Connor Senger is listed as No. 14, one of two 14s on the Wisconsin roster. The other is Nate Hammon, a backup safety. This is a reality for many freshmen or redshirts in college football — your number is not your own.
Senger fills both roles, a freshman buried on the depth chart almost surely redshirting his first season on campus. He was bound to share a number with another Badger — there are only so many digits to go around. Senger is different, though. He doesn’t need a number of his own because he gets a new number almost every week.
That’s because Senger is the scout team quarterback. This week, he’s wearing No. 5. This week, he’s Wisconsin’s Braxton Miller.
Of the many Badgers who won’t see the field this year, Senger is likely the most important. In addition to working on his own game in practice each week, Senger pulls double duty by working to imitate the next opposing quarterback.
In any practice he’ll start with the quarterbacks, grabbing individual time with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig before switching to other side of the ball and doing his best impersonation of the opposing signal caller, straight down to the hand gestures, foot movement and pre-snap inclinations.
“You’ve got to spend a lot of time picking it apart and finding tendencies through certain plays,” Senger said. “If they fake clap or they clap twice or they clap once, you’ve just got to try to pick it up. Sometimes you can’t; sometimes you can.”
So that means Senger’s cadence is different on each side of the Camp Randall 50-yard line during practice. From watching film of Miller and notable backup Kenny Guiton — Senger starts watching clips on his iPad on Sunday nights — Senger mimics the one clap silent cadence that Miller is known for. He also sets players in motion with the lift of a leg.
Wearing the No. 5 jersey, it would be easy to confuse the No. 5s practicing in Madison and Columbus. Senger would look just like Miller if only he grew a little more and added some weight. The Badger stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 175 pounds while the Buckeye ranks at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds.
But size isn’t important to Wisconsin’s defense. What Senger brings to the table is plenty enough to give the defense ample looks at what they’ll see under the lights at Ohio Stadium Saturday night.
“He’s got some talent throwing the football, he can put it around in certain places like a quarterback should,” senior linebacker Ethan Armstrong said. “It’s not so much the [height] as it is the look he gives you physically out there. Whether it’s the moves he puts on or the speed that he brings, those kinds of things.”
After all the work spent scouting the defense, at the end of practice, like Senger saw Tuesday, he’ll switch back to the offensive side of the field. When head coach Gary Andersen closes practice, it’s off to the sideline for Senger, where the quarterbacks finish out with sprints, sideline-to-sideline. That’s where you see Senger’s value, especially this week.
Racing against starter Joel Stave and his backups Bart Houston and Curt Phillips, there’s no doubt the younger frosh is the first to finish each sprint. He’s the fastest to one sideline and the fastest returning to Ludwig on the other end. Speed is the trait that makes him a viable duplicate of Miller, Ohio State’s early-season Heisman hopeful.
Senger ran the spread offense in high school at Milwaukee Pius, and boy did he run. The honorable mention all-state passer racked up 2,190 yards and 39 touchdowns on the ground in his career. Ironically, Miller has tallied similarly impressive stats in his Ohio State career — 2,368 yards and 20 touchdowns via the rush.
Senger brings his knowledge of the spread to the field this week and there’s nothing lost in translation or anything needed to learn. The transformation is as easy as switching from white No. 14 with Senger on the back to white No. 5, nameless, which became pretty apparent to safeties coach Bill Busch.
“It’s very, very important,” Busch said. “He understands when he sees the card or the play or the film, he goes, ‘Oh, I know what they’re doing.’ … He gets it right from the start.”
And as far as being the scout team quarterback, he’s been doing a pretty good job.
“It think he’s the best I’ve ever been around in whatever I’ve been coaching, 22 years … as far as the freshmen,” Busch said. “I know that for sure, and I’ve had some good ones at that.”
And that’s only through four weeks of work in the scout team role. Senger simulated the dual-threat quarterback Darian Stone from Tennessee Tech. He also helped UW prepare for the rushing side of Arizona State dual-threat quarterback Taylor Kelly.
By the end of the year, Senger will have been a man of many jerseys, this is for sure. Call it a small perk of the position, but it’s something he enjoys.
“Its interesting because you go to your issued locker on Monday and every week for me it’s a new jersey,” Senger said. “You hold it up and it’s like ‘Oh, 17. I can roll with this.’ Then you just put it on and go.”
Next week, with the Badgers on a bye and no opponent to prep for, Senger will don No. 14 again. But this week, if he does a good enough job miming the moves of one of the best players in the nation, Andersen will name Senger the Scout Team Player of the Week. That’s about as good as it gets for the fourth or fifth-string quarterback.