this type of offense you are always isolated one-on-one, so if you know the next man is going to do his job it’s easier for you to do your job.”
Along with a strong test for the defense, Wisconsin’s passing game continued to click against Wofford. Utilizing starter Scott Tolzien in the first half and freshman Curt Phillips for most of the second half, the UW signal callers combined for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Though most of Phillips’ damage came on the ground, the threat from two quarterbacks could prove difficult to defend in Big Ten play.
“You got [Garrett Graham] in there, you have [Lance Kendricks], you got some wide receivers. If we put the ball on the ground any more, maybe we will just go empty,” Bielema said.
Leading the team with six catches for 70 yards and a touchdown was junior tight end Kendricks. After being highly touted by the coaches in fall camp, Kendricks had been nonexistent through the first two games. Breaking out against the Terriers, however, Kendricks gives UW the dual tight end threat they were hoping for.
“It was fun being able to get out there and make some plays,” Kendricks said. “Especially before the Big Ten started.”
Coming into the season, the one facet of the team thought to be rock solid was the running game. Three games into the schedule, however, and the ground game has yet to get on track.
Though all three running backs finished with over five yards per carry average, the four fumbles from the backs were another way the rush attack has stalled.
“I think it is [the running backs] that have to be on rhythm, they got to be on track,” Bielema said. “We have to be clean in our footwork and obviously the exchange issue and ball security are at a premium. I really felt that we just have not found the full-fledged identity of what we can be up front there.”
Taking advantage of extended playing time, freshman running back Erik Smith took 10 carries for 54 yards and pumped up the crowd on a 19-yard run. If either Brown or Clay fumbles against Michigan State, Smith could be likely to see playing time.
“[Erik] is into it, he is engaged, he has a lot of athletic ability,” Bielema said. “There is just not much weight in those pants, so he gets bounced around a little bit. But he has got a different gear to him.”
Qualifying for the most exciting play of an otherwise sloppy game would be freshman Chris Borland’s blocked punt. With the Badgers sending ten men at the Terriers on fourth down, Borland was able to leap over the wedge and get his hand on the ball early in the second quarter. The ball rolled into the end zone where freshman David Gilbert was able to recover it for a touchdown.
“It was a good scheme,” Borland said. “We had more guys than they could block from the left side on our punt block left, so they had one guy to block two … it was just me and the wedge. They back up a bit and most wedges try to stay firm. And when they backed up I just went over them.”
With an attendance of 78,253, Camp Randall did not sell out for the first time in Bielema’s tenure. Though it may be a reflection of a sub-par opponent, Bielema isn’t worried going forward.
“The crowd out there today was outstanding,” Bielema said. “I really felt they were engaged and I didn’t notice any difference from that standpoint.”