Quarterbacks — 3.16 of 5
Starting the year as virtually a complete unknown, junior quarterback Scott Tolzien probably exceeded expectations. He finished with a middling 16 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, but he did throw for a strong 2,445 yards at a 63.6 percent clip — good stats for a Wisconsin QB. More importantly, his numbers on third down were excellent, and he developed strong chemistry with returning wide receiver Nick Toon.
Tolzien even managed to carry the offense early in the season when the ground game was still struggling to get on track. Two of the losses, however, can almost exclusively be pinned on the junior signal caller, who threw two pick-sixes against Ohio State and three interceptions in a loss to Iowa.
A pure pocket passer, Tolzien took off occasionally to pick up ugly but effective yards. He impressed his teammates with toughness, standing in to take a hit in the pocket. Redshirt freshman Curt Phillips wowed with his feet but has a long way to go in the passing game.
Running Backs — 3.25 of 5
Now, you might be wondering how could this score be so low when the position includes the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. However, when you look at it game by game by game, a few bad games early in the season dragged the running back score down.
The running backs picked up just 156 yards per game as they struggled through the first three games, averaging just a 2.0 score. One issue that really brought down the running back score in a hurry was a lack of ball security. Sophomore John Clay and junior Zach Brown combined to fumble the ball nine times, with five of those lost. The most crucial of the nine fumbles came in the Badgers’ 33-31 loss at Northwestern, when Clay turned the ball over late in the game, ending Wisconsin’s hopes of a comeback.
Beginning with Big Ten play against Michigan State, sophomore John Clay really picked it up en route to several personal accolades. Over the final nine games, Wisconsin running backs averaged 1.8 touchdowns and 179 yards per game on the ground to pave the way for the UW offense.
Wide Receivers — 3.16 of 5
A young group with no seniors getting playing time, the wide receivers were rarely spectacular but almost always solid. Nick Toon emerged as a solid No. 1, leading the team with 52 receptions for 779 yards and four touchdowns. Doing a lot of his work over the middle on third down, Toon was the only reliable receiver to be counted on for a tough catch in traffic. Only a sophomore, Badger fans should be ecstatic to see him back next year.
Junior Isaac Anderson got the season started with a bang — hauling in an 80-yard touchdown on the first offensive play from scrimmage — and finished with decent numbers (30 catches for 480 yards, the team’s highest yards-per-catch average).
After being ranked the No. 1 wideout last season, David Gilreath was relegated to third-banana status. Coming into the season with tons of hype, freshman Kraig Appleton caught three balls all year after recovering from an injury and was mainly used for run blocking.
Tight Ends — 4.00 of 5
Despite earning All-Big Ten honors from the media, senior Garrett Graham played a bit of an unsung hero role on the Wisconsin football team this season. He had several games where he played a major role in the passing game, but had others where he went largely unnoticed as he continued to perform well as a run blocker.
Much like the running backs, the UW tight ends had only a handful of games that brought the score down from what it could have been. Save for poor performances against Purdue and Ohio State (and an incomplete against Iowa), the tight ends hovered around the four-out-of-five mark throughout the season.
Graham finished the season as the Badgers’ second-leading receiver with 45 receptions for 547 yards. More impressively, though, he finished with seven touchdown receptions, which led all UW receivers. Junior Lance Kendricks did not catch many passes, but was especially impressive against Purdue as he rushed for 91 yards on four carries. Kendricks also played a major role in the running game — along with senior Mickey Turner — as they provided the lead for John Clay and Montee Ball out of the backfield.
Offensive Line — 3.66 of 5
Always renowned for its offensive lines, Wisconsin put together a good-but-not-great product. Thankfully, all seven different players that started will be back next season. Left tackle Gabe Carimi was selected to First-Team All-Big Ten by the media and left guard/center John Moffitt received the same honor from the coaches.
Working under offensive line coach Bob Bostad — a perfectionist with a well-earned reputation for being, well, not pleasant — the line did a nice job dealing with injuries to Moffitt, Travis Frederick, Bill Nagy and Josh Oglesby. Struggling early in the year with run blocking, the line did a beautiful job in pass protection until they ran into the buzz saw that was Ohio State.
They picked up the ground game for the rest of the year, however, and finished with a very Wisconsin-like 2,480 rushing yards at a 4.6 average per rush. The pass protection was average in the second half of the season, finishing with 22 sacks allowed.
Defensive Line — 4.04 of 5
This one’s a no-brainer, though it also could have been higher had the D-line been able to pressure Indiana’s Ben Chappell more or stop Fresno State’s Ryan Mathews. Of course, once Big Ten play started, the defense allowed zero opponents to rush over 100 yards. When the Badgers were at their best, the UW defensive line dominated opponents, scoring a perfect five of five against Purdue, Michigan and Hawaii.
Senior defensive end O’Brien Schofield was a force from the first week through the final game in Honolulu, finishing third on the team in total tackles with 59, third nationally with 22.5 tackles for loss and third in the Big Ten with 10 sacks. Fellow defensive end J.J. Watt, a sophomore who sat out last season after transferring from Central Michigan, was strong as well, helping the Badgers finish third in the conference with 32 sacks.
Senior defensive tackles Jeff Stehle and Dan Moore helped round out one of the Badgers’ strongest positions. More importantly, though, backup defensive tackles Dan Cascone and Patrick Butrym — along with backup defensive ends Louis Nzegwu, Brendan Kelly and David Gilbert — gave Wisconsin the depth it was clearly lacking a year ago.
Linebackers — 3.71 of 5
Boasting the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in Chris Borland, UW’s linebacking core consisted of playmakers, steady leaders and everything in between. After first starting redshirt freshman Mike Taylor — the team’s leading tackler until he went down with an injury — UW moved Borland from his pass rushing role into the starting spot when Taylor was lost for the season. Borland forced five fumbles, recovered three, picked up four sacks with 8.5 tackles for a loss, picked off one pass and blocked a punt. Simply put, the freshman made plays.
Often forgotten behind Borland’s game-changing big plays, the lone senior Jaevery McFadden led the team in tackles with 69 and collected a decent 8.5 tackles for a loss. Although occasionally reckless, he played a big role in holding every single opponent to under 100 yards rushing.
Middle linebacker Culmer St. Jean was huge against the run game, and gave way to jack of all trades linebacker Blake Sorensen on passing downs. If Taylor successfully recovers from his knee injury, the Badgers may boast the best group in the Big Ten next season.
Secondary — 3.00 of 5
Aside from special teams, the Wisconsin secondary was perhaps the Badgers’ biggest weakness, though at times, it helped UW shut down opposing defenses. With young and inexperienced cornerbacks, the secondary was inconsistent throughout the season.
Their inconsistency was no more evident than in the final two games of the season, as they earned a zero when Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka lit up the Badgers for 346 yards and a 4.5 when they held the potent Hawaii attack to just 197 passing yards.
The strongest points of the secondary were its safeties, as junior Jay Valai and senior Chris Maragos started every game and acted as two of the team’s strongest defensive leaders. Maragos finished the season with four interceptions to lead the team, while Valai grabbed his first career pick in the team’s final game at Hawaii.
Two of the best performances of the season for the secondary came in the team’s first two games, though it may not show in the overall statistics. Against Northern Illinois in week one, Maragos broke up a pass to seal the victory. The following week, he one-upped himself with an interception in overtime that helped UW down Fresno State.
Special Teams — 2.37 of 5
The phrase “pushed it right” has never been uttered so many times in one season. After a superb freshman year, sophomore kicker Phillip Welch fell off big time his second go around. He finished the year 15-22 with five of the misses coming under 50 yards. A big leg kicker, Welch did hit 12 touchbacks on the year, but also pushed two out of bounds.
Punter Brad Nortman finished the year with a very mediocre 42.3-yard gross average and an abysmal nine touchbacks. His touch looking to put it inside the 10 was non-existent. Superb plays were made by Watt, David Gilbert and Borland to block kick/punts.
The return game was usually average and sometimes embarrassing with Isaac Anderson, Maurice Moore and David Gilreath all getting a chance. Gilreath finally managed to take one to the house against Northwestern. Covering kickoffs and punts, the Badgers routinely gave away field position.