Grading the Badgers: Defensive backs

As a whole, Wisconsin’s defense was one of the best in the entire country this season. The Badgers did a terrific job of limiting the big play, and often times bailed out the offense from untimely turnovers.

A large reason for the lack of big plays, at least, was the play of the defensive backfield this season.

Wisconsin had five defensive backs see the field on a regular basis and they did an outstanding job limiting the passing game of their opponents. The Badgers only allowed an average of 160.6 yards though the air per game. Opposing offenses also completed less than half of their passes against Wisconsin this season, coming in at 49.1%.

Nick Nelson was their best player in the secondary on the season. The draft-eligible corner hasn’t decided whether or not he will return to Madison next season, but he may have the brightest NFL future of this bunch.

The only downside to Nelson’s season was that he was unable to record an interception. Other than that, he did everything Wisconsin’s defensive staff could have hoped when they accepted him as a transfer from Hawaii.

Opposite of Nelson was Derrick Tindal at the other cornerback position. Tindal also had a strong season on the outside for Wisconsin. He brought a large amount of experience to this unit. The senior has played in 42 games in his career at Wisconsin. This season he was tested less due to Nelson’s emergence. He finished the year with nine passes defensed and an interception.

At safety, the Badgers saw three players see significant time. Natrell Jamerson started at one of the safety positions in all 13 games, while D’Cota Dixon and Joe Ferguson both played the other safety position.

Jamerson was playing safety for the first time as a Badger, having been at the nickel back position in 2016 and starting his career as a wide receiver. Jamerson brought consistency to that spot despite the lack of experience playing it. His production skyrocketed from the previous two seasons. Obviously, he spent more time on the field, and he took advantage of it.

Jamerson finished the season with 49 tackles, including 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He also picked off a pair of passes, returning one of them for a touchdown in the Big Ten opener against Northwestern.

Dixon and Ferguson split time mainly due to the leg injury Dixon suffered. Dixon started eight of the games while Ferguson got the nod in the other five. Both of them were productive, although Dixon is certainly the more talented player.

Before the injury set in for Dixon he was one of the leading tacklers on the team. He finished the year with 52 tackles, including 1.5 sacks. Dixon played a role that many safeties aren’t asked to, where he was typically closer to the box making tackles. In most cases seeing the safety as a leading tackler is a bad thing, but that wasn’t the case for Wisconsin.

While Dixon was less than 100%, Ferguson saw much of the time in his absence. He was a much different type of player than Dixon. Ferguson wasn’t the same tackler as Dixon, finishing with 16 stops. However, he found himself around the ball much more. Ferguson intercepted four passes, returning one for a touchdown, and also recovered a pair of fumbles. Despite his limited time on the field when the Badgers were healthy he was the team leader in takeaways.

GRADE: A- : This secondary was very impressive for Wisconsin. Stopping the big play was something they did well in nearly every game, with the loss to Ohio State the exception. The Badgers allowed plays of more than 50 yards only three times during the regular season. Unfortunately for them, they allowed four such plays against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game, preventing them from receiving a higher grade. THat being said, the season as a whole was impressive. Next season they’ll certainly be missed with Jamerson, Ferguson, Tindal, and possibly Nelson moving on from Wisconsin. Dixon does have another year of eligibility and is expected to return.

Wisconsin’s defense can prove its legit against Ohio State

MADISON – Wisconsin’s defense has put up absolutely gaudy numbers this season. Statistically, it’s got a claim on being the best in the country.

But the numbers haven’t quieted the critics, largely because of the lack of high powered offenses Wisconsin has seen in its historic run to 12-0. Oddly enough, Wisconsin’s biggest challenge as a defense came in its second game of the season, against Florida Atlantic. The Owls’ number might be a bit inflated due to their schedule, but they’ve averaged 39.8 points per game and 6.6 yards per play, ranking 16th in total offense.

Outside of FAU, Wisconsin has only faced one other offense in the top 80 of the FBS and that was Purdue. The Boilermakers are ranked 76th in total offense, and were held to just nine points on 221 yards of offense on a chilly, rainy day at Camp Randall Stadium in October.

The test against Ohio State will be by far the biggest for Wisconsin this season. The Buckeyes enter the Big Ten Championship ranked fourth in total offense, averaging 43.8 points per game and 529.8 yards per game.

“People always talk about how we haven’t played great offenses,” defensive back Derrick Tindal said. “I’ve turned on the film and watched these same offenses that we’ve played destroy some people.”

That quote from Tindal could be taken a few different ways, with one of them alluding to the fact that Iowa’s offense rolled up 487 yards and was responsible for 48 of the Hawkeyes’ 55 points in a whipping of the Buckeyes just a week before they managed 66 yards and no offensive touchdowns in a loss to the Badgers. To Iowa’s credit, it did score a defensive touchdown against the Buckeyes and two against the Badgers as well.

Ohio State could be entering the game with a rather significant question mark at the quarterback position. Starter J.T. Barrett had to leave last week’s 31-20 win at Michigan with a knee injury sustained before the game. Barrett did play the first half before being removed after re-aggravating the injury in the third quarter. The senior then underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee on Sunday, but coach Urban Meyer said in a radio interview he expects Barrett to play.

However, if Barrett is unable to go, backup quarterback Dwayne Haskins would be the guy under center for Ohio State. He’s not as mobile as Barrett, but is praised for his arm strength that he put on display in relief against Michigan. He was 6 of 7 passing for 94 yards through the air.

In the backfield, Ohio State has the Big Ten’s second-best freshman running back in J.K. Dobbins. While he hasn’t put up the numbers that Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor has, he’s been impressive to watch as a young piece of the Buckeyes’ offense.

“Very explosive, he’s a guy that can cut on a dime at full-speed. Definitely need to get multiple hats to the ball with him. If you put yourself in too many one-on-one situations, then he’s going to make guys miss,” Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said of Dobbins.

Just as much is made of Wisconsin’s weak schedule and lack of opponents with explosive offenses, there’s another side to that coin. Ohio State hasn’t faced a defense as good as the unit Wisconsin has. Michigan State and Penn State have the ones that are most comparable, but both allow nearly a full yard per play more than Wisconsin does.

In this matchup, something will have to give, as it always does. The old adage states that “defense wins championships.” If Wisconsin is going to win the Big Ten, that’s how it is going to have to be done. If the Badgers are able to hold Ohio State’s offense in check, the defense will no longer have a reason to be doubted.

(5) Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 0: 2-minute drill

MINNEAPOLIS — For the first time since 1912, the Wisconsin Badgers finished a regular season undefeated.

The No. 5 Badgers got three touchdown passes from Alex Hornibrook and 149 yards rushing from Jonathan Taylor in a 31-0 win over Minnesota to move to 12-0 and extend their winning streak over their rivals to 14 games.

Play of the Game

All season Wisconsin has run the fullback dive in short yardage situations. On Saturday, faced with a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the Badgers went against their tendency, calling for a play-action pass. It worked perfectly, as Hornibrook found tight end Troy Fumagalli for the first points of the day. Wisconsin didn’t look back on its way to a shutout victory.

Game Balls

Offense: Alex Hornibrook

In what was easily his best effort of the Big Ten season, the sophomore completed 15 of 19 passes for 151 yards and the three scores. A number of his throws, including a 5-yard touchdown to Danny Davis in the third quarter, were absolute darts, put in places that only his receivers had a chance. Perhaps most importantly, Hornibrook didn’t turn the ball over for the first time in eight games.

It was the type of effort that had several teammates talking about the team’s potential when he plays like that.

“When your offense is clicking and going, especially the way we play defense, there’s no stopping us, I feel like,” cornerback Derrick Tindal said.

Defense: Ryan Connelly

A Minnesota native that wasn’t recruited by the Gophers, Connelly was all over the place on Saturday. He finished with six tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks.

Connelly often gets overlooked among Wisconsin’s inside linebackers, but he’s been fantastic in a staring role of late. He’s the team’s leading tackler, and like he did last year, has more than filled the injury void left by Jack Cichy and Chris Orr.

Special Teams: Rafael Gaglianone

Gaglianone moved to 12 of 14 on the year with his 32-yard field goal in the second quarter. He’s also remained perfect on extra points for the season after hitting all four on Saturday.

In their own words

Did you think 12-0 was a possibility:

TE Troy Fumagalli: “I did, but I didn’t think too much about it. I tried not to focus too much on that and not the season. With the experience we had coming back, with the players in the locker room, I thought this was possible.”

LB T.J. Edwards: “Oh, yeah. 100 percent. I know that if we come out and play our best game we can hang with anyone in the country.”

CB Derrick Tindal: “I been telling you that [since the start of the season]. I trusted my teammates, trusted by boys and feel like they are going to keep it going.”

Is Wisconsin a win away from making the College Football Playoff?

WR Kendric Pryor: “We have to focus on playing Ohio State next. After that, we can’t control [the way] the committee votes. We just go out there and just play ball. If they decide to put us in, they do. If they don’t, they don’t.”

When did you know the game was in the bag?

Tindal: “When the first quarter started. I felt confident before the game. I knew we were going to win.”

In Case You Missed It

— Tight end Zander Neuville left with a knee injury in the first quarter, while running back Bradrick Shaw left in the second quarter with a leg injury. Coach Paul Chryst didn’t have an update on either guy after the game.

— Fullback Austin Ramesh took a sweep for a 41-yard gain in the second quarter. It was the longest rush of his career.

— After being forced to miss four games with a leg injury earlier this year, running back Chris James got his first extended action and finished with 51 yards on seven carries.

— Saturday was the first time since 1922 that Wisconsin has shutout Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Inside the Numbers

13 — That’s the number of wins in a row Wisconsin has, the longest streak in the country

1 — That’s the number of Power 5 teams in the country that are unbeaten. Wisconsin is that one team.

1,806 — That’s the number of yards Jonathan Taylor has run for this year. It’s the third-most in FBS history for a freshman.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (12-0, 9-0) will head to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis next Saturday to take on Ohio State (10-2, 8-1).

Like he did with Barry Alvarez, former coach Lou Holtz made an impression on the current Badgers

MADISON — Lou Holtz has been one of the biggest professional influences in Barry Alvarez’s life. The Hall of Fame coach hired Alvarez to oversee the linebackers at Notre Dame in 1987 and then had him run his defense the two years after that. The lessons learned and the advice gained during that short time together stayed with Alvarez during his 16 years as the head coach at Wisconsin and his 14 years as the school’s athletic director. So when Alvarez offered to have Holtz come speak to this year’s team, current coach Paul Chryst was receptive to the idea.

“Certainly there’s a lot of the philosophical foundational pieces that Coach Alvarez got from him, and I certainly have gotten from Coach Alvarez,” Chryst said of the points hammered home by Holtz. “The game is a vehicle we can use to teach and help these young guys grow. It was a good message.”

A majority of the players these days know Holtz more for his time on TV than as the coach of six different college programs, including his 11 years with the Fighting Irish where he led the program to its 11th national title in 1988. Yet, despite the nearly 60-year age difference between Holtz and most of the Badgers, his message to them of knowing their role on the team, and the need to embrace it, hit home with several players.

LISTEN: CB Derrick Tindal says it’s time the UW secondary gets some respect.

“Don’t be the guy that [doesn’t] accept your role,” cornerback Derrick Tindal said of what stood out to him. “Everybody can’t be a superstar. Everybody can’t be a starter. If your job is on special teams, and we need you to block, do that to the best of your ability.

“You think I like going out there to block on punt return sometimes? [No.] But I’m going to do whatever to help the team. I don’t care if it’s punt return, kickoff, kick return. They can put me on the front line if they want to. If they feel like that’s what is going to help the team, that’s what I’m going to do.

“I thought [coach] Holtz did a good job of [getting that message across].”

In recent years, injuries have forced Wisconsin to adapt on the fly and go deep into its roster to find replacements. And it’s worked well because players haven’t fallen into the trap of just going through the motions when they know they’ll likely be back on the bench when the first-team player returns. Instead, they’ve seen an opportunity and pounced on it, sometimes with stellar results.

LISTEN: UW coach Paul Chryst says the backup QBs are still very early in their development.

It was that type of work that led to the rise of linebackers Jack Cichy, Chris Orr and Ryan Connelly in the last two seasons, while also giving wide receiver Jazz Peavy the break he needed when guys at his position went down. Wisconsin’s football history is littered with similar examples.

“Embracing your role on this team and never being content with anything that you’re doing,” Orr said of his biggest takeaway from Holtz’s speech. “I think that was a good message for young guys and old guys [to hear].”

For nose guard Garrett Rand, whose high school coach played for Holtz at Notre Dame, the overriding theme was to focus on holding up his end of the bargain and expect his teammates to do the same.

“Even for the guys that aren’t playing as much, do your job,” Rand said. “[If you do] your job, everything else will be fine.”

It’s a new year and a new team, but Wisconsin hasn’t forgotten the 2014 B1G title game: ‘Never happening again’

MADISON — The 2014 Big Ten Championship Game.

Cornerback Sojourn Shelton called it his lowest moment in football.

Wide receiver Jazz Peavy described the effort as “not us.”

Safety Leo Musso has made every attempt to scrub his memory clean of the disaster.

But no matter how the players or fans look at it, though, it must be defined as one of the most embarrassing nights in Wisconsin football history.

Ohio State 59
Wisconsin 0

As lopsided as the score was, it still might not do justice to what the Buckeyes did to the Badgers that night. Wisconsin was out-gained by 300 yards, turned the ball over four times and saw Heisman Trophy runner-up Melvin Gordon limited to 76 yards on 26 carries. It was as dominating a performance as anyone had ever seen.

“I haven’t been a part of a game like that being here at Wisconsin, or (remember) seeing Wisconsin play a game like that in I don’t know how long,” said Peavy, a redshirt freshman at the time. “Something just wasn’t there that game.”

It left Wisconsin shell-shocked, unable to comprehend the beating, and the Badgers anguish would only increase a few days later as their head coach, Gary Andersen, abruptly resigned to take the same position at Oregon State, a lower rung team in the PAC-12. Some have floated the idea that Andersen already knew he was leaving and that led to a lack of preparation.

“I don’t want to say (we were) completely unprepared, because you go out there and expect to play a (good) football game,” Musso said. “It was just a weird feeling leaving that game (after) getting beat that bad.”

The sixth-ranked Badgers will visit Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night for the first time since Ohio State humbled them almost two years ago, this time facing No. 7 Penn State with a Big Ten title — and perhaps more — on the line. All year the players have — as coach Paul Chryst says ad nauseam — lived in the moment. Win or lose, they hit the reset button come Sunday and attack each week the same.

But that’s easier said than done in relation to the 2014 title game. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Guys like Shelton, who was on a defense that was giving up just 16.8 points per game before that, grew from the bitter disappointment.

“It’s good to go through situations like that,” Shelton said. “That’s all prepared me for where I am now.”

A majority of the players that will line-up on Saturday night for the Badgers were not key figures on the 2014 squad. Running back Corey Clement and tight end Troy Fumagalli had a minimal role against the Buckeyes, while just two starters on defense — Shelton and outside linebacker Vince Biegel — remain.

“That’s a different team, we’re a different team,” said Musso, who had one tackle in the game. “The past is in the past. You can’t really worry about that.”

And Wisconsin won’t worry about what happened that night, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t thought about it. As the seniors were accepting the Big Ten West trophy on Saturday following the win over Minnesota, cornerback Derrick Tindal, while trying to enjoy the moment, also started having flashbacks to deep ball after deep ball that Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones dropped on his receivers that night. The always smiling Tindal was no longer smiling.

“I never want to experience (anything) like that again. It’s a very sour taste,” Tindal said before making a promise. “That’s never happening again. I can guarantee that.”

Preview: No. 7 Nebraska at No. 11 Wisconsin


The teams: The No. 7 Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-0, 4-0) vs the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers (5-2 2-2)

The time: 6 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

The TV coverage: ESPN with Joe Tessitore and Todd Blackledge in the booth, and Holly Rowe on the sideline.

The last time: Kicker Rafael Gaglianone hit a 46-yard field goal with 4 seconds left to give Wisconsin a 23-21 win last year at Nebraska.

The series: Wisconsin 6-4

The line: Wisconsin -9.5

The Badgers injury report:


CB Natrell Jamerson (leg)

RT Jake Maxwell (shoulder)


LB Griffin Grady (shoulder)

NT Olive Sagapolu (arm)


1) One more time

The toughest start to a Big Ten season in school history continues on Saturday night for Wisconsin, as they face their fifth top-10 opponent already this year with Nebraska in town. Asking kids to continually get up for big game after big game would seem like a difficult task but this team is a little different.

“Just taking it one game at a time in all honesty,” linebacker T.J. Watt told the Big Ten Network this week on how they are handling the schedule. “I know it sounds cliché, but you have to take it one practice at a time, one play at a time, and then once it’s game day, you just have to let loose.

“Have fun with this. Not everyone gets to play in big games like this week in and week out like we do. So we just have to have fun and showcase our talents each week.”

2) Next man in — again

The seemingly never ending rash of injuries continued last week for Wisconsin, as they lost leading tackler Jack Cichy for the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. The junior inside linebacker was playing at such a high level that those around the program felt he was the MVP of the defense through the first seven games.

But just as they did when Chris Orr, Natrell Jamerson, Vince Biegel and Olive Sagapolu went down earlier this year,  the Badgers will ask the next guy to step in and not have a drop-off. This time that responsibility falls to sophomore Ryan Connelly and junior Leon Jacobs.

A former walk-on, Connelly stepped in admirably against LSU in the opener, while Jacobs started the first three games at inside linebacker last year before an injury sidelined him.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing for a talented guy like Jack Cichy to go down,” Biegel said. “But it’s not going to take just Leon and Ryan to step in. It’s also going to take our whole defensive front seven to fill in for guys that go down.”

Connelly is expected to get the first crack at the starting gig, but as Wisconsin has done at outside linebacker, rotating the foursome of Biegel, Watt, Garrett Dooley and Zack Baun, don’t be surprised if Jacobs sees plenty of time next to T.J. Edwards.

3) Which Tommy Armstrong shows up

If Nebraska is to pull the upset, quarterback Tommy Armstrong will need to continue playing at the level he has so far this year. The senior’s quarterback rating of 142.3 is the highest of his career, and he’s averaging an interception just once every 37 throws, the lowest rate of his time in Lincoln.

But he’s done all of that against defenses that aren’t on Wisconsin’s level. And if history is any indication, the Badgers will give Armstrong fits. Two of his worst days as the starter at Nebraska came against UW’s 3-4 scheme. He completed just 16 of 47 throws in the 2014 and 2015 games combined — both Nebraska losses.

If the good Armstrong shows up, Nebraska should be in the game until the end, as he’s got plenty of weapons to get the ball to. But if the Tommy Armstrong of old got on the charter flight to Madison, it’s likely to be a long night for him and the Huskers offense.

4) Running game on track?

The Wisconsin running game has come alive in the past two weeks, piling up 403 yards on the ground, including 298 by running back Corey Clement. The senior’s back-to-back 100-yard games were his first since accomplishing that against Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech in his freshman season.

But it took a lot of carries to get it done. The Badgers called Clement’s number a combined 60 times in the games against Ohio State and Iowa, and if it were up to him, they’d keep giving him the ball even if taking all that contact isn’t ideal in the long term.

“I’m all for it, to be honest,” Clement said. “If they want to give me 35 carries, then so be it. (It’s) my senior season, so I’m ready to get as many carries as I can.”

It’s not just Clement, though. The offensive line is also starting to gel despite not having a clear starting lineup. They used eight guys against Iowa and six different combinations. Obviously, they’d like to find their best five guys, but until they do expect to see similar rotations.

5) The crowd

The buzz leading into the showdown with then-No. 2 Ohio State two weeks ago was at an all-time high, certainly helped by the fact ESPN’s College GameDay was in town, and it was the first Big Ten night game in Madison in five years.  And even though the Badgers lost, the atmosphere surrounding the game didn’t disappoint.

But that same juice and electricity, at least in the lead up to the game, hasn’t been as evident this week. Perhaps it’s because the novelty factor of a night game has worn off or the fact Wisconsin is so heavily favored. No matter what the reason, it’s definitely different.

Now all of this isn’t to say it won’t be a great environment on Saturday night. It will be, and the crowd will definitely help Wisconsin. But expecting something like we saw when the Buckeyes came to town is probably not in the cards.


  • Wisconsin’s defense has held their last 10 opponents under their season scoring average
  • The Badgers used eight different offensive linemen last week against Iowa and six different offensive line combinations
  • Wisconsin has outscored Nebraska 107 to 41 in their last two meetings at Camp Randall Stadium
  • In their last 13 trophy games, the Badgers are 12-1, including a perfect 2-0 against Nebraska in the battle for the Freedom Trophy


Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 31, Nebraska 17 (3-4 on the season)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, Nebraska 13 (4-3 on the season)
Jake Zimmermann’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Nebraska 13 (5-2 on the season)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Nebraska 13 (4-3 on the season)
Eric Rogers’ prediction: Wisconsin 28, Nebraska 20 (5-2 on the season)


Chryst: Nothing dirty about Tindal’s hit that injured a Michigan player

MADISON | Derrick Tindal did nothing wrong.

That’s the stance Wisconsin football coach Paul Chryst is taking after a Michigan lineman said the hit by Tindal that ended left tackle Grant Newsome’s season was cheap.

“There was nothing illegal, nothing dirty about that,” Chryst said Thursday. “The circumstances, the end result, no one wants to see. But there’s nothing dirty or illegal about what Derrick did.”

The injury happened in the second quarter of Michigan’s 14-7 win last Saturday. The 317-pound Newsome pulled on an outside run and bearing down on the 175-pound Tindal, who did as he was taught, and went low to take on the block. Newsome’s right knee got stuck in the turf at Michigan Stadium, resulting in a significant injury to the sophomore.

In an interview on Tuesday, Michigan guard Kyle Kalis said Tindal’s hit was a cheap shot because he went at Newsome’s knee. Tindal disagreed with that assertion, and even went to Twitter to apologize to Newsome.

Asked if Tindal could have done something different, Chryst reiterated his feeling that the junior cornerback did nothing wrong.

“He played that play clean,” the second-year coach said.

Wisconsin football: Practice report 8/13

MADISON | The Wisconsin football team was back on the field Saturday morning for the first of two practices on the day.

Getting testy

A pair of scuffles ended the practice about 15 plays early, with head coach Paul Chryst shutting things down and forcing the entire team to do wind sprints back and forth across the field.

The first altercation came at the end of a long catch and run by wide receiver Reggie Love. A defensive back knocked the ball out of his hands late, a scrum for the fumble ensued and Love came up swinging, first at safety Joe Ferguson and then at cornerback Titus Booker.

On the very next snap, tight end Kyle Penniston got into it with a defender and once again punches were thrown as the tussle spilled over into the bench area. Seconds later, every player was lined up on the sideline and doing multiple gassers.

“We’ve got (only) so much time, and how we use that time is up to us,” Chryst told reporters after practice. “I thought we had a couple of undisciplined things and that maybe we needed to address the discipline part of it. So, that’s how we’re going to spend our energy. I’d prefer that we do that in other ways, but that was the purpose behind that.”

Following the sprints, Chryst gathered the team up on the opposite side of the field from where reporters were standing and appeared to rip into them about the opportunities lost by their actions. That was followed up by sophomore linebacker Chris Orr asking and being allowed to address his fellow players, and do so with emphatic gestures.

“Reps are valuable,” Chryst said. “That’s what makes you mad when we use our time elsewhere. That’s 15 more reps that we can get. That’s 22 guys, 15 more reps — my math isn’t quick — but it’s a pretty good number.”

It wasn’t just the fights that bothered Chryst. For the first time in fall camp, there were officials present and there were a number of mental errors that resulted in flags being thrown, something Chryst considers to be a discipline matter.

“Discipline comes in so many ways,” the second-year coach said. “There’s great [teaching] moments and you want to learn from them.”

Injuries and rest

Wisconsin was without eight players on Saturday that are currently projected to be starters.

Four of them – safety D’Cota Dixon, left guard Dan Voltz, right tackle Jake Maxwell and wide receiver Rob Wheelwright – were held out for rest as part of a schedule to limit their reps in fall camp. Those four, along with tight end Eric Steffes, were expected to take part in Saturday night’s practice that is closed to the media.

The other four – running back Corey Clement (hamstring), right guard Beau Benzschawel (shoulder), inside linebacker T.J. Edwards (foot) and wide receiver Jazz Peavy (chest) – are dealing with injuries.

Up and down

It wasn’t a great day by either of the starting quarterback candidates, but Alex Hornibrook had the best throw. Rolling to his left, the redshirt freshman found Love streaking behind the defense for a 70-yard touchdown. Hornibrook doesn’t have the fastball of senior Bart Houston, but his deep balls are on point more often than not.

As for who will be under center come Sept. 3 against LSU, a decision, as expected, still hasn’t been made, according to Chryst.

“No, if I would have [chosen a starter] I would have started with that, and then I wouldn’t have to talk about all this other stuff,” Chryst said half-jokingly in reference to the discipline issues that dominated his post-practice press conference.

Asked what he saw from the two quarterbacks this week, Chryst simply said, “They’re working. I like it.”

Two-way player?

For the first time in fall camp, cornerback Derrick Tindal got some time running routes as a wide receiver. The junior was impressive in limited opportunities in the spring, and might be a part-time possibility for Chryst and company.

Young receiver continues to make plays

True freshman Quintez Cephus abused one of Wisconsin’s veteran defensive backs on a slant and go route during 1-on-1’s, resulting in a touchdown. When the wide receiver caught the ball, the defensive back was nearly 10 yards behind him.

It was the continuation of a strong first week for Cephus, who along with fellow freshman A.J. Taylor, has turned some heads.

“I think they’ve done some good things to where they’ve earned the right to keep getting more reps,” Chryst said. “[But they] absolutely have a long way to go.”

Watt causing havoc

Second day in a row that T.J. Watt forced a fumble in team drills. This time he took his blocker and slammed him right into running back Dare Ogunbowale, jarring the ball loose and the defense recovered. Later, the junior battled a ball down at the line of scrimmage. When Watt is around the ball, good things usually happen for the Badgers.

Listen to Chryst’s full post-practice press conference with reporters:

Wisconsin football: Practice report 8/10

MADISON | The intensity of fall camp took at step up on Wednesday for the Wisconsin football team, as the players were sporting shoulder pads for the first time this year.

Forcing turnovers

In the spring, the Wisconsin defense forced a ton of turnovers, a lot of them coming via interceptions. That continued on Wednesday as there were at least four interceptions during team periods – two by senior Sojourn Shelton and and two more by junior Natrell Jamerson. Shelton took both of his interceptions back for would-be touchdowns.

Splitting reps

The quarterback competition really started on Wednesday as senior Bart Houston and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook faced defenders for the first time in fall camp. They split first-team reps, with Houston usually going first. Hornibrook had the best throw of the day, finding freshman Quintez Cephus in tight coverage for a 40-yard gain.

In pads

It doesn’t really feel like football season until the pads go on, which happened on Wednesday. On the first play of full speed action this fall, junior defensive end Chikwe Obasih tossed a lineman aside, and gobbled up running back Corey Clement for what would have been a 3-yard loss.

Later in practice, tensions nearly boiled over when Cephus was blocking Derrick Tindal on a screen play and did so a little too long for Tindal’s liking. There was some pushing and shoving before the two got separated.

So far, Cephus has been the most impressive of the three true freshmen receivers.

“I can tell he wants it,” senior Rob Wheelwright said of Cephus. “Right after practice he was asking, ‘Man, we need to go look at this film. I want you to tell me what I did [right and wrong].’ He’s hungry. He’s ready to learn. And that’s really good seeing him compete.”

Making a change

Redshirt freshman David Edwards is making the move from tight end to right tackle this fall. Many schools recruited the former high school quarterback to be an offensive lineman, but Wisconsin said they’d give him a shot at tight end first. However, once the weight started going up – he’s put on 50 pounds since coming to Madison last summer – it was almost a foregone conclusion.

“I knew it was coming,” Edwards said of the move. “Everybody kind of joked about it since the day I got here.

“When I got here I was pretty skinny. I was about 240 [pounds]. By the end of [this past] spring I was about 260. Got back from [summer] break at 270. So it was just a natural progression.”

Edwards is working as the No. 2 right tackle behind redshirt sophomore Jake Maxwell. He’s looked solid in the first few practices, and even got some reps with the first-team line as the training staff tries to limit Maxwell’s workload coming off a leg injury in the spring.

Looking good

It’s not clear how much Taiwan Deal will be used this season, but the redshirt sophomore looks much quicker this fall than a year ago. On several plays, the 220-pound Deal made defenders miss in the hole and accelerated into the second level.

Transfer Chris James also look very much the part of future big-time weapon for the Badgers. He’ll have to sit this season due to NCAA rules, but James showed off his big-play potential on an outside run where he got the edge and took off for what would have been at least a 20-yard gain.

Held out

Wheelwright hasn’t made it through a single fall or spring practice without getting injured. So when the senior didn’t take part on Wednesday some eyebrows were raised. But he said there’s nothing to worry about, and they are just trying to give his body a chance to recover and be healthy for the season. Still, having to watch from the sideline is a bit frustrating for the Ohio native.

“Me having to watch these guys, first day of pads on, going against the defensive backs, and the DBs are hollering. You want to be out there to be like, ‘OK, lets quiet ya’ll up.’ But it’s all good for the long run.” Wheelwright said.

Wheelwright said he feels like he’ll practice on Thursday and Friday, and that sitting out will be just a “here and there” thing.

You can listen to the full post-practice interview with Rob Wheelwright below:



Still out:
ILB T.J. Edwards (foot)
OL George Panos (shoulder)

Keelon Brookins (groin)

Wisconsin football preview: Defensive backs

MADISON | The Wisconsin football team will open fall camp on Aug. 8, so over the next few days we’ll be going position-by-position to preview head coach Paul Chryst’s second team in Madison.

Today we take a look at the secondary.

Defensive backs

The secondary, or more accurately the safety position, is the biggest question mark on the defense. Wisconsin is trying to replace Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy — one of the best safety combinations the program has ever had. And if spring was any indication, the process is far from over.

The biggest issue was the lack of bodies. Junior D’Cota Dixon, who learned under Caputo last season, was penciled in as his replacement. But then a hamstring injury sidelined him for the last nine practices of spring. Senior Leo Musso, who’s been battling for a starting spot since his redshirt freshman season, missed large portions of spring practice because of classes. That left sophomore Arrington Farrar and junior Joe Ferguson as the No. 1 safeties for long stretches, with redshirt junior Keelon Brookins and junior Lubern Figaro behind them.

Wisconsin isn’t panicking, and if healthy, likely would feel good about a combination of Dixon and Farrar, with Musso being the third guy in. And if not, a pair of incoming freshmen — Eric Burrell and Patrick Johnson — might also be an option to look at.

On the outside, senor Sojourn Shelton and junior Derrick Tindal seemed to always be getting their hands on the ball during the spring, and the former appears ready to ascend to the role of UW’s shutdown cornerback.

Junior Natrell Jamerson, who is replacing Darius Hillary as the Badgers slot cornerback, got beat a couple times on deep balls in the spring game. Overall, though, it was a solid spring for the third-year player.

Redshirt freshman Titus Booker has all the talent in the world, but he was still in the process of refining it during the spring, according to new secondary coach Jim Leonhard. Still, he showed significant growth over the 15 practices and is primed for playing time this year.

Depth chart projection
Cornerback: 1) Sojourn Shelton, Senior 2) Titus Booker, RS freshman
Safety: 1) Arrington Farrar, Sophomore 2) Joe Ferguson, RS junior
Safety: 1) D’Cota Dixon, Junior 2) Leo Musso, Senior
Cornerback: 1) Derrick Tindal, Junior 2) Natrell Jamerson, Junior

Monday: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers
Tuesday: Offensive line, tight ends
Wednesday: Defensive line
Thursday: Linebackers
Today: Defensive backs