Wide receivers Jazz Peavy and George Rushing not currently with Wisconsin

MADISON — Wide receivers Jazz Peavy and George Rushing are not currently with Wisconsin’s football team, head coach Paul Chryst announced Thursday morning.

Peavy played in four games this season, totaling five catches for 55 yards and three rushing attempts for seven yards. He last played in week five against Northwestern. He had been appearing on the injury report handed out by Wisconsin with a right leg injury beginning in week six. Thursday, we was absent from the list.

Rushing injured his left leg in the preseason and has not appeared in a single game this season. He was taken off the injury report Thursday as well.

“For different reasons both are not with the team right now,” Chryst said Thursday. “Certainly different reasons. There’s a lot going on in these guy’s lives. All that matters is that they’re doing alright. It was kind of decided for both to kind of help them navigate everything to take some time away.”

Peavy is a fifth year senior and Rushing is in his fourth year at the program. Since Rushing has not appeared in a game this season, redshirting is a possibility.

“This is his fourth year and he’s going to graduate this year, but we haven’t had those discussions,” Chryst said about Rushing.

Wisconsin WR Jazz Peavy to miss Purdue game

MADISON — Wisconsin will not have the services of wide receiver Jazz Peavy on Saturday against Purdue.

The school released its final injury report for the week and Peavy was listed as out with a right leg injury. Coach Paul Chryst told reporters that it’s something that’s been bother the senior for a while, but he did practice some this week and it isn’t expected to be something that keeps him out long term.

Peavy has not been as involved in Wisconsin’s offense this year as he was as a junior, as sophomore Quintez Cephus has ascended to the No. 1 spot. Still, his absence will mean more chances for younger receivers, including sophomore A.J. Taylor, freshman Danny Davis and redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor.

“It’s another opportunity for guys to step up,” Chryst said. “You always want all your players, but you want them to be at their best. Obviously, Jazz isn’t able to do that. [We’ve] done it at a lot of other positions, and [now] that [wide receiver] group has to step up. And those around have to step up.”

Peavy has five catches for 55 yards this season.

The rest of the injury report:

QUESTIONABLE:

OL Jon Dietzen (leg)
RB Chris James (leg)
OL Micah Kapoi (arm)
K P.J. Rosowski (leg)

OUT

RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
S Patrick Johnson (arm)
DE Chikwe Obasih (leg)
WR Jazz Peavy (leg)
WR George Rushing (leg)

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 Wisconsin at Purdue

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers Akron Zips (8-2, 5-2) vs the Purdue Boilermakers (3-7, 1-6)

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Rose-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.

The TV coverage: ABC with Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham on the call, with Dr. Jerry Punch on the sideline.

The last time: Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave threw for 322 yards, and running back Alec Ingold scored a pair of short touchdowns, as the Badgers beat Purdue 24-7 at Camp Randall Stadium last year.

The series: Wisconsin 46-29-8

The line: Wisconsin -28

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

FB Austin Ramesh (shoulder)

OUT

OLB Zack Baun (leg)

OL Jake Maxwell (shoulder)

NT Olive Sagapolu (arm)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Keeping your foot on the pedal

Top teams continue to lose, the latest being No. 5 Louisville Thursday night at Houston. And while that’s good for Wisconsin’s chances of making the College Football Playoff, it’s also a reminder that any team can lose on any day, and the Badgers can’t think that just by showing up on Saturday they’ll come away with a victory. It’s going to be a fight.

“It’s not one of those things where we can lay back and think things are all finished out and good to go,” wide receiver Jazz Peavy said. “We got to make sure we keep winning games and keep preparing (to win them).”

2) Running game comes alive

Through five games, the Wisconsin running game was average at best, putting up just 160 yards per game. But in the five games since, the old dominant ground attack that the Badgers have been known for has come to life.

Following a 363-yard performance against Illinois last week, Wisconsin is now up to 198 yards per game. And a lot of credit has to go to an offensive line that has found some continuity, playing the same five guys in the last three games.

“It doesn’t just happen where you can run the football,” coach Paul Chryst said. “It’s a group that’s working. The ability to play with the same group has been helpful. They’re doing some good stuff, but we’ve still got work to do.”

Wisconsin will have the opportunity for another big day on the ground on Saturday, as Purdue comes in ranked 122nd in the nation in rushing defense, allowing an average of 248 yards per game.

3) Passing defense will be challenged

Purdue doesn’t do a lot of things well, but one area they have had success at times is in the passing game. The Boilermakers are averaging 309 yards per game through the air, tops in the Big Ten, and sophomore quarterback David Blough is first in passing yards, and second in the conference with 21 touchdowns.

But the Badgers pass defense has been among the better surprises this season. How the three new starters — cornerback Derrick Tindal, along with safeties Leo Musso and D’Cota Dixon — would fill-in was a big question. 10 games into the season and the answer is pretty darn well. Wisconsin is allowing 191 yards through the air — ranked 19th in the country — while also making quarterbacks pay for poor throws, picking off 14 passes, the third-best mark in the Big Ten.

4) Getting healthy

Wisconsin’s starting outside linebackers — Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt — have both battled injuries this season. A cracked bone in his right foot kept Biegel out of the Michigan and Ohio State games, while Watt has played through a myriad of ailments, including a shoulder injury that left him in agonizing pain at times. But both are starting to feel like themselves again, and that could mean trouble for opposing offenses.

“We can always be the guys to make a difference or make a play,” Watt said this week. “We can impact the run or the pass so much and in so many different ways. Whether it’s rushing the passer, knocking down passes or dropping in coverage.

“I think as we continue to get healthier, more and more comfortable and gaining more and more confidence, you may see (those big plays from us).”

5) Two quarterbacks again

For a fifth straight game, it’s expected the Badgers will use both of their quarterbacks — Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston. Though it can’t be called a overwhelming success, Wisconsin has won all four games where they’ve implemented the time share and Chryst intends to stick with it.

They know they don’t have to carry the whole load,” Chryst said of one of the positives of the arrangement. “They know they’re going to be contributors. I like to think it helps.”

Wisconsin is averaging 151 yards passing in this four-game stretch, with four touchdowns and two interceptions. And Chryst believes that both quarterbacks are getting used to it, and says communication has been the key.

“We’re really transparent with them as far as the plan and what’s going on so there isn’t a lot of guessing what’s going to happen,” Chryst said. “They don’t need to worry about that.”

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin has won the last 10 games in the series by an average of 23.2 points per game

The Badgers have given up just nine points in the first quarter of games this year, and are the only team in the country that hasn’t allowed a touchdown

Led by defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Badgers are allowing just 12.7 points per game, the third-best mark in the country and the fewest by a Wisconsin defense since 2006.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 45, Purdue 3 (6-4 on the season)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 38, Purdue 7 (7-3 on the season)
Jake Zimmermann’s prediction: Wisconsin 38, Purdue 3 (8-2 on the season)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 45, Purdue 13 (7-3 on the season)
Eric Rogers’ prediction: Wisconsin 38, Purdue 3 (8-2 on the season)

 

Wisconsin 21, Northwestern 7: 2-minute drill

Game Balls

Offense: WR Jazz Peavy

A year ago, Peavy thought he had caught the game-winning touchdown against Northwestern, but it was overturned on replay. On Saturday, the wide receiver got what he called his “vengeance.” Peavy grabbed four passes for 73 yards, had a 46-yard touchdown run on a reverse and added 25 yards on two punt returns, finishing with 144 yards of total offense.

Defense: DL Conor Sheehy

Sheehy had perhaps the play of the game on defense early in the fourth quarter. The nose tackle combined with outside linebacker Garrett Dooley to jar the ball loose from quarterback Clayton Thorson, and safety D’Cota Dixon picked up the fumble and returned it 17 yards. The play set-up the Badgers final touchdown of the game. It was also the final good scoring chance for the Wildcats.

On the day, Sheehy had five tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack.

Special Teams: Anthony Lotti

The true freshman was fantastic on Saturday, dropping six of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line, including two inside the 5. Lotti was a weapon for the Badgers, something they haven’t had at punter in quite a while.

Tweet of the Game

Quote of the Day

“It was just in the back of my mind. I really wanted to beat this team, and I’m glad we got to do that today.”

Wide receiver Jazz Peavy talking about how his non-touchdown last year motivated him on Saturday.

In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin’s captains for the day were seniors Corey Clement, Leo Musso, Dare Ogunbowale and Vince Biegel

— For the third straight week, Wisconsin used two quarterbacks during the game. Alex Hornibrook got the start, while Bart Houston got one series in the first half and then several more in the fourth quarter.

— Wisconsin played the same five offensive linemen — Ryan Ramczyk, Jon Dietzen, Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel and David Edwards — for the entire game. That’s the first time they’ve done that this year.

— Cornerback Natrell Jamerson, who missed the last six games with a leg injury, returned on Saturday, earning time on the punt coverage team.

— The 21-7 victory was the first for Wisconsin at Northwestern since 1999

Inside the Numbers

30 — That’s the number of pass break-ups Sojourn Shelton has for his career, passing his coach, Jim Leonhard, for the fourth-most all-time in Wisconsin history.

0 — That’s the number of turnovers Wisconsin had for the day. In their previous two games against Northwestern, both losses, the Badgers turned it over nine times.

39 — That’s how many rushing yards Northwestern had on the day — their fewest of the season.

13.8 — That’s how many points per game Wisconsin is allowing this year, just off their nation-leading 13.7 in 2015.

What’s Next?

Wisconsin (7-2, 4-2) will host Illinois (3-6, 2-4) at Camp Randall Stadium next Saturday.

Balanced attack leads Wisconsin past Akron

MADISON, Wis. — A six-game winning streak came to an end for Akron, as the Wisconsin Badgers pummeled the Zips 54-10 Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium.

Wisconsin converted 10-of-15 third down attempts, racking up 294 rushing yards and 292 passing yards. That’s 586 total offensive yards for the Badgers, compared to Akron’s 224.

Bart Houston got his first career start at Camp Randall, converting 15-of-22 pass attempts for 231 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both to receiver Jazz Peavy. The junior out of Kenosha, Wis. led Wisconsin with seven catches for 100 yards. Rob Wheelwright would finish a yard shy of the century mark on four receptions.

The running attack got started early, with Corey Clement leading the Badgers with 111 net yards on 21 carries. He’d find the end zone twice, but leave just before halftime with an apparent lower leg injury. While he was held out the remainder of the game, he said if the score were closer, he could have returned. Bradrick Shaw and Taiwan Deal added 77 and 59 yards, respectively.

Not to be outshined by the offense, the Badger defense forced turnovers in nearly every way possible. It started with an early safety, followed by Derrick Tindall’s forced fumble just as it looked like Akron would make a run at the end zone. That ball was scooped up by Soujourn Shelton. Leo Musso capitalized on an overzealous Thomas Woodson, picking off the second-year starter late in the first half.

Wisconsin welcomes Georgia State Sept. 17 at 11 a.m. CT.

It’s still early, but Wisconsin’s young wide receivers have shown they can play

MADISON | Ted Gilmore was very excited about the three wide receivers the Wisconsin football team signed last February as part of their 2016 recruiting class. But even he admitted he wouldn’t know exactly what he had in them until they stepped on the field this fall.

“So many times in recruiting you think you have an idea of what you see on tape, and then once they get here, they’ve got to put it all together,” the second-year wide receivers coach said Sunday afternoon. “Is it what you thought it was? And it’s what we thought it was.”

Yes, after seven practices of fall camp it’s become clear that Quintez Cephus, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor all have the potential to contribute sooner rather than later for the Badgers.

“I like all three of those guys,” Gilmore said. “I think we hit the jackpot.”

With last year’s leading receiver Alex Erickson catching touchdowns and returning punts for scores with the Cincinnati Bengals this preseason, the gaping hole of production left behind needs to be filled. It’s believed that senior Rob Wheelwright and junior Jazz Peavy will be the top two options, and it’s likely they will be when healthy. But neither of them are right now, and that’s left the door open for junior George Rushing, senior Reggie Love and the three first-year guys. And it’s the latter of that group that have stood out.

Head coach Paul Chryst said on Saturday that the trio deserved more reps, while also cautioning they still have a way to go. And Gilmore echoed that statement.

“They have earned more reps,” he said. “They’re flashy. They’re having some moments, and they have those freshmen moments where they turn right and should have went left. But the athleticism is there. The ability is there.”

And Gilmore is coaching that ability up, likely more so than a year ago when he had veterans in the lineup. He can be seen sprinting from spot to spot on the field, telling guys if they are lining up wrong or what route they’re supposed to run. He’s the first to congratulate them on good plays and also the first to make corrections. It’s all part of a process that will take a step up on Monday when the team scrimmages for the first time this fall.

“I can’t assume anything. And not that I do with the older guys, but sometimes they’ve earned the right to fail,” Gilmore said. “Right now I’m not giving (the young players) a chance to fail. I’m steering them the whole way and helping them out. When we scrimmage (on Monday), they’re on their own. I’m not going to stand behind them. I’m just going to see who knows it for speed.”

Cephus has flashed the most of the three, beating defensive backs with regularity. That’s he’s adapted so quickly is a tad surprising, simply because he played just one year of varsity football at his high school in Georgia. His first love was basketball and had scholarship offers from a number of schools, and even committed to Furman last September. Search Youtube, and you’ll find plenty of videos where the 6-foot-1, 195-pound, Cephus is throwing down rim-rattling dunks.

Though the skills he showed on the court don’t transfer seamlessly, his competitive spirit does. He’s battled the veteran defensive backs throughout the first week of camp and didn’t cede an inch.

“I knew there would be a learning curve, and there is,” Gilmore said. “He knows the base concepts, but when we have an adjustment he’s still struggling with that. But he’s a competitor. That’s what comes out. Even if (he) doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s competing. I love that.”

While Cephus was a basketball star, Taylor was the star running back and the No. 1 ranked player in the state of Missouri. But Gilmore saw him and thought wide receiver.

“I was a little hesitant coming in,” Taylor admitted of the position switch. “But this summer really changed my whole mindset. I’ve been working and working, trying to get more consistent. And actually, I feel a lot more comfortable playing receiver now than I did my whole four years playing running back [in high school]. I feel more confident [now] than anything.”

And when he has a question, he’ll ask it. Though Gilmore sometimes tells him to shut it down and just play.

“A.J.’s a very smart kid. A.J. is one of those kids that can overthink things,” Gilmore said. “I just tell him stop being smart for a moment. Don’t overanalyze it.”

Pryor was recruited by some to be a defensive back, and he could still end up there at some point for Wisconsin. But just like the other two players, the Illinois product has flashed play-making ability that could see him and his fellow freshmen get on the field early.

“All three of them are in the conversation,” Gilmore said of potential playing time. “What that looks like, obviously we don’t know yet. But all three of them are in the conversation whether it’s with special teams (or) whether it’s in the rotation with the main wide outs. They have put themselves in position to talk about them when we talk personnel.”

After bitter disappointment in 2015, it’s all about the word ‘finish’ for Jazz Peavy.

MADISON | Jazz Peavy isn’t running away from what happened last November. He probably could – he posted the fastest 40-yard dash time of any player on the Wisconsin football team this summer. But the junior isn’t using that speed to leave the pain and agony behind of what many still feel was an unjust act.

Flashback to the afternoon of Nov. 21, 2015. With Wisconsin trailing Northwestern 13-7 in the final minute, the Badgers offense awoke from a game-long slumber for one final drive to try and win the game. And they thought they had. Peavy caught a 1-yard touchdown from quarterback Joel Stave. The stadium erupted only to be quieted minutes later when officials overturned the call, saying Peavy didn’t complete the process of the catch.

Reactions from bewilderment to rage poured across the Wisconsin sideline, with Peavy’s hands going from giving the touchdown signal to on top his helmet in essence asking, “How is that possible?”

A sullen Peavy handled the post-game interviews the best a 20-year-old could, answering every question the media posed, while maintaining his belief – and that of many others — that it was a catch.

“The whole time I knew that was a catch,” Peavy said that day. “I don’t know what else to say about that. Absolute catch.”

Jazz

Now back to the present and Wisconsin is going through their third day of fall camp. Peavy is gliding around the field, seemingly with ease, as he goes up over a cornerback to haul in a sideline pass. He quickly raises the ball up in the air to show a non-existent officiating crew he had caught it, an involuntary reaction that has become commonplace after the gut-wrenching disappointment of getting his first career touchdown taken away. It’s a play that is never too far away.

“I always keep it in the back of my mind. It’s always there,” Peavy said on Wednesday, sweat from the 2 ½ hour session still pouring down his face. “It’s not like I let it affect me or anything, but I definitely let it drive me.”

Watching from the sideline that day was fellow receiver Rob Wheelwright. Still working his way back at that point from a broken leg suffered in late October, Wheelwright felt Peavy’s pain like it was his own.

“That sucked for me,” Wheelwright admitted this week. “[But] I just feel it motivated him so much more. He’s just taken that anger, [the] frustration and brought it in, and [he’s] really letting it out [in the form of] motivation and working hard.”

Peavy is attached to the play. Ask an average fan what they think when they hear Peavy’s name and it’s almost universally associated with the catch that wasn’t. And the Kenosha native knows it. But he has no intention of letting the play define his time in Madison. No, he believes the play will be a mere footnote when fans look back at his career, and he can start changing the narrative by helping replace last year’s leading receiver, Alex Erickson, who’s in the process of fighting for a roster spot with the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I thought that he did a heck of a job last year, much more as a complimentary receiver,” head coach Paul Chryst said of Peavy, who had 20 catches for 268 yards. “He’s got an opportunity now to step into another role.”

Seizing the moment and stepping into a bigger role is a top priority for Peavy. Whether you thought he caught the ball or not — the Big Ten maintains he didn’t — even he admits he could have made a cleaner play and left no doubt in the replay official’s mind.

“It’s one of those things where I know it’s just about finishing,” he said. “Finishing is the main word. That’s the thing that comes up in all caps – FINISH. On that catch, the play, the game or the quarter – anything. Just finish all of it because you never know.”

Potential is there for several true freshmen to help Wisconsin

MADISON | No one associated with the Wisconsin football team has seen the true freshmen class in a single practice yet, but based on the way some of the coaches talked on Sunday during the team’s annual media day, there appear to be several that could help this season.

Among the positions where that could happen is at wide receiver, where only senior Rob Wheelwright and junior Jazz Peavy have what would be considered significant playing experience. Junior George Rushing and senior Reggie Love have also seen some time, but they are veterans in class only.

“They’re old, yet young,” wide receiver coach Ted Gilmore said of a group that has a bunch of upperclassmen but few proven options. “For them, it’s taking that next step. All those years they sat back and watched and wished they were in a certain position, now is a great opportunity to seize that moment.

“I really feel they are ready to do that … Whatever their role is, they’re going to earn it.”

The same could be said for the true freshmen at the position, especially A.J. Taylor. One of the top rated recruits in Wisconsin’s 2016 class, the speedy Taylor played mostly running back in high school, and he did it at a high level, earning first-team all-state honors in Missouri as a senior. So when he stepped on campus in June there was some doubts about the position change swirling around in his head, but those have since subsided and he’s feeling more and more comfortable by the snap.

“I was a little hesitant coming in,” Taylor admitted. “But this summer has really changed my whole mindset. I’ve been working and working, trying to get more consistent. And actually, I feel a lot more comfortable playing receiver now than I did my whole four years playing running back [in high school]. I feel more confident [now] than anything.”

Though Taylor will learn all of the wide receiver spots, he could be most dangerous working in the slot, where Wisconsin could use him on jet sweeps and in other situations with the goal of getting him the ball in space.

Down in the trenches is another area on offense that will see an infusion of young bodies that might be able to help, at least when it comes to providing depth. Cole Van Lanen and Patrick Kasl are further along physically than normal first-year players. And they play a position – tackle – that currently lacks much experience after the starters. So offensive line coach Joe Rudolph wouldn’t be surprised to see them among the two-deep.

“I think those guys will both get reps with the second team early in camp, and we’ll kind of see where they’re at,” Rudolph said. “They aren’t far off in some areas [physically]. You need that.”

On the other side of the ball there are a couple defensive backs that could push to get on the field, especially at safety. Both Eric Burrell and Patrick Johnson appear physically ready, and they’ll get their shot at a position that is clearly the most wide-open due to the departure of Tanner McEvoy and Michael Caputo.

The most intriguing of the true freshmen is Garrett Rand. A defensive lineman, the Arizona product is already one of, if not the strongest player on the team. Much was made about his strength after video surfaced of him benching 500 pounds in high school. The tape didn’t lie, and when he showed up this summer, he managed 33 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press – the highest total on the team. What’s more, he called it an off day.

Rand is proud of what he can do in the weight room, but added, “I want to be known for more than [my bench press numbers].”

Defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield said Rand plays with a fire and will be given every opportunity to contribute at defensive end, and possibly at the nose guard spot.

Other potential first-year possibilities include punter Anthony Lotti and cornerback Caesar Williams.

Wisconsin football preview: Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers

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’ll take a look at the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.

Quarterbacks

For a fifth time in the last six years, Wisconsin will enter fall camp without having named a starting quarterback.

The two options are senior Bart Houston or redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. Each had their moments during spring ball, but very little will separate the two when they hit the field next Monday for practice.

Houston is the more experienced of the two, playing in 13 games over the last three years. But it wasn’t until last season that he saw extended action, filling in for an injured Joel Stave against Illinois. The California native threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns, but he also tossed a pair of interceptions in the end zone.

Entering his fifth fall camp, Houston has been through a lot in his time in Madison, including undergoing shoulder surgery as a freshman and being relegated to punting duties as a sophomore under the former coaching staff. Now, in his second year under the guy (Chryst) who recruited him it’s now or never.

On the other side is Hornibrook, who appeared in serious jeopardy of knocking himself out of contention for the job midway through spring. In one practice alone he threw five interceptions. But he closed nicely and is definitely going to give Houston a run for the starting gig against LSU.

Starting prediction: Bart Houston

I’ll go with Houston simply because of the experience, but it won’t be shocking to see Hornibrook win it. The coaching staff loves the mental aspect of his game, as well as an already well-developed ability to throw with anticipation.

Running backs

Wisconsin’s running game was not its usual self a year ago. The 150.3 yards per game they averaged on the ground was the fewest for a season since 1995. Some of that had to do with the revolving door of lineups along the offensive line, but not all the blame can go there.

Not having Corey Clement for nine games (eight with injury, one for an off the field incident) was a major factor. But he’s back now, fully healthy and weighing a robust 227 pounds. And unlike a year ago, when he was talking about rushing for 2,000 yards and heading to the NFL draft, Clement appears focused solely on the team.

If Clement stays healthy, the 1-2 punch of him and senior Dare Ogunbowale could make for an offense that is much more dynamic. A former walk-on defensive back, Ogunbowale ran for a team 819 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago, but was also a factor in the passing game catching 36 passes. Expect his role in that capacity to be expanded.

Redshirt sophomore Taiwan Deal was solid in his first of action, even though injuries cost him time midway through the season just as he was looking to become the lead back. Still, Wisconsin likes their top three players at the position.

Meanwhile, at fullback there will be three guys – junior Austin Ramesh, sophomore Alec Ingold and senior Leon Jacobs — vying to replace Derek Watt, who is now blocking for Melvin Gordon with the San Diego Chargers.

Starting prediction:
TB – Corey Clement
FB – Alec Ingold

Clement and Ogunbowale will see a lot of time on the field, and don’t be surprised if they are on the field at the same time. Wisconsin didn’t use the fly-sweep very much a year ago, but it could make a big comeback this season.

Ramesh is probably the best blocker of the three fullbacks, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see the position get the ball more this year. If that’s the case, then it’s advantage Ingold, who had 131 yards and six touchdowns as the short-yardage back last season.

Wide receivers

Before going down with an injury against Illinois, Robert Wheelwright was becoming the No. 2 target Wisconsin needed. He had 25 catches and three touchdowns through seven games. But he missed the rest of the regular season with a leg injury, leading Alex Erickson to end up with more catches (77) than the rest of the group combined. But Erickson is gone now, and it’s time for Wheelwright to live up to the promise he’s shown since stepping on campus.

Helping him do that will be Jazz Peavy. The redshirt junior was really good at times last year, including grabbing what should have been the game-winning touchdown against Northwestern. Now, with a full offseason void of injury, the Kenosha product will play a big role this fall.

Behind those two are where the biggest questions remain. Can senior Reggie Love put it together in his last go-around? Will a visibly stronger and bigger George Rushing build off a strong spring game and give the Badgers a deep threat? Can wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore get sophomore Krenwick Sanders to play up to his ability?

If Wisconsin doesn’t get the answers they want on those questions, they could turn to the three true freshmen – Quintez Cephus, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor — that arrived this summer. Gilmore has said he’s not afraid to play first-year guys if they’re ready.

Starting prediction: Rob Wheelwright, Jazz Peavy

The battle for the starting spots really isn’t a battle. If both guys are healthy – and that is a big if – they’ll be UW’s top two targets on the outside.

As for the third wide receiver spot, I think it goes to Rushing. He’s got the ability to get behind a defense, and it appeared things started to click for him at the end of spring, including grabbing a pair of touchdowns in the spring game.

After that, it’s easy to envision Love, Sanders, sophomore Ricky Finco, redshirt freshman Henry Houden and potentially Taylor battling for the rest of the reps.

Tomorrow: Offensive line, tight ends