April 18, 2009

Spring camp report: Spring game

MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin football team officially ended its 2009 spring season during Saturday's annual spring game. The teams were divided up so that the projected starters were on one team (cardinal) and the backups were with the other (white). In the end, the cardinal dismantled the white 56-20 in front of an estimated 23,500 fans.

"First off, I was excited to see that crowd out there," UW head coach Bret Bielema said following the game. "The weather report looked good but did not end up very good. But, I was excited during the course of the week towards the end of the week where they thought it was going to be a nice day out there.

"I think that affected the crowd so that was good to see."

Defensive performance

After winning the coin toss, the white team started with the ball against the No. 1 defensive unit without the services of regular starter O'Brien Schofield. Schofield was demoted to the white team after arriving two minutes late to Friday's team meeting. As the game went on, though, he did prove to have an impact.

"He's a guy that wants to be a leader and he's made so many good strides in that department," Bielema said. "But I just need it every way every day and that's what we needed. He wasn't a happy camper today when we texted him and told him to come up and see coach B. And he got a white jersey instead of a red, but he handled it very very well today."

Even without the services of Schofield on the No. 1 unit, the starting defense did not allow an offensive touchdown the entire day. Throughout the majority of spring practice, the defense had shown flashes of its capability and it all seemingly came together during Saturday's spring game.

Offensive performance

The starting offense, led by Dustin Sherer got off to a rocky start during its opening possession. After back-to-back holding penalties forced UW into a third and 29 situation, the offense finally started clicking.

Sherer, who finished the game 6-of-9 for 101 yards, one touchdown and one interception dropped back and fired a perfectly thrown ball to Nick Toon down the middle of the field. The 38-yard completion gave the unit new life. Six plays later, Sherer found Garrett Graham for an easy 12-yard touchdown pass.

After a defensive three and out forced the white team to punt, the No. 1 offense looked to continue its momentum from the previous drive. However, on second and 13, Sherer was picked off by Tony Megna who returned the ball for the white's only touchdown of the day.

"I kind of stared him down a little too late," Sherer said. "Megna made a great break on the ball, but just throw it out of bounds."

Bielema was also quick to point out his disappointment with the fifth year player making that decision at that point in time.

"That throw came out late," he said. "Don't take anything away from Tony Megna. He made a great break, made a great catch and made a great effort and play on the ball. But you cannot have those types of situations, especially out of a fifth-year player."

Running the ball:

With only three running backs on the roster, plenty of reps were had all spring long. Saturday was no different. Zach Brown led all rushers with 110 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. He was followed by John Clay's 62 yards on 12 carries and Erik Smith's 55 yards on three rushes, including a 43-yard spring down the sidelines.

"Everyone focuses on John Clay, but I think Zach (Brown) brings some durability to the position," Bielema said. "I like the way he's able to play inside. On zone plays, he's able to bounce some things. What I really like, Erik Smith, if he just has a little sliver of room, he can really get through there.

"And then he has a big boost."

Receiving the ball:

Nick Toon and Kyle Jefferson had four catches each, good for game highs. Toon, had 62 yards and a nice touchdown grab late in the game on a fade pattern from Scott Tolzien. Jefferson didn't find the end zone, but finished with 39 yards receiving.

Perhaps the most efficient receiver of the game was Lance Kendricks. The junior tight end had three catches for 56 yards and two touchdowns. He was joined by fellow tight end Garrett Graham who had a touchdown and 25 yards receiving himself.

Those two tights end, as well as Mickey Turner, Jake Byrne and Rob Korslin will form another formidable tight end position this fall.

"I really like our tight end core," Bielema said. "I think Garrett Graham….he understands it, he gets it. Mickey Turner is playing really good, we can use him a little bit at that fullback position. Then I think Lance Kendricks is one of those guys sitting in the wings. If you look at him, he has all the bumps in all the right places. He's athletic and gifted and I like what he brings."

Throwing the ball:

Outside of his one interception, Sherer performed fairly well. In total, he led two touchdown-scoring drives, including a bootleg run in the red zone for a score. But Saturday was all about Curt Phillips. He finished 10-of-16 throwing with two touchdowns, but also rushed for 36 yards on five carries.

"I like the fact that he threw a couple strikes," Bielema said. "I think that first dig over the middle was great on time, great rhythm and it was the correct throw. That just gave a little bit of an indication as to where he is as a quarterback. I think if you ask Curt where he is right now at the end of spring ball compared to a year ago, it's definitely progress for him."

Tolzien struggled with the backup offensive and suffered five sacks on the day. He finished 4-for-8 throwing and a touchdown, but that came at the end of the game when he saw time with the No. 1 offensive unit.

In his first appearance playing in Camp Randall in front of fans, Jon Budmayr showed poise in the pocket. He didn't complete a pass in his five attempts and threw an interception, but he seemingly handled the pressure well for a guy who has only played four weeks of college football.

"That experience with each rep you get pays off," Budmayr said. "You just got to take what I learned this spring and carry it into the fall."

Overall defensive play:

Due to the fact that the No. 1 offense was on the field the majority of the time, it should come as no surprise that the tackle leaders were on the second team defense. Kevin Rouse led all tacklers with nine takedowns.

Matthew Groff and Leonard Hubbard chipped in seven tackles each and Antonio Fenelus recorded six of his own.

As far as sacks go, Schofield led all players with two sacks. Daniel Moore, Patrick Butrym J.J. Watt and Brendan Kelly also recorded sacks during the game.

Watt and Chris Maragos receive scholarships:

During Friday's team dinner, Bielema addressed both Watt and Maragos and awarded them with a scholarship. For both players, it marked a pinnacle of a long road traveled that began in the heart of MAC country. Both players have made an impact both on the field and with their teammates and are well deserving of the honor.

"That's a blessing," Watt said. "I'm glad he (Bielema) gave me an opportunity to come here first of all as a walk on. Now, for him to give me a scholarship has just been a great experience. I can't thank him enough for that.

Maragos added:

"I was flooded with a lot of different emotions," he said. "I was thinking back to high school when I was down there working out and my sophomore year when nobody else was just trying to work for a scholarship to Wisconsin. Then, that not happening out of high school and then thinking back to Western Michigan and all the trials, redshirting then coming here and sitting out and switching positions, just a lot of different stuff that amounted just to get to there.

"It's just a great feeling. It's just great."

Rapid fire kicking:

Philip Welch, who has no lack of confidence when it comes to his leg strength, connected on 7-of-8 field goal attempts with his only miss coming from 47 yards out. He also missed during the actual game from 51 yards out.

Backup Pat Hughes finished the drill 6-of-8 with misses from 27 twice respectively.

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