With 4th of July this Thursday, we’ve reshuffled the content deck this week. Today, we resume our weekly NU opponent preview series “First Look: 2013” with Wisconsin and noted Badger blog, Bucky’s Fifth Quarter. Mike Fiammetta does the honors today and helps us dust off the cobwebs on a series that has been on hiatus for the past two seasons. The Wisconsin game has become one of the more entertaining in the NU opponent category and I expect more of the same on October 12 when NU returns to Madison. Let’s jump in to it…
LTP: Deep breath. The Grantland feature on Bret Bielema’s departure has to be causing quite the stir in Badgerland these days. What’s the latest take from Badger fans on Bielema’s departure?
B5Q: We did indeed discuss the Grantland feature over on B5Q last weekend [links, if you want them: http://www.buckys5thquarter.com/2013/6/21/4451744/ben-brust-nascar-brendan-gaughan-road-america, http://www.buckys5thquarter.com/2013/6/22/4454960/grantland-profiles-bret-bielema-at-arkansas] and I think most fans are generally suffering from Bielema fatigue. His departure from Wisconsin was incredibly abrupt and unlike anything we’ve seen before, but between the fantastic early impression made by Gary Andersen and the fact that we’re already in late June with the fall rapidly approaching, Badgers fans have simply moved on.
Personally, I thought the feature was fascinating. Jordan Conn was fair and balanced, and it seemed like he got great access. I think many Badgers fans will keep one eye on Arkansas early in the season, but once we get into the meat of the schedule, they’ll be plenty occupied with Wisconsin. Should the two schools meet in a bowl game, however… that would be a different story.
LTP: Gary Andersen. A new coach, a completely new slate of assistant coaches (albeit with some B1G flavor) and B1G fans are wondering what the heck Wisconsin football will be like under the former Utah State head coach. Paint some pictures for us.
B5Q: Indeed, Andersen has brought a staff that’s nearly entirely new — only running backs coach Thomas Hammock and secondary coach Ben Strickland return from the previous regime. They’re both also critical recruiters with knowledge of in-state recruits and high schools, and retaining them has been huge for continuity in that respect.
On the field, it appears Andersen will be bringing new schemes all around. On offense, the Badgers will run a variant of Utah State’s run-based spread offense. No, Wisconsin will not be the next coming of Oregon by intent or execution. Rather, what we’ll likely see are plenty of three tight-end looks and pre-snap motion. Running backs are likely to be split out wide at times, though that’s not entirely new — we saw it with Montee Ball, James White and especially Melvin Gordon last season.
LTP: As an opposing fan, you can understand, such drastic transition among the coaching staff instills a sense of “we’re happy to get you this year”. What are expectations for Badger fans after three straight Rose Bowls?
B5Q: Expectations are still high among Badgers fans, though they’re largely due to the fact that Wisconsin has a relatively soft schedule and returns 17 starters. Andersen has helped his cause by being very player-friendly and making a strong first impression, and fans seem like they’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Should Wisconsin stumble out of the gate, though, that won’t be the case for long.
LTP: Despite the loss of Montee Ball, there are still a stable of standouts on offense back. Jared Abbrederis is back, so is James White and Melvin Gordon who I believe may still be running windsprints on Nebraska at Lucas Oil. It appears you’ve got a QB battle on your hands, and potentially, a seemingly unprecedented question mark on your OL. Explain.
B5Q: As mentioned above, the Badgers will likely run a variant of Andersen’s Utah State spread offense. Aside from the fact that this is Wisconsin we’re talking about and Wisconsin will always have its traditional flavor, the running backs (namely White and Gordon) remain the strength of this offense. With the quarterback situation unsettled — Joel Stave and incoming JUCO transfer Tanner McEvoy, with last year’s Rose Bowl starter, Curt Phillips, the dark horse — the wide receivers untested and the offensive line depth thin, Andersen & co. simply can’t afford to stray too far from an offense that places its running backs front and center. “Spread” scared a lot of people upon Andersen’s introduction, but that concern has generally subsided upon realizing that the Badgers also have four good tight ends, and a multiple-tight end offense that still favors the run could be very productive in Madison.
As for the quarterbacks, I personally think Stave will win the job. McEvoy is more mobile and has potentially freakish athleticism for a 6-foot-6 quarterback. His mechanics are supposedly in need of some work, though. The fact of the matter is regardless of who the actual starter is, Wisconsin has three fine options that, on paper, really don’t make the position a weakness as much as it does a question mark.
On the offensive line, the issue isn’t as much talent as it is depth. Ryan Groy, the lone senior among the projected starters, is switching to left tackle from his more natural left guard spot. Dan Voltz, a redshirt freshman, will have to fill the giant (literally and figuratively) hole at center vacated by Travis Frederick, who passed over the chance to return for his senior year and became a first-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys. The three other spots seem likely to be occupied by three juniors: left guard Dallas Lewallen, right guard Kyle Costigan and right tackle Rob Havenstein. The second unit, at this early glance, consists of a senior, two juniors and two sophomores. Pretty young, and fairly inexperienced should one of the starters go down
LTP: Flip over to defense and lay out your expectations based on the changes in coaching and the personnel. What can we expect from Wisconsin this year?
B5Q: Under first-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, Wisconsin will become the only team to operate out of a base 3-4 scheme. The system is intended to generate consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback, which will absolutely have to happen as planned because the Badgers’ secondary is wildly experienced and arguably the most glaring weakness on the whole team. Two safeties — Reggie Mitchell and Donnell Vercher — left the program this spring and both were expected to get significant playing time. At strong safety, senior Dezmen Southward is a rock and could be primed for a breakout year. But aside from him, there are quite a few question marks. The projected starters at corner are junior Peniel Jean (19 games, zero starts) and sophomore Darius Hillary (14 games largely as UW’s No. 1 nickel back, zero starts). As you can see, that’s a whole lot of inexperience. The duo is talented, but they’ll need to gel exceptionally quickly.
Up front, the Badgers return a bunch of talent, and that area of the defense will have to be steady. Senior Chris Borland is a stud, and up front, senior nose tackle Beau Allen will anchor the line.
LTP: Who are the three names we don’t know about now, but we’d better know come October?
B5Q: One dark horse to keep an eye out for: freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton, one of two cornerbacks to enroll early this spring. Shelton had a fantastic spring and really stood out in Wisconsin’s April 20 spring game, and he could push for early playing time with a strong fall.
Another I’ll say is sophomore wide receiver Jordan Fredrick. Wisconsin’s wide receivers are widely known as “Jared Abbrederis and everyone else.” The lack of a true a second receiving option killed UW’s offense last year, and it’s absolutely critical that one emerges this season. It could very well be one of the tight ends, but the Badgers would do great to develop Frederick, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound receiver who’s become a coaches’ favorite.
For the last unknown name, I’ll go with redshirt freshman linebacker Vince Biegel. The son of Rocky Biegel, a former BYU linebacker, Vince ended the spring as the likely starter at outside linebacker opposite converted defensive end Brendan Kelly. His greatest contributions might not be in pass-rushing — that pressure Aranda wants to generate will ideally come from all sorts of directions — but rather, Biegel should be a steady ‘backer capable of being in the right place at the right time.
LTP: Where the hell have you guys been? Since you waxed us in Madtown in our brief post-Persa stint in 2010, we haven’t seen you! The ‘Cats-Badgers series has been a pretty solid one over the past 20 seasons with some wild games on both sides. With no Michigan, Penn State or Michigan State, it appears by ranking, the NU game is the second toughest game on your schedule at this point. Set the stage for what you expect this to mean come gameday in Madison?
B5Q: Agreed, it definitely has been a while. I don’t think many opposing fan bases like playing Northwestern — “pesky” seems to be our label of choice for you guys. After the game at Ohio State, either this game or the nighttime trip to Arizona State is the next-most difficult. Especially considering the OSU game figures to be taxing win or lose, it’ll be nice to have a week off before preparing for Northwestern on Oct. 12. We’re expecting a close game, and many have it pegged as one of those dreaded “we let it get away” games.
LTP: Any other thoughts about this game?
B5Q: I think I’ve mostly covered everything, though it’s worth saying that it’s great to see Northwestern on the upswing again. I’d venture most Badgers fans are impressed by the work of Pat Fitzgerald, and as we all look to continually bolster the Big Ten’s nationwide image, it’s awesome to see the conference growing deeper. Considering the way Fitzgerald and co. have been recruiting their tails off lately, I’m gladly expecting that to remain the case for a while.
LTP: Thanks Mike. We appreciate the download. We’ll connect with you as our gameday in Madtown gets a bit closer and the specific match-up takes more shape.
NU-Comers QB Club
In case you missed it, yesterday we announced a NU-comers Club event to celebrate reaching our season ticket and single game ticket goal. Should we do so (200 season tickets, 500 single game tickets), LTP will be hosting its first ever NU-Comers QB Club featuring a night with Dan Persa, Steve Schnur and potentially, Zak Kustok. It will be a Chicago-based event and feature a 2-hour cocktail party with a small program interviewing, in full Purple Mafia Profile style, some of the biggest offensive names in NU football.
Thanks to all of those that reached out via email regarding potential venue help. We still have a ways to go to lock in the location, date and price and anyone wanting to step up to be a sponsor for the night we very much welcome the help. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
LTP Purple Pledge – Our Ongoing Efforts To Pack Ryan Field Purple
New Season Ticket Goal: 200
Current Status: 170
Percent of Goal: 85%
Single Game Ticket Goal: 500
Current Status: 378
Percent of Goal: 74%
30 season tickets – that’s IT! Let’s bring it home. In one month, your chance for single game tickets will likely be gone as they open it up to the public. Put this on your to-do list by the 4th of July.
Season ticket holders get the huge benefit of getting to purchase single game tickets IN ADVANCE OF THEM GOING ON SALE TO THE PUBLIC, including Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and others – all at face value. Considering the Ohio State game will be sold out in minutes and the Michigan game in likely one day, this is a huge deal. The secondary ticket markets have prices already that are more expensive for the Ohio State game than an entire season ticket.
Call Mike Zoller at 888-Go-Purple and hit extension 0969 and tell him LTP sent you. He’s got great upper deck season tickets available as well as seats at about the 10-yard line still left. You can also get him to order single game tickets for your friends. Also, the LTP TICKET EXCHANGE IS OPEN! Please post ticket needs/wants there to ensure they go to your friends in purple.