Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spring Game Notes

Since there really wasn't any winning or losing at the game, I think the best way to talk about it is via blips or random observations. So here goes--

- Spring Games are always an odd, skeleton crew experience. The fall's seniors may still be on campus, but can't play. Next year's frosh (in large part) haven't shown up. So the team is about 80% or so of what it normally is. This year's depth was especially poor because of all the injuries, and that really came through at times. For example, toward the end of the second half, the White (B) team defense had 10 white kids on the field at the same time. When that happens, you know it's come down to the walk-ons.

- Best first realization-- that Jay Valai was starting at SS and Aubrey Pleasant was on the B team. To me, that indicates that Valai has won the spot. Then Valai gave John Clay his hardest hit of the afternoon, a strong pop at the end of an 8 yard run, and made the nicest defensive play of the game-- diving to pick off a Scott Tolzien (the team's 3rd string QB) pass in the red zone. Valai's solid second half against Tennessee was not a fluke.

- Clay was quite impressive-- he had a couple of runs where he showed great vision and moves. And he definitely moved the pile on his runs-- just as good as Hill, and better than Brown and Smith. His numbers-- 18 carriers for 90 yards, were solid, but remember that came behind the second-string offensive line. He's going to be a very good back. That said, the RB that played the best was Zach Brown, that was, before he hurt his shin (it's not severe) and had to leave. He showed his typically good burst, and weaved through a bunch of different blockers on two nice 10 yard runs. That position is flat out stacked, though the team should not, repeat not, use Smith in short distance situations. That guy has fine speed and great moves, but he cannot get tough yards.

- Despite Clay's performance, the "best newcomer" award has got to go to Platteville's Louis Nzegwu, who was voted the state's small school player of the year after the 2006 high school season. Yeah, and that was for playing running back. Somehow, Louis was projected as a defensive end, and spent last fall redshirting and trying to bulk up. The experiment seems to be working. Nzegwu replaced Shaughnessy in the starting line up and played pretty darn well. He had four tackles for loss, including beating Josh Oglesby badly on a draw play and getting past Jack Bscherer for a sack. I'm sure he got pushed around on some running plays, but he showed an explosive first step. With some more good weight (he only weighs 230 right now), he could be a heck of an end.

- The wideouts were okay. Gilreath was getting open pretty consistently and had some good catches from several of the quarterbacks. But he's too darn small to be a number one guy, especially without a really accurate QB throwing to him. The potential problem was demonstrated in the first quarter when Evridge threw a mediocre ball, a bit behind Gilreath. David stuck out his hand and tried to slow down, but Western Michigan transfer Dan Maragos jumped through Gilreath and snatched the ball for a pick. (Maragos showed excellent ball skills throughout the game.) I know David can be more aggressive going for 50/50 balls, but at his size you wonder if that's ever going to be a winning proposition for the Badgers.

As for other wide receivers, Isaac Anderson and Daven Jones both had some nice plays, but both had at least one bad drop, Anderson's especially so-- in the end zone, right in the hands on a slant on a nice pass from Sherer. Ugh. (See the nearby picture.) I advise all these guys to play as much catch as possible over the summer.

- Lance Kendricks, the converted from WR tight end, had some nice catches for big gains, and is very fast for that position. But man, he does not look big for a tight end. Smaller than Beckum. I guess he's shorter. I think his future is in H-back territory.

- The QB competition remains open. Evridge is a bigger guy, and probably a stronger runner. But he seems less accurate. A lot of his throws, even his completions, were in the area of the receiver, but not right on. Working with younger wide receivers who can't be trusted to run reliable routes and compete strongly for the ball, that's a problem. And looking at his stats from his K-State starts (48% completions) I think his accuracy might be a consistent issue. Unless Evridge gets more accurate or UW adopts a quasi-option game like in the Brooks Bollinger days, Allen could lose out to Sherer. He looks more accurate to me, though I'd have to see both of them play more.

- And finally, the most positive news was no severe injuries. Zach Brown bruised his shin, Gilreath tweaked an ankle, and that seemed to be it. Plus, the news on the Shaughnessillas is good-- he broke his fibula, which doesn't bear any weight, and, hopefully, will be fully recovered by August. Good luck to all injured Badgers as they recuperate.

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