Wisconsin Spring Game: Defense 20, Offense 17

MADISON — In a spring game missing nearly every marquee player on Wisconsin’s roster, the defense prevailed over the offense 20-17 Friday night at Camp Randall Stadium.

Playing the game under the lights for the first time, a crowd of 8,095 were treated to a practice segment followed by an hour-long game with a running clock, played mostly by backups, including at quarterback where freshmen Jack Coan and Kare Lyles got all the snaps with sophomore Alex Hornibrook looking on.

The defense, which could rack up points through sacks, three-and-outs and forcing turnovers, held the offense out of the end zone until the final play from scrimmage, as Coan found tight end Zander Neuville for an 8-yard touchdown.

Though it was difficult to take much of anything from the game itself, it was the culmination of 15 practices, all of which were open to the media.

Here, then, are some of our thoughts on what we saw over the last month.

1) Backup quarterback is a concern

Wisconsin returns 15 starters from last year’s 11-3 squad that won the Big Ten West, and many are picking the Badgers to do it again. And while we’ll acknowledge it’s only April, the chances of them repeating would likely be derailed if there’s an injury at the quarterback spot.

Hornibrook had a solid spring and is the unquestioned leader of the offense. But not since Russell Wilson took every meaningful snap in 2011 has Wisconsin not needed their backup quarterback at some point.

Coan, who should still be a senior in high school right now, looked solid on Friday and generally outperformed Kare Lyles this spring, especially during the scrimmage portions. That bodes well for him, but it also came mostly against the second- and third-team defense. Both guys need to take a big jump this summer to be ready if Hornibrook were to go down.

2) Finding a left tackle

The offensive line has a chance to be as good as its been since 2014, but the Badgers need to solidify the left tackle spot vacated by All-American Ryan Ramczyk. Sophomore David Edwards, who started eight games at right tackle last year, moved to the left side this spring and was OK. An ankle injury sidelined him late, and it led the Badgers to move junior Michael Deiter into his spot. Deiter has started games at center and guard during his career, and coach Paul Chryst said it’s entirely possible he could add tackle to the list when the season starts.

“Whatever we have to do to get the best five on the field,” Chryst said of their mindset. “The more guys can do, play different spots, whether it be right side, left side, center, guard or tackle, it’s helpful.”

Depending on how the summer goes, it would not be a surprise to see Deiter at left tackle, with sophomore Jon Dietzen at left guard, highly regarded redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz at center, junior Beau Benzschawel at right guard and Edwards back at right tackle, and then having experienced backups in juniors Micah Kapoi and Jake Maxwell, and up-and-coming freshmen Cole Van Lanen and Patrick Kasl.

3) The defensive line is stacked

No position group on the team has more experience than the defensive line where they return their top six players from last season and are even deeper this time around.

Redshirt freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk spent most of the spring in the offensive backfield, and sophomore Garrett Rand got a ton of reps and found a home at defensive end. Both guys are going to push seniors Alec James, Conor Sheehy and Chikwe Obasih for playing time this fall and be the face of the defensive line once those guys exhaust their eligibility.

4) Expectations haven’t changed on defense

Despite losing All-Big Ten players like T.J. Watt, Vince Biegel and Sojourn Shelton, along with Team MVP Leo Musso, the Wisconsin defense isn’t expecting any kind of drop off from what it accomplished last year, or for that matter, the last four seasons when the Badgers have become one of the elite units in the country.

“None of us are going to have that diminish on our watch,” senior linebacker Jack Cichy said of the defense’s almost unparalleled success in Wisconsin history. “I guess if you want to say it would tarnish our legacy, it would. But we don’t really think about it like that. We’re better than that. This program can’t have any fall off just because how far it has come. I just don’t think we as a defense would allow (it).”

Wisconsin came into the spring needing to find four new starters and it appears they have. Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson has stepped into Shelton’s cornerback spot, while senior Natrell Jamerson made the move from cornerback to safety and worked with the No. 1 unit all spring in the place occupied by Musso a year ago. Instead of Watt and Biegel at outside linebacker, it’s seniors Garrett Dooley and Leon Jacobs, both of whom had very good springs, while sophomore Zack Baun and junior college transfer Andrew Van Ginkel will see time as well.

As for other key spots, a battle for the third cornerback job will play itself out in fall camp with the favorites being redshirt freshman Dontye Carriere-Williams and senior Lubern Figaro. The Badgers also need to figure out how to best use their ridiculous depth at inside linebacker where Cichy and sophomore Chris Orr return from injuries to battle two-year starter T.J. Edwards and superb fill-in Ryan Connelly.

When everything is said and done, it’s possible that the 2017 defense could match or even surpass what the 2016 group did.

5) Just fine at running back

Wisconsin lost a lot of production with Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale moving on to the next phase of their careers, but it appears they won’t hurt for options to fill the void.

Sophomore Bradrick Shaw isn’t overly flashy, but his one cut and go style is perfect for the offense. Then you’ve got junior Chris James, who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and will be big in the passing game and on third down. Add in what the Badgers hope is a healthy Taiwan Deal this fall, along with incoming freshman Jonathan Taylor, and things are looking just fine in the backfield.

A somewhat informed guess at Wisconsin’s depth chart:

  First-team Second-team
OFFENSE
QB Alex Hornibrook (RS SO) Jack Coan (FR) OR Kare Lyles (RS FR)
RB Bradrick Shaw (RS SO) OR Chris James (JR) Taiwan Deal (JR)
FB Alec Ingold (JR) Austin Ramesh (SR)
WR Jazz Peavy (SR) A.J. Taylor (SO)
WR Quintez Cephus (SO) Kendric Pryor (SO) OR George Rushing (SR)
TE Troy Fumagalli (SR) Zander Neuville (JR)
TE Kyle Penniston (RS SO) Luke Benzschawel (RS FR)
LT David Edwards (RS SO) Cole Van Lanen (RS FR)
LG Jon Dietzen (RS SO) Micah Kapoi (JR)
C Michael Deiter (JR) Tyler Biadasz (RS FR)
RG Beau Benzschawel (JR) Micah Kapoi (JR)
RT Patrick Kasl (RS FR) OR Jake Maxwell (JR) David Moorman (RS SO)
 
DEFENSE
DE Chikwe Obasih (SR) OR Alec James (SR) Garrett Rand (SO)
NT Olive Sagapolu (JR) Billy Hirschfeld (JR)
DE Conor Sheehy (SR) Isaiahh Loudermilk (RS FR)
OLB Garrett Dooley (SR) Andrew Van Ginkel (JR)
ILB Jack Cichy (SR) Chris Orr (RS SO)
ILB T.J. Edwards (JR) Ryan Connelly (JR)
OLB Leon Jacobs (SR) Zack Baun (RS SO)
CB Derrick Tindal (SR) Lubern Figaro (SR)
S D’Cota Dixon (SR) Joe Ferguson (SR)
S Natrell Jamerson (SR) Patrick Johnson (SO)
CB Nick Nelson (JR) Dontye Carriere-Williams (RS FR)
     
Kicker Rafael Gaglianone (JR) Zach Hintze (RS SO)
Punter Anthony Lotti (SO) P.J. Rosowski (JR)

 

Final stats:

Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ earns AP All-American honors

MADISON — For just the sixth time in school history, the Wisconsin basketball team has produced an Associated Press All-American.

Sophomore forward Ethan Happ was named a third-team All-American by the AP after helping the Badgers to a fourth straight Sweet Sixteen.

“It is definitely an honor to receive such a prestigious award,” Happ said in a release by the school. “No individual award comes without the help of others though. I want to thank my teammates, coaches and all the support I’ve gotten that has helped me get to this point.”

Happ finish second on the team in scoring at 14.0 points per game, while leading Wisconsin in rebounds (9.0), assists (2.8), blocks (1.2) and steals (1.8) on his way to earning first-team All-Big Ten honors and a second straight year of being named to the conference’s all-defensive team.

The Illinois native joins Frank Kaminsky (2015), Jordan Taylor (2011), Alando Tucker (2007), Devin Harris (2004) and Don Rehfeldt (1950) as Wisconsin players that have earned some form of recognition from the Associated Press since they first started naming All-American teams in 1948.

Wisconsin confirms the hiring of former OL coach Bob Bostad as its ILB coach.

MADISON — Wisconsin confirmed late Friday morning that it has hired former offensive line coach Bob Bostad as the team’s inside linebackers coach.

“I’ve had the privilege to work with Bob for a number of years. I know who he is as a coach (and) a person. I think it’s a great fit,” coach Paul Chryst told UWBadgers.com. “He’s been here. He knows the type of kids that have success at Wisconsin. Couldn’t really be more excited to have Bob here.”

Bostad is filling the void left by Justin Wilcox leaving to take the head coaching job at California. It will be Bostad’s first time on the defensive side of the ball in his 27-year career, though he did play linebacker in college at UW-Stevens Point in the late 1980s.

“Defensively, a lot of the conversations are about how to stop the run game, how to beat protections. As an offensive line coach, he’s been looking at defenses, specifically the front seven,” Chryst said. “I know he can teach. I know he can coach. I think it’s a great tool, especially for our veteran linebackers, to keep expanding their growth. I think they get to see the game through a little different lens.”

Bostad is more well known as an offensive line coach, serving in that post at Wisconsin from 2008 to 2011 after spending his first two seasons coaching the tight ends and serving as running game coordinator. Over his six years in Madison, Bostad coached 11 players that went on to get drafted in the NFL, including three first-round picks.

“There will be a learning curve and all that,” Bostad told UWBadgers.com of the move to defense. “I hope to take the edge off in the spring and all that stuff. Get to know the base defense and the calls and the fits and coverages and all those things. But after that, I think it’s going to come down to, like any other position, it’s going to come down to the details.”

Bostad went with Chryst when he got the Pittsburgh head coaching job in 2012 but never coached a game, instead being tabbed to coach the line with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL. He was there for two years before taking the same position with the Tennessee Titans. He spent last season coaching the tight ends and fullbacks at Northern Illinois.

The group Bostad inherits is among the more talented on the Wisconsin roster. The Badgers return their top six inside linebackers from 2016, including juniors T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly, while senior Jack Cichy and sophomore Chris Orr will be back on the field after injuries end their seasons early last fall.

“It seems like a really blue collar group. Tough guys, finish guys,” Bostad said. “I like that mentality and what they’re going to bring to the table.”

Wisconsin falls in both national polls

MADISON — Despite a week in which it beat No. 23 Maryland, the Wisconsin basketball team tumbled in both national polls released on Monday.

The Badgers dropped five spots in the AP Top 25 to No. 16 and from No. 10 to No. 15 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

It was a mixed bag for coach Greg Gard and his club last week. After losing to Northwestern on Jan. 12, the Badgers went on the road and fell at Michigan last Thursday — their first back-to-back losses of the season. They regained some semblance of stability on Sunday in a win over the Terrapins, but it wasn’t enough to sway voters.

Wisconsin was one of three Big Ten teams in both polls, with Purdue at No. 16 and Maryland at No. 24 in each survey.

The Badgers will hit the road twice this week, with a visit to Ohio State on Thursday, followed by a date with Michigan State on Sunday.

You can find both polls here.

Wisconsin picks up three in-state commitments in the class of 2018

MADISON — Wisconsin added three commitments to its class of 2018 on Monday.

First, it was Catholic Memorial (Waukesha, Wis.) inside linebacker C.J. Goetz, who received a scholarship offer from the Badgers on Sunday. He wasted no time in pulling the trigger, calling coach Paul Chryst Monday morning to commit.

Then, Kimberly (Kimberly, Wis.) defensive end Boyd Dietzen followed suit, announcing his commitment to the Badgers just before noon.

And finally, Menominee (Menominee, Wis.) linebacker Mason Platter gave his verbal pledge early in the afternoon.

Goetz, a 3-star recruit, according to 247 Sports, chose the Badgers over offers from Bowling Green, New Mexico and Northern Illinois. Michigan State and several other Big Ten schools were showing interest in the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder.

Dietzen, a three-time state champion at Kimberly, picked Wisconsin over recent offers from Minnesota, Iowa State and Syracuse. 247 Sports lists the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Dietzen as the No. 19 defensive end in the country, and the No. 1 player in the state of Wisconsin for 2018.

Platter is the third commitment from Menominee in as many years, joining linebacker Mason Stokke from 2016 and lineman Alex Fenton in 2017. A 3-star recruit, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Platter had a scholarship offer from Northern Illinois, but as generating interest from Iowa and Minnesota.

The trio joins quarterback Ben Bryant (La Grange, Ill.), safety Reggie Pearson (River Rouge, Mich.) and safety Trent Ingalls (Menasha, Wis.) as commitments in 2018.

Wisconsin snaps a two-game losing streak with a 71-60 win over Maryland

MADISON — No. 11 Wisconsin turned a six-point halftime deficit into a much needed double-digit win on Sunday, snapping a two-game losing streak by beating No. 23 Maryland 71-60 at the Kohl Center.

“I thought guys, especially in the second half, answered the bell, so to speak,” coach Greg Gard said of his team’s effort.

After managing to hit just 28 percent of their shots in the first half, the Badgers saw Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ shoot a combined 9 of 15 after the break on their way to making 51.5 percent from the field in the second half. Add in the fact they turned the ball over just once in the final 20 minutes and limited Maryland to just eight made field goals, and it was clear why they were successful.

“That was more like (who) this team is,” Gard said.

Hayes, two days after saying he needed to be more assertive and step his game up, did just that, scoring a game-high 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds — his second double-double in Big Ten play. Nine of his points came at the free throw line, an indication of his aggressiveness.

“We’re not the best outside shooting team, currently,” said Hayes, who was 0 of 2 from 3-point range on a team that made just 2 of their 12 shots from deep. “I tried to do my best to get to the rim, try to draw some fouls.”

Happ scored 20 points and added seven rebounds despite dealing with foul trouble in the second half.

But the biggest lift may have come in the form of Bronson Koenig. Wisconsin prepared like they wouldn’t have the senior guard for a second straight game due to a calf injury, but he ended up coming off the bench and played 31 minutes.

His first make, a 3-pointer, tied the game at 36 with 16:29 left. The next time down the court he hit a jumper to give the Badgers a 38-36 lead. He made two more shots later in the game and finished with nine points, all in the second half.

“It was great for him to get back in the flow of things,” senior Zak Showalter said of Koenig. “He’s had five days off so he was a little bit slow but it was good to see him come in and contribute.”

Koenig wasn’t the only one off the bench to help. Redshirt freshman Brevin Pritzl, who didn’t play a minute in the loss to Michigan on Thursday, gave the Badgers seven points and seven rebounds, including five on the offensive end, which led to six second-chance points for Wisconsin.

Maryland was paced by Melo Trimble’s 27 points, but the junior guard didn’t play in the final 4:32, with coach Mark Turgeon saying he was tired, pointing to five missed free throws during the game.

The win leaves Wisconsin (22-5, 11-3 Big Ten) in a tie with Purdue atop the Big Ten with four games to play.

The Badgers next to contests are on the road, with a trip to Ohio State on Thursday and a visit to Michigan State on Sunday.

Notes:

— Former Wisconsin running back James White was honored during the game for his performance in Super Bowl LI. He caught a Super Bowl-record 14 passes and scored three touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime to help the New England Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons and win their second title in three years.

— Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson was in attendance, sitting behind the Wisconsin bench. He was recognized during the game as well as the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.

— Former Wisconsin forward Duje Dukan, currently playing with the Chicago Bulls’ D-League team, was also at the game.

Gard: ‘I don’t know when (or) if’ Bronson Koenig will return

Wisconsin’s offense could certainly use a boost from a healthy Bronson Koenig, but it’s unclear whether the Badgers will get that when they host Maryland on Sunday.

The senior guard was held out of Thursday’s 64-58 loss at Michigan due to a calf injury suffered against Penn State on Jan. 24.

“I don’t know,” coach Greg Gard said when asked if Koenig would be available for the game against the Terrapins. “It’ll be day-to-day. It has been — and will be — in the medical staff’s hands. They’ll tell me what his status is each day.

“I don’t know when (or) if (he’ll return). I don’t know any more than I did before the game that he wasn’t going to play (Thursday night).”

In the five games after the injury, Koenig hit just 7 of 31 shots from 3-point range and was shooting under 30 percent overall — both figures a steep decline from his career numbers. And it just so happens the injury coincides with the Badgers dip in production on the offensive end.

After shooting under 40 percent in two of their first 20 games of the season with a healthy Koenig in the lineup, the Badgers have been under that figure in four straight games — the longest such streak for the program since the start of the 2003-2004 season. And after averaging more than 76 points per game to start the season, that number is down to 60.8 over the last six.

Koenig’s replacement on Thursday, true freshman D’Mitrik Trice, was up and down, handing out four assists with just two turnovers, but also shooting a dismal 2 of 15 from the field.

“He got himself in some positions where he had to take tough shots,” Gard said. “I’ll break it down shot-by-shot of what was good and what was not. I thought he got himself in trouble at times, too. But he also found himself open a few times, too, and you got to knock down shots when you have the opportunity.”

D’Mitrik Trice to get his first career start in place of an injured Bronson Koenig

Wisconsin will be without their starting point guard when they take on Michigan Thursday night.

The team announced that senior point guard Bronson Koenig will miss the game as he deals with a calf strain that has hampered him since first injuring it against Penn State on Jan. 24.

“The medical staff made a decision (on Wednesday),” coach Greg Gard told UWBadgers.com “We knew it was unlikely he was going to play and then (we) made a final determination (Thursday) morning.”

In Koenig’s place will be true freshman D’Mitrik Trice, who is averaging 5.5 points and 1.6 assists per game.

“He’s ready for this moment,” Gard said. “I’ve said all along he’s wiser and older than his freshman year says in the program. It’s a great opportunity for him.”

Trice said Tuesday he was preparing like he was going to start, and he spent the entire week as the No. 1 point guard with Koenig sitting out.

“(I) just have to go out and do what I need to do to help my team win,” Trice said of his role. “Whether that’s pass the ball, come off screens and find open guys or knock down the 15-footer, hit an open 3 here and there and just direct the offense.”

Koenig had seen his performance drop off significantly since the injury, making just 7 of 31 shots from beyond the arc and shooting under 30 percent from the field overall.

“We know it’s huge loss,” senior Nigel Hayes said this week. “As I’ve always answered when another team loses a key player, other players will step up. That’s just what happens.

“We know what Bronson does. Bronson takes his shots. All that means is there are more shots for someone else, another opportunity for someone to step up.

“Trice has been playing well. Brevin (Pritzl) has been doing well. Gives more opportunities for Jordan (Hill) and those guys to step up and try and make something happen.”

Entering the day, No. 11 Wisconsin (21-4, 10-2) owns a 1/2 game lead in the Big Ten on Purdue and Maryland.

Nigel Hayes a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award

MADISON — Nigel Hayes has proven to be far more than just a basketball player during his time at Wisconsin. The senior has taken a visible role in the Black Lives Matter movement and in pushing for college athletes to be compensated for their contributions to the multi-billion dollar business that is the NCAA.

It was for those reasons, along with his involvement in the Badgers Give Back program and strong academic history, that he was named one of 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award on Wednesday.

“I believe it is our responsibility as people to try to better the world around us, but I recognize that the platform I have allows for greater visibility,” Hayes said in a release from the school. “I’m trying to use that influence I have to make a positive change.”

In addition to his role in the community, Hayes is also a 3.0 student and two-time Big Ten Academic honoree as a business finance and investment banking major.

On the floor, Hayes is averaging 13.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists for a Badgers squad that is ranked No. 11 in the country.

CLASS is an acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School. Hayes is the fourth Wisconsin player to be named a finalist, with Alando Tucker winning the award in 2007. This year’s winner will be announced at the 2017 Final Four in Phoenix.

The other finalists are:

Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
Evan Bradds, Belmont
Josh Hart, Villanova
Josh Hawkinson, Washington State
Amile Jefferson, Duke
Peter Jok, Iowa
Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga
Tim Kempton, Lehigh
Frank Mason III, Kansas