To think that a week ago the Wisconsin men’s basketball team had just completed a memorable run in the NCAA tournament seems so foreign after watching the Wisconsin spring football game Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall. It’s not even that basketball seems foreign. It’s watching a top tier program.
Spring games aren’t exactly the greatest thing since sliced bread, but the drab 2014 installment of the yearly yawner seemed even more forgettable than years past. If you need any indication of how uneventful this year’s spring game was look no further than the final score: 6-0. No, Wisconsin didn’t recently sanction a varsity baseball program again that played at Camp Randall Saturday; it was the football team.
A lot of that final score has to do with a key contingent of players sitting out in the second half of the game — the second half was the scored portion of the spring game with two 15-minute quarters — and it’s no secret that a spring game is hardly a direct representation of the season to come in the fall, but the Badgers seem like they are going to be awfully average come next season.
Compared to other spring games around the country there just wasn’t a whole lot happening at Wisconsin’s spring affair. Florida State saw Jameis Winston throw for almost 400 yards in the Seminoles’ conclusion of the spring season, while Notre Dame welcomed back Everett Golson, who sat out all of last year due to academic suspension, and greeted freshman dual threat quarterback Malik Zaire who tossed for 292 yards in his debut.
Meanwhile in the Big Ten, Penn State, Ohio State and Nebraska all drew more than 60,000 fans for their spring games led by PSU, which had 72,000 spectators in Happy Valley. All three of those games might not have featured a wealth of projected starters either, but they still managed to generate a fair amount of buzz unlike the Wisconsin game, which had a rather paltry 8,204 fans in attendance.
But there’s a good reason as to why Camp Randall wasn’t anywhere close to capacity. What fan in their right mind would pay $5 to watch a lackluster kicking game be the difference maker, while a Melvin Gordon-less offense relied on the legs of Austin Ramesh, a name which most Badger fans had not heard before Saturday.
Thankfully, Gordon is among the healthy Badgers at this point in time, and Wisconsin is going to need him come next fall because, outside of the rushing attack, it doesn’t really have much else going for it. In the time that Gordon did see in the unscored plays in the first half of the spring game, he looked every bit the dominating runner that he was last season and broke away on 40-yard run in one of his few appearances in the backfield.
However, outside of that and maybe a 30-yard touchdown throw by Tanner McEvoy, there wasn’t much cause for excitement, which could potentially be a theme in the coming months. Wisconsin has had quite a run of success due to its running game dating back to when Barry Alvarez took over as head coach in 1990. Much like years past, all of the Badgers hopes for the coming season looked to be pinned squarely on the shoulders of Gordon and Corey Clement, at least as far as the offense is concerned.
With such a prolific rushing attack Wisconsin hasn’t really needed a fantastic quarterback, and besides Russell Wilson, hasn’t really had one. This year looks like it won’t be any different.
Last year’s starter Joel Stave sat out Saturday because of his lingering shoulder injury from the Capital One Bowl. Fans and media got the first look at Tanner McEvoy at quarterback in a game situation since he arrived on campus last summer after transferring. McEvoy did have the nice touchdown throw to Doe in the unscored portion and he did show the ability to scramble and throw on the run, which sets up an interesting battle for the starting spot when fall camp opens. But although McEvoy looks like he might have what it takes to earn the starting spot, his 4-for-10 throwing performance doesn’t really speak too much about superstar potential. And in a nutshell, the quarterback position is a microcosm of what the Badgers are looking at heading into next fall. Wisconsin has some good players, but outside of the tailback role, Wisconsin is just plain mediocre — let’s not even get started on the kicking game. That in and of itself warrants a whole column.
Perhaps the recruits yet to make their way to Madison can make a lasting impression in their first year. Either way Wisconsin needs players to step to the forefront and in a big way after losing 12 starters from a season ago. If not, Wisconsin may find that the shadow cast by other Big Ten schools and their spring games may extend into the regular season.