The Wisconsin football team held its annual intra-squad spring game, marking the conclusion of the spring practice season Saturday at Madison Lafollette High School’s Lussier Stadium. The Cardinal team faced off against the White team in a contest that ended with a score of 14-14 after four quarters of play.
To start out the game, the White team, which consisted of reserve players, automatically had 14 points up on the scoreboard and this 14-0 tally remained the score until late in the second quarter.
After nearly two quarters of minimal offense, the Cardinal team scored the first actual touchdown of the game with 35 seconds remaining in the half. Junior quarterback John Stocco found senior wide receiver Jonathan Orr in the corner of the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown reception.
With only one half of playing time, Orr had five catches for a total of 72 yards. To finish the scoring drive, sophomore kicker Taylor Mehlhaff drilled home the extra point in his first game as UW’s No. 1 place kicker. In the first quarter, Mehlhaff had his first field goal opportunity but failed on an approximately 22-yard field goal attempt.
After half time, the rules changed once again. Instead of alternating on offense and defense between the two teams, the Cardinal team became strictly offense while the White team consisted of only defensive personnel. This also marked the end of the day for the starters, but gave the reserves extended playing time.
Before the second half switch, sophomore quarterback Tyler Donovan was running the offense for the White team, finishing the half unofficially 1-for-8 passing for a total of only six yards. However, during the second half, he switched over to the Cardinal squad and produced better results. In the third quarter, he threw the second touchdown pass of the day when he found sophomore wide receiver Marcus Randle El as he was running into the end zone for a 43-yard reception.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Craig Meier also contributed in the fourth quarter and went 1 of 8 for a total of two yards.
After playing behind Stocco last season, Donovan is vying for more time this year. Stocco proved to be the stronger of the two Saturday (completing 13 of 29 pass attempts compared to Donovan’s 7 of 22), but Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez is still very confident in his backup.
“I think Tyler can do some things with his feet, he’s very athletic,” Alvarez said. “I think he’s got some ability and I think we as coaches have to take advantages of some of his abilities. We’ve got to improve and I think those guys will spend time this summer learning the new system as far as pre-snap reads and knowing where to go with the ball and that. They’ve got to get better. I think we can improve more and I think we’re going to have to.”
“(Quarterbacks) Coach (Jeff) Horton wants the best guy to play and that’s good for everybody; that’s good for me and Tyler and all the other guys,” Stocco said regarding the competition with Donovan. “It’s going to make us all better. I feel like I don’t need any extra incentive to try to get better but it is good to have that though and I’m always trying to get better regardless.”
Early in the game, the 3,796 fans in attendance at Lussier Stadium received their first chance to see junior transfer running back Brian Calhoun in a Badger uniform. During the first quarter, Calhoun figured heavily in the Cardinal offensive attack. His seven carries for nine total yards and 16 yards on two receptions were far from earth shattering numbers, but the coaching staff limited Calhoun’s playing time, not wanting to risk injury. However, Calhoun was still able to show the speed and versatility that will undoubtedly help the Badgers in the highly touted rushing game the program prides itself on.
“I just think he’s an exceptional player,” Alvarez said. “It’s not just with what his abilities are or his potential, he’s done it. I saw the kid rush for over 100 yards in a quarter against Nebraska as a true freshman. I saw him play against us. I mean he’s been in big games, big arenas, played against the highest of competition and did it successfully as a young kid. I just think he has a very bright future and he’ll be an extremely important part of our offense.”
Besides showcasing Calhoun, the spring game also gave the younger players who may not have had a chance to contribute in the past the opportunity to play. Of those players, redshirt freshman Bill Rentmeester’s 30 rushing yards on six carries led the team, while junior running back Dwyon Rowan added 23 rushing yards on 11 carries. Defensively, redshirt freshmen Josh Neal and Jammar Crane impressed Alvarez at linebacker.
“I thought some of our young guys stepped up,” Alvarez said. “The spring game is always very important for your young players. We’re trying to teach them things today. It’s not like a game on Saturday. I think you have to sit back and quite frankly, I think we did some good things. I really don’t concern myself with how anyone perceives this practice. It was a learning experience and I think we got a lot out of it.”
One thing that Alvarez and the rest of his coaching staff stressed working on was finishing in the red zone. Two times on Saturday, the Cardinal squad had chances near the end zone, but failed to capitalize on either.
“If you knock both of those in, you feel pretty good getting out of the scrimmage,” Alvarez said. “You feel like it was really a clean scrimmage and a lot accomplished. We didn’t get that but we try to use that as a learning experience. There were some mistakes made; some mental mistakes made out there but if we can learn from them then it was a good day. All in all I thought we got a lot out of the day.”