Saturday, April 21, 2007

Spring Game Observations

So I finished my journey to and from Madison for the annual University of Wisconsin Spring Game. First off, we showed up late because there was nowhere to park. It seems like the various local entrepreneurs who sell out their yards and driveways for most home games were MIA today. Thus, there were far fewer convenient parking spaces available, and we ended up parking on the street over by Edgewood, and only after stalking some grandparents and child who were walking back to the their car from the zoo. So we showed up a bit late and missed the first big play of the game--a bomb from Donovan to Hubbard on the offense's first possession.

So the game:

- It was basically back-ups vs. starters the entire game, but as it progressed, they started subbing out the starters, and moving the back-ups from the "scrub" side to the starter side. I guess they had two jerseys (a red and a white) for most everybody. The starters were in red.

- I'd put the crowd at around 20,000. They only opened the stands on the lower West side of the stadium, so it felt pretty packed in. Oddly, people seemed somewhat oblivious to the specifics of the game. They reacted more to the jumbotron and the intensely loud piped in tunes than to events on the field. Maybe they were just enjoying the weather. That said, there were a lot of couples with little kids.

- Evridge looks like a good player. He's certainly more talented than some of UW's previous quarterbacks, like Schabert or Sorgi. He's pretty mobile, has a strong arm, and showed a good touch on deep balls, throwing a nice bomb to Swan on the team's second possession, and hitting an open Maurice Moore in the hands on another long pass. His most impressive throw came on a ten-yard touchdown to Hubbard. On the play, Evridge got good protection and waited and waited, and Hubbard finally got open crossing the middle of the end zone. Evridge then bulleted a rope between three defenders; the pass hit Hubbard in the hands, and was thrown with such velocity the defenders couldn't close on him in time. However, Evridge did fumble, then recover, one snap, and it looked like a d-lineman (I think Brandon Kelly) forced another fumble off him, although Evridge was wearing a non-contact jersey, and they called it an incomplete pass. What was a bit worrying was Evridge's accuracy while on the run. On two red zone plays, a receiver came open on his side of the field while he was scrambling. He saw them and tried to throw in their directions, but ended up skying well over each player's head (the receivers were tight end Mickey Turner and Hubbard). Being able to make something happen on broken plays is a tremendous skill to have as a quarterback. In some cases (like Favre's), that skill has turned a good player into a great player. Speaking of Brett, the elder fool noted that Evridge selected the number four as his jersey number. The elder fool found interpreted this to mean that Evridge was pretty confident, considering the only other high-level qb in Wisconsin to wear number four in recent memory is Favre.
Donovan looked decent too, although I missed his biggest play. He also threw a nice post touchdown pass to Swan early in the game. He had a pick on a bad throw, but otherwise played decently. Donovan actually made the tackle after his interception, slamming the second string d-back to the ground. I guess the green, no-contact jersey only applies when you have the ball.

- Lance Smith (Rance Smith!) ran pretty well, busting a nice touchdown run in the first quarter. Bielema criticized him a bit after the game, questioning his semi-frequent decisions to give up on the diagrammed run, and bounce the play outside. After a few reporters relayed Bielema's comments to Smith, he apparently said that he took plays outside when he "needed to." I have to side with the coach on this one. Smith's decisions to jump outside usually resulted in him running about 20 yards to the left or right, and getting tackled for a two yard gain. Not so good. On the bright side, Bielema did say he believed Smith could be an "exceptional" running back. Also, Smith did look quite fast, and showed some solid elusiveness, seriously juking a defensive back on his long touchdown run. He also caught the ball in stride on several pass plays.

- The battle for the left tackle spot rages on, but I think a leader has emerged. Bscherer and Carimi switched back and forth by quarter, with whoever wasn't playing with the starters switching jerseys and working the LT spot for the back-ups. I have to say, Bscherer seemed to play a more solid game, although I wasn't paying much attention to their performances in the run game. Carimi gave up two sacks, both to senior reserve defensive lineman Brandon Kelly, I think. On another play, he blocked his guy, but allowed him to jump into the passing lane and swat down a Donovan pass. Bscherer got beat by Jamal Cooper early on--Coop was on the back up team the entire game, for some reason. Otherwise, Bscherer was pretty solid in pass protection, even against Shaugnessy, Cooper, and Kurt Ware. After this game, I'd have to say he has the edge.

- By the way, Jamal Cooper had an outstanding game on the back-up team. He had a sack, and looked like an additional weakside linebacker out there--chasing down the back on several running plays, even when the play was run away from him. He's just that fast. He made a bunch of tackles, especially in the first half. Bielema seemed upset at a play in the second half where Cooper jumped offsides, and apparently didn't try to get back on, but overall, I thought he looked great. If Cooper and Shaugnessey are our two starting ends this fall, it may set some sort of modern day school record for lightest DE combo.

- As far as the defensive backfield goes, it was neat to see how there's been a general upgrade in athleticism. The whole group just looks faster than in years' previous. As for individual play, Shane Carter nicely intercepted an errant pass, and had a good return where he got close to taking it all the way back. He got cornered and shoved out of bounds. Jay Valai (#15) made a nifty pick on the last play of the game, reaching up and bringing the ball down with one hand, and then motoring forward on the return. Unfortunately, he then fumbled the ball at the end of the return. Bielema immediately ran onto the field to talk to him. Otherwise, Valai made a solid hits, but didn't play with the starters until the end. Royston and Pleasant (who let an easy interception go through his hands) both seemed to play more than Valai. Royston had a pretty quiet day. Josh Nettles (#8) started at corner for Allen Langford, who apparently is still banged up. (Neither Langford or Ben Strickland played.) Nettles made a nice pick and looked very good throughout. In fact, the first-string defense impressed across the board. The scrubs couldn't do a thing against them. That is, until the second half, when they pulled Casillas, Levy, and Jackie I.

- Swan and Hubbard were impressive. I know this was the second team d-backs, but those two looked very fluid. They are both far, far better players than they were last season. Unfortunately, Maurice Moore, at this point the leading 3rd receiver candidate, did not play particularly well. He dropped several passes, one on a well thrown deep ball from Evridge, where Moore had separated past his man defender. At least two of the passes he dropped hit him right in the hands. He also muffed the first punt he fielded. Thankfully, he caught two passes later in the game and didn't drop any more punts. He seemed to get open routinely, which is a very good sign, but it wasn't a successful performance. Moore has taken Lee Evans' old number, #3. Garrett Graham (#89), a redshirt freshman tight end, had a good game. He caught several passes, and at one point made a nice move in the red zone, driving forward through several tacklers for extra yards. He looks like a good player. Beckum had a quiet game, and they pulled him after the first 20 minutes. He clearly doesn't need to show anyone anything at this point. He's just the man.

- Overall, it was a lovely day and a relatively entertaining game, although the format (starters against second and third stringers) wasn't designed to make the "result" very exciting. Maybe it was help us, the fans, feel better going into the season. It certainly did that. Both sides of the ball looked very impressive, and no one seemed grievously injured afterwards. Next season looks promising, although the two straight weeks of Ohio A&M and Michigan are already freaking me out. Well, it's not time to worry about that just yet. First, lets hope that important contributors like Langford, Pressley, Randall-El, and P.J. come all the way back from their injuries. Second, lets see what the incoming freshman look like in fall camp. I'm especially intrigued to see if Johnnie Clay and Aaron Henry will be able to make contributions. That's also when the position battles will have to be decided once and for all. I predict Evridge and Bscherer. Then, the season opener against Wazoo beckons. Yee haw.

No comments: