B1G title game preview: No. 6 Wisconsin vs No. 7 Penn State

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers (10-2, 7-2) vs the No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2 8-1)

The time: 7:17 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.

The TV coverage: Fox with Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt in the booth, and Shannon Spake on the sideline.

The last time: In the 2013 season finale, Penn State freshman Christian Hackenberg threw for 339 yards and four touchdowns, as the Nittany Lions ruined Wisconsin’s Senior Day 31-24.

The series: Wisconsin 9-8

The line: Wisconsin -2.5

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

QB Alex Hornibrook (head)

DL Conor Sheehy (arm)

OUT

OL Jake Maxwell (shoulder)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Playing for a title and potentially more

Wisconsin and Penn State will play for a Big Ten title on Saturday night, but much more is potentially at stake for both teams. As it stands, the Badgers are at No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings, with the Nittany Lions just one spot behind them. Though the chances are low that either gets selected by the playoff committee, an impressive performance in Indianapolis could just sway some people.

2) Erasing bad memories

The number of impact players that remain from Wisconsin’s 2014 team are few and far between, but the ones that are still around remember with terror their last trip to Lucas Oil Stadium. Favored by 4.5 points against Ohio State and its third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, the Badgers got steamrolled 59-0 in that year’s Big Ten title game. Many players, including cornerback Sojourn Shelton, called it their lowest moment on a football field. Saturday night presents an opportunity to change how they’ll remember trips to Indianapolis.

3) Stopping the big play

No team in the Big Ten has accounted for more big plays on offense than Penn State. They lead the league in plays of 30 or more yards, 40 or more yards and 50 or more yards. The Badgers are well aware of the explosiveness, and have done a good job this year of limiting plays like that, giving up just eight plays of 40 or more yards — 10th fewest in the country.

What makes the Nittany Lions unique, though, is that quarterback Trace McSorely will throw into coverage to give his guys an opportunity to make a play on the ball. It’ll be paramount for the Badgers to win their share of those 50-50 balls, and perhaps even add to their nation-leading 21 interceptions.

4) Slowing Saquon

Slow Saquon Barkley and slow Penn State’s offense, right? Not exactly, but putting the clamps on the Big Ten offensive player of the year is among the higher priorities for the Wisconsin defense.

Barkley, who is dealing with a foot injury suffered last week against Michigan State, has had some monster games this year and also some real duds, including against the Spartans before he left. But he’s also the Nittany Lions best player and the Badgers need to make him a non-factor. To do that, they’ll need to be better against the read-option than they were last week. Minnesota gashed them early thanks to a lack of contain by the outside linebackers.

5) Two-quarterback system

Alex Hornibrook practiced all week after leaving the Minnesota game with a head injury, and is listed as questionable for the game. But even if he’s cleared to play, should he be under center to to start the game? Backup Bart Houston has been really good of late, leading touchdown drives on 10 of his 17 full possessions the last three games.

It seems unlikely that if Hornibrook is cleared to play that coach Paul Chryst will change anything, sticking with the redshirt freshman as his starter and Houston coming in on the third or fourth series, but it is something to watch.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin will play in its fourth Big Ten title game since its inception in 2011. Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Penn State have a total of four appearances combined.

Over his last three games, quarterback Bart Houston has a passer rating of 195.7. Stretched out over an entire season, that rating would be the best in the country.

Wisconsin leads in the nation in interceptions with 21, which is more than the 18 they had the last two seasons combined.

The 2016 senior class has won 40 games during their time in Madison. One more win would make them the winningest class in Wisconsin history.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Penn State 21 (8-4 on the season)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, Penn State 17 (9-3 on the season)
Jake Zimmermann’s prediction: Wisconsin 28 , Penn State 17 (10-2 on the season)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 31 , Penn State 14 (9-3 on the season)
Eric Rogers’ prediction: Wisconsin 23, Penn State 14 (10-2 on the season)

 

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.”

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.

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: (11) Wisconsin at (8) Michigan State

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers (3-0) vs the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans (2-0)

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.

The TV coverage: Big Ten Network with Kevin Kugler and Matt Millen in the booth and Lisa Byington on the sideline.

The last time: In 2012, Michigan State overcame a 10-0 deficit and won in overtime 16-13

The series: Michigan State 30-22

The line: Michigan State -5.5

The Badgers injury report:

K Rafael Gaglianone (back) — OUT

CB Natrell Jamerson (leg) — OUT

RB Bradrick Shaw (shoulder) — OUT

LG Jon Dietzen (leg) — OUT

RB Corey Clement (ankle) — QUESTIONABLE

RB Taiwan Deal (ankle) — QUESTIONABLE

LG Micah Kapoi (leg) — QUESTIONABLE

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) First start

Alex Hornibrook has thrown just 17 passes in his college career, but those tosses were enough for the redshirt freshman to overtake senior Bart Houston for the starting quarterback job.

It will be the first start for Hornibrook, and it comes on the road against a top 10 team with a defense that will challenge him as much as any that Wisconsin faces this year.

“They’ve been doing some of the same stuff for a lot of years,” Hornibrook said of Michigan State “They’re a team that doesn’t do a crazy amount of looks but they’re really good at what they do.”

Wisconsin quarterbacks are 11-4 in their first starts dating back to 1996, but Hornibrook will be just the second redshirt freshman to make his debut on the road against a ranked opponent. The other? Brooks Bollinger in 1999, who helped the Badgers to a 42-17 win over Ohio State.

2) Injuries mount

As they were a year ago, Wisconsin has been bitten by the injury bug through the first three games. Already without a pair of starters in linebacker Chris Orr and nickel back Natrell Jamerson, the Badgers will go into Saturday’s game without starting kicker Rafael Gaglianone, left guard Jon Dietezn and perhaps his backup — Micah Kapoi.

It’s also unclear if running backs Corey Clement or Taiwan Deal will play as they are both battling ankle injuries.

Coach Paul Chryst, though, won’t use them as an excuse.

“Focusing on the things that you can control and being ready for the opportunity,” Chryst said when asked how his guys deal with injuries. “When it comes, how do you maximize it? We talk about that a lot. Because I think that’s what matters to guys.”

3) We meet again

Some of the most intriguing matchups of the Bret Bielema era came against Mark Dantonio and Michigan State. The five games they played from 2009 to 2012 were hard fought and came down to the fourth quarter — some of them on the last play, like the game in 2011 when the Spartans converted a ‘Hail Mary’ to win.

Chryst was around for the first four of those games as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator, and he remembers them fondly.

“It was just good football. You knew it and the kids knew it,” Chryst said of those past matchups.  “It was fun to play those games, because you knew you had to be on, and you knew you’d be challenged.”

4) Defense needs to be better

Wisconsin’s defense played nearly lights out in the first 10 quarters of the season, but then fell apart at points last week in the second half against Georgia State. They allowed big plays thanks to shoddy tackling and poor technique, and that helped the Panthers take a lead in the fourth quarter. You could tell it bothered them as they bristled at any mention of those drives this week and vowed to be better. And they’ll need to be.

Though they kept it vanilla against Furman in the season opener, the Spartans offense came to life against Notre Dame last week piling up 36 points and 481 total yards. And they were able to keep the Irish on their toes, doing it both through the air with fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor (241 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) and on the ground with the combo of Gerald Holmes and L.J. Scott (198 yards and three touchdowns combined).

“It’s an offense that’s really balanced. They attack you in the run and pass,” cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. “Their running backs are very, very solid. Receivers on the outside are solid and get the job done.

“It’s like we’re playing our style of football. Every team has a different way that they get to things but it’s bow-up, smash-mouth football, and then cover the pass here and there.”

Wisconsin’s run defense has been a strength this year, giving up just 82.3 yards per game, second-fewest in the Big Ten. And while O’Connor is more than capable of moving the team through the air, the Badgers have to force him to do it. They can’t let Michigan State own the time of possession like they did against the Irish — 37:57 to 22:03 — if they have any hopes of pulling the upset.

5) Local kid helping the enemy

There have been very few in-state players with offers from Wisconsin that have gone on and had good careers at other Big Ten schools, but the Badgers will face one of them on Saturday.

Beaver Dam native R.J. Shelton is a do-it-all player for the Spartans, as he returns kicks, catches passes as a wide receiver and gets an opportunity to run the ball on a variety of sweeps and tosses. He’s a guy that has Wisconsin’s full attention.

“Just the way that they use him,” Sojourn Shelton said of what stood out about the Wisconsin native. “They get him in a lot of screen situations, a lot of reverses…get him in space. With a guy like that, that’s elusive and can make guys miss, and catch all the passes in the world, that’s the perfect way to use him.”

R.J. Shelton had a scholarship offer to Wisconsin but wanted to play running back, something the coach at the time, Bret Bielema, wouldn’t promise him. With James White, Melvin Gordon, Vonte Jackson and Corey Clement making up the depth chart at the time, it made sense. So the Golden Beavers star went to Michigan State with the promise of playing running back. Within two weeks, they moved him to wide receiver and he’s been there ever since.

Through two games, Shelton has eight catches for 80 yards and touchdown, along with another 48 yards rushing on four attempts.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

4.9 — That’s the average margin of victory for the winner of the last seven games between the two schools.

10 — That’s how many games running back Corey Clement has missed due to injury or suspension over the last two seasons.

6-0 — That’s Wisconsin’s record away from Camp Randall Stadium since losing their season opener to Alabama in Dallas last September

2003 — That’s the last time Wisconsin faced five ranked opponents in a single regular season. Saturday’s game will be their second this year, and three of the next four teams on their schedule are currently inside the top 20 of the Associated Press poll.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Michigan State 20, Wisconsin 10 (2-1 on the season)
Ebo’s prediction: Michigan State 27, Wisconsin 20 (2-1 on the season)
Jake Zimmermann’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, Michigan State 21 (2-1 on the season)
Joe Miller’s prediction: (2-1 on the season)
Eric Rogers’ prediction: Michigan State 24, Wisconsin 14 (2-1 on the season)

 

 

 

No. 5 LSU vs Wisconsin: Top 3 storylines

MADISON | The storylines for the Wisconsin football team as they head into their season opener against LSU this Saturday are pretty simple.

One, how do they deal with Heisman Trophy candidate Leonard Fournette?

Two, what impact will former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda have now that he’s calling plays for the Tigers?

And three, what will the Badgers get out of first-time starter Bart Houston at quarterback.

Tackle, tackle, tackle

Let’s start with the first one as that is likely to be the most important to the outcome of the game. So much is expected of Fournette this season after running for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns as a sophomore. No running back in the country combines his power and speed, and the Badgers know it’ll take more than one to get him on the ground.

“He’s a guy where everybody has to get to the ball,” cornerback Sojourn Shelton said Monday. “You’ve got to get 11 guys to the ball in order to stop a freight train like him.”

The last time Wisconsin’s defense saw a freight train like Fournette it didn’t go their way. In last season’s opener against Alabama, eventual Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry ran through the Badgers for 147 yards and three touchdowns, and did so while not playing in the fourth quarter. But it was Fournette, and not Henry, that led the country in broken tackles a year ago.

“We did struggle here and there as far as tackling Derrick Henry,” Shelton admitted. “Leonard Fournette is another running back that’s of that same caliber, if not better.”

Fournette, who dealt with a sprained ankle in fall camp but has now been fully cleared, was held under 100 yards just twice last season — both LSU losses — and his third lowest total also came in a loss. In fact, of the eight losses LSU has over the past two seasons, Fournette has been held under 100 yards in six of them.

“(It’s) extremely important,” head coach Paul Chryst said when asked how vital it will be to slow Fournette. “You can do tackling drills, and you can make sure on the film that you’re talking it, and yet you’ve still got to go out and execute it.”

New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will need to decide how much attention and resources need to be put into slowing Fournette, which in turn could impact the back end of defense by leaving Shelton and the rest of the defensive backs largely on their own against a team that loves to take shots via play-action. Shots like the one they burned Wisconsin with in 2014 when Travin Dural got behind Shelton and safety Lubern Figaro for an 80-yard touchdown.

“Hearing that doesn’t even bother me,” Shelton said of being left on an island. “If coach wants to leave us one-on-one, we’ve got to do our job.”

And not get embarrassed by Fournette in the process. Most everyone, including Shelton, has seen the video from last year’s Auburn game where Fournette ran over a safety, and the next time he got in the open field a different defender tried to jump on his back to bring him down without success. The clips will be on Fournette’s highlight tape forever, and UW isn’t in the mood to add any more plays to it like they did a year ago with Henry.

“We’ve played so many players that are really good,” Shelton said. “That’s what you see all around the country. Last year (we witnessed) it with (Henry).

“He’s an amazing player. That’s all I can tell you. The highlights and all that stuff comes with it. You see a lot of teams trying their best, and that’s all you can (ask). Just try to find ways to get him down.”

Aranda back in Wisconsin

When Dave Aranda left Wisconsin for LSU back in January, this game got an extra circle drawn around it for the Badgers. The guy that installed their 3-4 scheme, and helped make Wisconsin’s defense among the best in the nation over the last three years, will now be standing on the opposite sideline. Which team has the advantage in the situation is up for debate.

“What kind of personnel and really more the strengths (of that personnel),” LSU coach Les Miles said of what Aranda could offer in their preparation for the Badgers. “He kind of gave me the overview and that’s all I asked for.”

Though it’s likely that Miles was playing coy on how much Aranda actually gave them, Chryst basically said he didn’t envision himself making mass changes because of the familiarity, nor did he believe his former defensive coordinator would either.

“You’ve got to be careful in game-planning and preparation in that you’re not creating ghosts and things that could happen,” he said. “Everyone’s got a base. We do offensively, and I think every team does defensively that we’ll play. You prepare for that, and you prepare for some of the things you anticipate seeing, and you have to adjust and react to the things that maybe you didn’t prepare exactly for.”

There’s also a flip side to the argument. While Aranda certainly knows Wisconsin’s personnel and what their offense likes to do after practicing against it for three years, the same goes for the Badgers when facing his defense.

Outside linebacker Vince Biegel said he watched LSU’s spring game and could tell exactly what play Aranda was calling every time. That makes the senior a valuable resource for first-time starter Bart Houston.

“Bart actually texted me (asking) if I could sit down with him and talk about the defense,” Biegel said. “Bart’s a smart quarterback…We’ll have that sit down conversation, watch some film and show him what we’re looking at.”

And Biegel knows that even with his knowledge of Aranda’s defense and Aranda’s knowledge of Wisconsin, there are sure to be changes on both sides.

“Don’t be surprised if (Aranda) puts a few wrinkles in it, and don’t be surprised if coach Chryst puts a few wrinkles in his plays,” Biegel said. “It’s going to be a fun chess match to watch.”

First start for Bart

Bart Houston will have gone 1,723 days between starts at quarterback when he takes the field on Saturday. The last time he was under center for the first snap of a game was in 2011 when he led De La Salle (Concord, California) to a state title as a senior. Now he’ll face a top five team in the country.

“It makes it very special,” Houston said of his first start coming against one of the better programs in the nation. “I’m excited to show what I can do.”

Houston got that chance to an extent against Illinois last year. With starter Joel Stave leaving with an injury in the second quarter, Houston came on to throw for 232 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 24-13 win for Wisconsin. Though he hasn’t “arrived” — as Chryst puts it — the fifth-year senior has made strides from that game to now.

“I think he definitely has a better grasp of what we’re trying to do,” Chryst said. “I think also, through the number of reps he’s had, that he understands his strengths and weaknesses.”

During his time Madison, one of Houston’s biggest issues, and one of the myriad of reasons it took him until his senior year to win the spot, has been him pressing to make plays and impress the coaching staff. It happened again at the beginning of fall camp, and it led to many thinking redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook would get the start. But then something changed in Houston over the final two weeks of practice.

“I just took a step back and played my game,” Houston said of the turnaround. “I didn’t overdo (it) and try to make too many plays. I just let it happen.”

And Chryst is hoping that’ll be the case on Saturday.

“I think it’s one of things you always have to manage,” Chryst said. “Whether it’s the quarterback in Bart or anyone on the team trying to do too much. You have to trust who you are and trust the preparation and work you’ve put in. I think those are natural tendencies of guys that are really competitive, (and) I think Bart’s that. He’s got to learn to manage that.”

Houston could be jacked up even more than normal as a result of where the game is being played. Though he’s from California and has no ties to Wisconsin, Houston is named after Green Bay Packers legend Bart Starr, a result of his father — Guy Houston — growing up in the 1960s idolizing the local high school football team coached by his dad, along with the fact their colors were green and gold just like the Packers.

“With my Packer background it’s pretty cool,” Houston said late last week after being named the starter. “I never thought it would ever happen like that but it’s cool.”

Injury update

Wisocnsin announced on Monday that inside linebacker T.J. Edwards will not play in the game. The redshirt sophomore, who led the Badgers in tackles a year ago, fractured a bone in his foot during summer workouts and missed all of fall camp.

Fortunately for Wisconsin, they have two guys — junior Jack Cichy and sophomore Chris Orr — that combined for 106 tackles a year ago and are more than capable of filling in for Edwards.

Best sound

With the game being played at Lambeau Field, the question of whether we could see Lambeau Leaps on Saturday was brought up during Chryst’s press conference on Monday, and he gave a response that had the media laughing.

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:

 

Injuries:

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

Limited:
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

B1G Media Days: Badgers not concerned about schedule

CHICAGO — Much has been made about Wisconsin football’s difficult schedule for the 2016 season, but the Badgers remained calm during questioning at the Big Ten Media Days on Tuesday.

“You guys are probably eating it up,” senior linebacker Vince Biegel told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “A lot of story lines here; you can’t write this up. Dave Aranda leaving University of Wisconsin [and] going to LSU. They’ve got Leonard Fournette. Big time game; It’s at Lambeau Field.”

That’s just the beginning of a very difficult 2016 schedule, which features a stretch from Sept. 24 to Oct. 29 against Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, and Nebraska. Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has hopes to give Wisconsin a challenge.

“I respect Wisconsin’s football team and I hate to say it, but I’m not concerned who they play after us,” Dantonio said during a podium session Tuesday afternoon. “I’m just concerned who they’re playing before us…They’ll come to East Lansing and it’ll be a great opponent.”

Wisconsin then travels to Michigan who they haven’t played since 2010 due to a quirk in the conference schedule. The Badgers have won their last two meetings with the Wolverines, but UM holds a 49-14-1 all-time record against the UW. Badgers senior defensive back Sojourn Shelton embraces the challenge.

“They’re just one of those teams you can’t shy away from…I hear it’s a crazy atmosphere [at Michigan Stadium] and they’re a good, solid team. They have a lot of good, solid players. Of course, everyone will pick them to be this and that but at the same time, when game time comes around, all the team’s have got to put it together.”

Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst took a similar stance when making his opening remarks Tuesday morning.

 

Wisconsin will report to fall camp on Aug. 7 for media availability and will hold their first practice the following day up until their Sept. 3 meeting with LSU at Lambeau Field.