What the future holds: Defensive line

With the 2017 season in the books, it’s time to look ahead to 2018 for Wisconsin. Over the next few weeks we’ll be going position-by-position to see what the future holds for the Badgers.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to each player in terms of their class for 2018. If someone was a sophomore in 2017, they will be called a junior here.

Defensive line:

Returning: Olive Sagapolu (SR), Isaiahh Loudermilk (RS SO), Garrett Rand (JR), David Pfaff (JR), Keldric Preston (RS SO), Kraig Howe (JR), Aaron Vopal (RS FR)

Leaving: Alec James, Conor Sheehy, Chikwe Obasih

Arriving: Bryson Williams (3-star), Boyd Dietzen (3-star), Isaiah Mullens (3-star)

Season grades

Biggest question: How does Wisconsin fill the depth chart following the loss of three productive seniors?

Wisconsin loses 157 games played, including 90 starts, from the three seniors that played their final game against Miami in the Orange Bowl. Alec James, Conor Sheehy and Chikwe Obasih were near constants along the Badgers front the last four seasons and won’t be easy to replace, though Wisconsin does have a few options.

The known is nose tackle Olive Sagapolu. The senior has made 19 starts in his first three years and is the centerpiece of Wisconsin’s front, especially against power run teams. He did have a career-high three sacks in 2017.

Injuries plagued redshirt sophomore Isaiahh Loudermilk in 2017, but when healthy, he flashed some playmaking ability and should man one of the defensive end spots.

The other one, you would think, should be occupied by junior Garrett Rand. Thanks to all the experienced and talented players in front of him the last two years, he played out of position as Sagapolu’s backup at nose tackle as opposed to his more natural defensive end position. Now would be the time to move him back outside, something his father, somewhat surprisingly, took to Twitter to express earlier this month.

What’s up in the air is who will fill the depth chart behind those three.

Redshirt sophomore Keldric Preston is currently more known for a video of him eating an orange — peal and all — that went viral following the Orange Bowl. But like James, he’s a big, athletic body that should push for time this fall.

Redshirt freshman Aaron Vopal has the size and ability to hold up and is a guy to keep an eye on.

Juniors David Pfaff and Kraig Howe have been buried on the depth chart their first three years. If they are going to make an impact in their careers, the time is now.

As for incoming players, everyone is looking at Bryson Williams as a potential early contributor. Wisconsin managed to hold onto Williams despite a last minute push from his hometown Nebraska Cornhuskers and new coach Scott Frost. A 3-star recruit, Williams is already on campus as an early enrollee, going through winter conditioning and will take part in spring practice. It would be significant if the 6-foot-2, 295-pound Williams could win the backup nose tackle job.

Defensive end Boyd Dietzen — the top ranked player in Wisconsin in the Class of 2018 — finished with 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks for Division 1 state champion Kimberly as a senior. A 3-star recruit, Dietzen and fellow true freshman Isaiah Mullens could force their way into the conversation for playing time with a good summer in the weight room and a strong fall camp.

Predicted depth chart:

DE: Isaiahh Loudermilk (RS SO), Keldric Preston (RS SO)
NT: Oliver Sagapolu (SR), Bryson Williams (FR)
DE: Garrett Rand (JR), Aaron Vopal (RS FR)

What the future holds:
Quarterback
Running back
Wide receiver
Tight end
Offensive line

Hornibrook still the starter, Shelton responds to those saying he got beat and an injury update

MADISON | Despite not being under center during Wisconsin’s final three drives of regulation, or its only possession in overtime, Alex Hornibrook remains the Badgers starting quarterback with Bart Houston as the backup.

Asked Monday whether the redshirt freshman would get the nod this week against Northwestern, coach Paul Chryst said, “Yup,” and didn’t expound on his answer.

Two weeks ago, the job appeared to be Hornibrook’s and his alone. He started all five of Wisconsin’s Big Ten games, but against Iowa on Oct. 22 Chryst decided to give Houston two series and followed that up with the senior getting six of the Badgers’ 14 series against Nebraska, including the final four of the game.

“No, there’s never a plan,” Houston said after the game on whether he knew how much he’d be playing going in. “It’s kind of how our coaching staff goes. No plan. It’s just whatever happens, happens.”

The two quarterbacks combined to throw for just 114 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on the night, and for the season, the duo has thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9).

Shelton wasn’t beat

In the wake of Saturday night’s game, many said that safety D’Cota Dixon bailed cornerback Sojourn Shelton out on the final play of the game by knocking the ball away from Nebraska wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. And while part of that is true — he did keep Morgan from catching it — the idea that Shelton was burned on the play is inaccurate.
Shelton tweet

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nebraska faced a fourth-and-8 at the Wisconsin 25-yard line, knowing they needed a first down or a touchdown to keep the game going. On Monday, Shelton described what his responsibilities were on the play.

“We were in 2-man,” Shelton said of the call, which has corners undercutting routes and more aggressive because they know they have safety help behind them. “In my mind, I’m thinking they’re trying to get to the (first down) sticks and get another set of downs. (Morgan) ran a double move, and I bit on it knowing D’Cota was over the top (to help).”

Dixon was right where Shelton expected him to be, and he took care of his end of things. Shelton said for those that still don’t understand what his responsibilities were on the play, the internet is a great resource.

“If anybody doesn’t know what 2-man is, Google does explain what 2-man coverage is,” Shelton said with a laugh.

Injury update

Only one player has already been ruled out for Wisconsin’s game at Northwestern with that being nose tackle Olive Sagapolu, who has missed the last two contests with an arm injury suffered against Ohio State.

“No specific timetable,” Chryst said when the sophomore might return. “We knew when he first got (hurt) it was going to be a little bit of time. We’ll just see how it goes.”

Rest of the injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

ILB Griffin Grady (shoulder)
CB Natrell Jamerson (leg)
OL Jake Maxwell (shoulder)
FB Austin Ramesh (shoulder)
OLB T.J. Watt (shoulder)

Preview: No. 10 Wisconsin at Iowa

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers (4-2, 1-2) vs the Iowa Hawkeyes (5-2, 3-1)

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Ia.

The TV coverage: ESPN with Steve Levy and Brian Griese in the booth, and Todd McShay on the sideline

The last time: Iowa forced four Wisconsin turnovers on their way to an ugly 10-6 win in Madison last year.

The series: Wisconsin 44-43-2

The line: Wisconsin -4

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

OL Jon Dietzen (leg)
WR Rob Wheelwright (leg)
FB Alec Ingold (arm)

OUT

OLB Zack Baun (leg)
CB Natrell Jamerson (leg)
NT Olive Sagapolu (arm)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) How do you respond?

Following an agonizing overtime loss to No. 2 Ohio State, there is a legitimate concern outside of the program that Wisconsin will be unable to muster up the energy to go on the road and beat an Iowa squad that is starting to play some pretty good football. But that concern is not prevalent inside the the Badgers locker room.

“Of course it’s a disappointment,” running back Dare Ogunbowale said of the loss to the Buckeyes. “(But) we know we have to respond, so we’re going to.”

It helps that despite the loss to Ohio State, Wisconsin still has plenty to play for, including staying alive for a Big Ten West title and an outside shot at becoming the first two-loss team to make the College Football Playoff.

2) For the bull

Wisconsin and Iowa play for the Heartland Trophy, and as is the custom, the trophy sits on the sideline of the team that won it the year before. That meant last season, when Iowa beat the Badgers 10-6 at Camp Randall Stadium, they came streaming over to the home sideline to reclaim the brass bull for the first time since 2009. That moment is seared into the minds of Wisconsin’s players.

“It literally feels like someone is taking something from you,” wide receiver Jazz Peavy said on Monday. “You come into the locker room, we have the trophy cases and all that, and you see the trophies in there, and to not see one in there…someone took that from us and we definitely want that back.”

Since the trophy was first awarded in 2004, Iowa has a 5-4 advantage.

3) Proving it wasn’t a fluke

For the first time this season, and perhaps more accurately, the first time in Paul Chryst’s tenure, the Badgers were able to have success in the running game against an elite opponent. Wisconsin had 236 yards on the ground and averaged 5.1 yards per carry against the Buckeyes, a team that came in among the top 10 defenses in the country.

164 of those yards came from running back Corey Clement, who finally had his breakout game, becoming just the ninth player since 2000 to run for at least 160 yards against Ohio State.

“I was wondering when the time was going to come,” Clement said of his second 100-yard game this year. “I just tried to do what I could.”

Now Clement and the Badgers will face an Iowa defense that is allowing 151.9 yards per game on the ground. And while they held Purdue to a season-low 47 yards last week, the Hawkeyes have been susceptible in the run game, including giving up a combined 437 yards in its two losses this year.

“(The Ohio State) production needs to carry on into Iowa,” Clement said. “If we want to keep thinking about winning out the West (Division), we have to keep being productive on the ground.”

4) A growing opportunity

Alex Hornibrook says he ran the final play of the loss to Ohio State over and over in his mind in the twenty-four hours after it happened. The redshirt freshman quarterback was beating himself up for not at least giving his guys a chance on fourth down, instead taking a sack that ended the game.

It was another learning experience for the first-year signal caller, who was making just his third career start, and the Badgers are hoping moments like that will pay off down the road, starting this week in Iowa City.

“Definitely not patient with that,” Hornibrook said of his improvement. “I want to be as good as I can every single day and I’m working to be as good as I can be every day. I’m not waiting for anything. I’m going to improve on everything I can from this past week and this season and try to be the best me on Saturday.”

5) Biegel back, but Sagapolu to miss the game

There was a lot of excitement surrounding the return of Vince Biegel after he missed the past two games following foot surgery last month, and deservedly so. As one of Wisconsin’s captains and among their bigger playmakers, the outside linebacker should provide a physical and emotional lift for a defense held their own in his absence.

But the bigger story on the injury front was nose guard Olive Sagapolu being ruled out with an arm injury. At 340 pounds, the sophomore has been vital to Wisconsin’s success against power run teams, and they’ll face another on Saturday against Iowa.

Though rarely talked about, Sagapolu takes on double teams almost every play in an effort to keep blockers off the linebackers, allowing them to flow to the ball. Without him in the lineup, that task will fall to players that don’t have the same physical presence. Sophomore Billy Hirschfeld and freshman Garrett Rand are both under 300 pounds, while another possible replacement, starting defensive end Conor Sheehy, comes in at 295.

How Sagapolu’s replacements fare could very well be a deciding factor in Saturday’s game.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

  • In the last four games between the two rivals, the margin of victory has been just 6.5 points
  • Wisconsin ranks first in the Big Ten and fifth nationally with just 3.7 penalties per game
  • After rushing for 164 yards against Ohio State, running back Corey Clement moved into 14th place in the Badgers record book for career rushing yards with 2,200
  • Wisconsin is on pace to have three players with at least 40 catches, which would be the first time since 2005 they’ve accomplished that.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Iowa 17, Wisconsin 14 (3-3 on the season)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, Iowa 14 (3-3 on the season)
Jake Zimmermann’s prediction: Wisconsin 31, Iowa 10 (4-2 on the season)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 21, Iowa 13 (3-3 on the season)
Eric Rogers’ prediction: Wisconsin 35, Iowa 21 (4-2 on the season)

LB Vince Biegel set to make his return against Iowa

MADISON | The Wisconsin football team will get one of their best players and leaders back on the field this Saturday against Iowa.

The school announced Thursday that outside linebacker Vince Biegel has been cleared to play after missing the past two games following surgery to fix a cracked bone in his right foot. When Biegel steps on the field against the Hawkeyes, it will have been 23 days since he had a screw placed in his foot.

“Vince is always ready to go,” coach Paul Chryst said Thursday. “I’ve loved what he’s done to get himself to this point. He gets an opportunity to play. I feel bad when he, or any of the guys, that are out miss opportunities to play. We’re looking forward to getting him back.”

Without Biegel, the Badgers defense really didn’t miss much of a beat in losses against Michigan and Ohio State, as junior Garrett Dooley filled in for him. But Biegel is among Wisconsin’s best playmakers on defense and should give them a lift against an Iowa squad that comes in winners of two straight.

The injury news wasn’t all good for the Badgers, though. Sophomore nose guard Olive Sagapolu will miss the game due to an arm injury. At 340 pounds, he would have played a big role in Wisconsin’s 3-4 defense against the Hawkeyes power run game. He’ll be replaced by true freshman Garrett Rand and redshirt sophomore Bill Hirschfeld.

Injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

OL Jon Dietzen (leg)
WR Rob Wheelwright (leg)
FB Alec Ingold (arm)

OUT

OLB Zack Baun (leg)
CB Natrell Jamerson (leg)
NT Olive Sagapolu (arm)

Wisconsin football preview: Defensive line

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 defensive line.

Defensive line

No unit on the team, perhaps outside of the linebackers, has more depth and experience returning than the defensive line. Their top four players have played in 93 games in their careers, including 35 starts. And though they have to unexpectedly replace Arthur Goldberg (25 starts), who stepped away from the program due to repeated head injuries, the group that remains is more than capable.

The line is led by junior Chikwe Obasih, who has started 20 games over the past two seasons, including all 13 last year. He helped Wisconsin lead the country in points allowed per game (13.7) and finish fourth in rushing defense (95.4 ypg). He ranked first among the linemen with 41 tackles and showed flashes of being disruptive in the backfield, recording 5.0 tackles for loss.

Fellow junior defensive end Conor Sheehy is about 15 pounds heavier than he was at the start of last year and now stands at 288, which will help him hold up against some of the power run games UW will face, including LSU in the season opener.

Don’t be surprised if junior Alec James pushes Sheehy for a starting job, while also being with the first-team defense in the nickel and dime packages due to his pass rushing ability. Defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield also believes redshirt sophomore Billy Hirschfeld could push for time at defensive end.

At nose guard, the Badgers have a pair of massive bodies to hold the point of attack in their 3-4 scheme. It took about half the season, but sophomore Olive Sagapolu started to show down the stretch what the coaching staff liked so much about him. At 6-foot-2, 340 pounds, Sagapolu is a good enough athlete to get off blocks but also stout enough to deal with the constant double teams he sees.

There has also been some chatter around the program that the light may have turned on for redshirt sophomore Jeremy Patterson. A guy that former coach Gary Andersen and his coaching staff thought would be an instant contributor, Patterson has played in just two games in his career. But the 350-pounder has the ability to be a difference maker, and the Badgers would be ecstatic if he and Sagapolu are able to spell each other.

The one wild card is true freshman Garrett Rand. The Arizona product once benched 500 pounds as a high schooler and appears physically ready to play. Breckterfield believes he can play either defensive end or nose guard – much like Goldberg – and he intends to give him every chance to get on the field early in his career.

Two-deep projection
DE: Chikwe Obasih, Billy Hirschfeld
NG: Olive Sagapolu, Jeremy Patterson
DE: Conor Sheehy, Alec James

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