After a sloppy 44-14 drubbing of the smallest I-AA football school in the country, and a wild overtime win over California's largest junior college, the Badgers' preseason is over. Sparty, now coming off two consecutive close and embarrassing losses, comes to the Camp next Friday.
Every college football season is a mystery unfolding-- it's a several-months-long process of discovering who your team is. If things unfold they way you want them to, at the end of the season you've learned that your team is BCS-bowl eligible, or a league champion. But things usually don't work out that way. Last year, Wisconsin also went into the Big Ten undefeated with a couple of decent looking victories, but promptly lost four straight games due to various combinations of unclutchness, tough scheduling, poor defense, and awful quarterbacking. So this year, what do we know so far? How much of the cloud has lifted from the team? Yeah, not much.
The team can pass the ball. Kendricks, Graham and Toon are the real deals. (What a catch Lance made in the back of the end zone yeserday!) Tolzien throws a nice, hard, flat, generally accurate ball (still no interceptions, knock on wood), and when he has protection does a decent job of going through his progressions although he's not infallible. (No one is.) Carimi is a legit NFL left tackle should he stay healthy, so Tolzien's blind side should be okay when the defense brings four. What's missing is a solid bookend receiver. Isaac Anderson, coming off two excellent games, looked iffy yesterday (drop on an easy pass, killer holding penalty). Gilreath, besides two kick returns and a run against Fresno, has looked poor. Kyle Jefferson has caught one short pass. Kraig Appleton, the much touted frosh, hasn't gotten the chance to show himself, and now may not get one this season. Maurice Moore could be it, I guess. But I'm quibbling. Three really good receiving options, a fine LT and a smart accurate quarterback are enough to make this unit well above average.
We also know that there's more consistency and lots of potential on defense. Despite Wofford's lack of impressive physical talent, and the one touchdown drive against the first team defense to start yesterday's second half, this year's defense is more assignment sure, especially in the front seven. Plus, it has some fun guys to watch. It's hard to believe Mike Taylor is only a redshirt frosh. Maragos is a solid leader and seems very good at playing the ball in the air. O'Brien Schofield (OB), if he keeps this up, should be a lock to be taken in the first three rounds by a 3-4 NFL team (as a stand-up outside LB). St. Jean actually looked like a linebacker yesterday, maybe for the first time in his college career. McFadden is playing more instinctively and getting off blocks better. Devin Smith's diving interception in the end zone was a great individual play. JJ Watt is enormous and will bat many more passes before the year is over (and is only a redshirt sophomore). By the way, I don't think it's any coincidence that Wofford's one touchdown drive against the first team defense came after Watt left the game with a turned ankle. (Heal up soon.) The DL depth should be better, which was a huge problem last season.
Also, we know that Chris Borland rules. That punk block was amazing, especially for someone shorter than six feet. He created two turnovers yesterday. A huge recruiting find. Barring injuries, he's got a great future in Madison.
But I think that's all we know so far. The defense as a unit has not looked solid for an entire game and has given up some big plays to every team UW has played. The offense produced no big runs yesterday (this is against Wofford), though Moffit and Nagy both played and looked fine, so maybe the line-play will improve. But Clay's fumbilitis was hugely worrying. And this was his first game after being named a starter at Wisconsin. Uh oh. Brown looked better yesterday, and Smith is an interesting option (though he runs backwards too often), but no one else on the team can drive the pile forward like Clay can. We need Clay performing and protecting the ball. There's not enough depth at safety with Pleasant and Carter booted off the team, apparently for having too many parties at their apartment, or at cornerback. The pass rush, besides OB and Taylor on blitzes, has been iffy. Nzegwu needs to come back soon and show the explosion he did in the spring. The special teams coverage remains poor, and will seriously burn UW sometime this season.
In short, much remains unknown. And a pissed-off, and decently talented, Sparty is looming. More will be revealed next Saturday.