April 17, 2010

No. 1 offense sputters in red zone

MADISON - Judging by the play of the No. 1 offense during Saturday's annual spring game inside Camp Randall, coordinator Paul Chryst as well as head coach Bret Bielema are probably happy the calendar reads April and not August.

That's not to say the Badger offense, shaken up throughout the majority of spring camp was bad during the Cardinal's (No. 1 units) 33-11 win over the White, it just says they weren't all that good.

"There was kind of a lack of energy and we just didn't finish drives that we easily should (have)," UW senior left tackle Gabe Carimi said after the game. "Going against our two's, that's what we should be doing. It's up to me and the seniors to get that done."

Early in the first half, the No. 1 offense had two opportunities to score inside the White red zone. However, the first drive stalled when Scott Tolzien tried to zip a pass to Kyle Jefferson over the middle.

Hotly contested, Jefferson was unable to reel the ball in and it fluttered harmlessly to the ground. Philip Welch who kicked favorably well in windy conditions, tacked on a 20-yard field goal to open the scoring.

After the No. 1 defense forced a quick three and out and was on the receiving end of a two-yard Ryan Wickesberg punt, the Cardinal offense took over inside the White's 30 yard line.

When the Badgers eventually faced third and two from the White nine yard line, it seemed as though Tolzien had a window to deliver a lofted pass to David Gilreath. However, the senior quarterback may have waited a bit too long and saw the pass get batted away by Dezmen Southward when Gilreath was about to reel it in.

"We got down there into the red zone area and you'd like to see them finish things off," Bielema said. "I also really feel that Scotty has probably got a better handle on what needs to happen better on those two third down situations."

Overall, the UW No. 1 offensive unit has been one that has seen its fair share of rotations and lineup shifts throughout spring camp. With several of the key components to an offense that functioned at a high level a season ago sidelined, it was hard to tell if the offense was able to gel and get into a bit of a flow throughout spring camp.

In essence, Saturday's spring game served as a microcosm of the way spring unfolded.

"We moved the ball and then flared out," Tolzien said following his 12-for-22, 138-yard passing performance. "That will work against certain teams, but when it's a tight game against the best teams that's not going to cut it."

Montee Ball, who played with a painful separated shoulder injury, rushed for 74 yards on 24 carries and scored two touchdowns. He was also on the wrong end of another fumble, his second in UW's past two scrimmages.

"Coach just says to hold onto the football because he knows it's my shoulder that's causing that," Ball said. "He knows once my shoulder is perfectly fine and healed then I'll be fine with it."

Lance Kendricks, who is slowly turning into one of Tolzien's favorite targets, finished the day with 63 yards receiving on six receptions. With the loss of key tight end targets Garrett Graham and Mickey Turner, his abilities will go a long way in addressing the ability of the Badger offense.

"Garrett is gone and he's a great player that we don't get back," Tolzien said. "Guys collectively need to fill that void."

Defensively, Ethan Armstrong and Conor O'Neill paved the way for the White team with 14 and 12 tackles each. For the most part, both players were always around the ball and bringing down opposing rushers.

Aaron Henry and Kevin Rouse logged four tackles each for the Cardinal defense and Louis Nzegwu recorded three sacks, including one for a safety.

"I think as an overall player myself, I've improved a lot," Nzegwu said after the spring game. "It's hard to fill in the shoes of an All-American (O'Brien Schofield), but I'm just getting to my junior year and I'm forgetting everything I did before and just create a new name for myself."

As far as the second string offense goes, Jon Budmayr continued his recent stretch of interceptions with two more Saturday afternoon. The first happened on the White team's first possession when Culmer St. Jean jumped Jacob Pedersen's route and picked off the pass.

The second happened when J.J. Watt burst into the backfield and hurried Budmayr's throw. Hawking in the secondary, Jay Valai stepped in front of the receiver and reeled in an easy interception late in the first half.

In Budmayr's final two practices of the spring, he threw five interceptions.

"A couple of them are tipped balls and those can fall obviously just as much on the receivers as it can the quarterback," Bielema said. "Jon's a slinger. When and if he becomes our quarterback, he's going to be a guy that you're probably going to see that from. There's the risk-reward with some of the throws he's thrown."

Welch shines:

Perhaps the most impressive display on the field Saturday afternoon came from kicker Philip Welch. Not only did he make each extra point and field goal opportunity, but he also drilled at least seven of his eight attempts during rapid fire kicking drills.

The one miss was according to Bielema, who saw the kick from field level as the refs were a little slow to get under the uprights.

"I thought one missed," Bielema said. "We didn't have the officials down there. They weren't on board with what we were doing. I think the second one of Phil's missed if I saw it correctly. The last thing I want to do is become an official though."

Other than that questionable miss, Welch connected on tries from 17, 27, 39, 40, 45, 46 and 56 with a swirling and steady wind whipping throughout the stadium bowl.

"I've really been happy," Bielema said. "We switched balls and got some good commentary from the kickers on that because they weren't in favor of it. But I thought Phil, in particular, was really, really true."

-Alec Lerner, who hit all four of his attempts in the first series of rapid-fire kicks, struggled during the second and only connected on 1-of-4 kicks.

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