MADISON - After putting the ones verse the ones in last year’s spring game, resulting in only three total points scored between all the units, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema is turning his first team loose.
Stating it will be the ‘ones verse the world,’ Bielema is not only looking to generate more offense after last year’s spring game, but didn’t like some of the disjointed offenses he saw on television of schools that split up their starters.
“I really want the continuity of the ones working together on both sides of the football,” Bielema said during his Monday news conference. “I think that’s a very important thing for us to move forward. We’ve done that every year since I’ve been here and we’ll stay status quo.”
The game will feature four quarters with live punt and punt return, but Wisconsin will not practice kickoff or kickoff return. Starting this season, the NCAA playing rules oversight panel – a committee Bielema is on - approved the kickoff being moved from the 30 to the 35 yard-line and a touchback on a kickoff moving from the 20 to the 25-yard line.
“My guess is we’re going to have a dramatic spike in touchbacks because people aren’t going to bring it out,” said Bielema, citing that a returner standing two yards deep in the end zone would have to return the ball 27 yards without penalty to make it worthwhile. “There’s not a chance for a turnover or a touchdown, so I don’t see it changing the game as much as people are thinking.”
Bielema was also asked what his thoughts were on scrimmaging another team instead of an intrasquad scrimmage, something Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has brought up in past coaches meetings. Bielema is for the idea as long as there are financial limitations for schools, and even said he’d be for three teams coming to one facility and playing multiple halves.
“I think it would be great if we could do that moving forward,” said Bielema. “A lot of times in the spring it’s just having enough healthy bodies at all positions. You just get lean at one spot and it limits the whole practice. I think that (idea) would intrigue a lot of us.”
No Ball on Saturday
The only medically cleared player that won’t participate in the scrimmage is senior running back Montee Ball. A Heisman Trophy finalist who led the country in rushing with 1,923 yards, the third-best total in school history, and tied the NCAA record for 39 touchdowns, Ball has been one of the hardest workers this spring, according to Bielema.
But with many UW fans remembering Lee Evans suffering a torn ACL in the 2002 spring game and missing the season, Bielema and his staff are taking no chances.
“He’ll take some shots in the fall,” Bielema said. “At this point, we don’t feel it’s necessary to take him to the ground.”
Beefing up the Defense
According to the stat work done by defensive coordinator Chris Ash, the defense allowed a total of 147 rushing yards in the two combined scrimmages the last two Saturday, 127 of which came off of four plays. With a combination of missed tackles and missed alignments, the Badgers allowed massive chunks of yardage that had UW’s defensive coaches fuming.
Even so, Wisconsin’s defense is looking to build off last season when Ash and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge put in a new defense and return a lot of key playmakers, including safeties Sheldon Johnson and Dezmen Southward.
“Together, they might give us the best safety combination since I have been here,” said Bielema. “I am excited about those two.”
Wisconsin’s defensive line loses two starters, but returns a rotation that could reach upwards of nine players with the steady play of Beau Allen and Warren Herring. Allen has increased his weight to 323 pounds while Herring has moved inside to the defensive tackle position and has made steady progress.
“I would say the biggest jump this spring in the pass rush category has been Beau Allen,” said Bielema. “He’s just so explosive and taken it to another level. Although he’s not a d-end, he’s getting pressure.
“These last two weekends (for Warren) were a tale of two cities. Last Saturday, I was ready to buy as much Warren Herring stock as I could get. The one thing about Warren is he goes 100 miles an hour and he just started learning to play with his pads and how to get off and use his hands. He regressed a little bit on Saturday, but the reason me and Charlie moved him inside is during one-on-ones in bowl prep … he was winning a lot of battles.
“I know he’s got explosives and hopefully he can bring some of the table in the pass rush game.”
Extra Points: Catching one touchdown every 3.75 receptions last season, Bielema said junior tight end Jacob Pedersen should have an expanded role in offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s offense … Devin Smith has battled through a foot injury and a lingering sports hernia injury, but has been making steps forward toward being fully cleared in the fall … Bielema anticipates keeping Jared Abbrederis at punt return, but will try different guys at kickoff return … The staff is hopeful that redshirt sophomore guard Dallas Lewallen (dislocated kneecap) will be ready for summer and should be in the mix for the starting right guard position.