Following the 2003 season, the University of Wisconsin football team made a concerted effort to get back to a physical style of play. The endeavor started with off-season workouts in January 2004, when head coach Barry Alvarez had strength and conditioning coach John Dettmann introduce competition sessions to the team’s weight room routine.
In practice that spring and fall, the Badgers often incorporated scrimmages and drills that fostered a competitive spirit.
“I thought we had lost some of our physicality,” Alvarez said at the recent Big Ten media days. “I implemented some things in practice, one-on-ones… some different things, just to emphasize that. Just to get that physicalness back.”
Though the particular means for the competitions may have changed, the basic idea remains the same.
“We’ve been carrying those through this year,” quarterback John Stocco said last month, regarding this summer’s conditioning workouts. “It’s not only that we’re working hard but we’re really competitive. We have a lot of different things that we compete in as far as the lifts go.”
Last fall the Badgers’ defense in particular rallied around the competitive scrimmages, often erupting in exuberant celebration when one of their teammates delivered a big hit. The swagger that developed then carried over into a season in which the defense was one of the best in the nation.
“I think the kids have taken to it,” Alvarez said. “We compete all the time in the weight room. Just to teach… kids how to compete and find out, for us, who will compete.”
Alvarez said that competitions will be featured again this fall, though in altered form.
“We’ve always got to change things up, in how we compete,” Alvarez said. “But we will continue to do the one-on-ones, particularly before the season or during two-a-days. And they will compete against each other good on good. I just think that’s important. Kids have to learn how to do that.”
Back to basics
Bringing a physical style of play to the field will again be stressed in fall camp this year, particularly in the running game.
Last season the Badgers averaged just 3.63 yards per rushing attempt, their second-lowest single-season total since 1992. In 2004, UW picked up 4.02 yards per carry, the fifth lowest total in that same span.
“I think we’ll definitely get back to basics,” fullback Matt Bernstein said in Chicago last week. “We’ve got a great set of running backs who can run behind this big line in front of us. I know Joe’s (left tackle Joe Thomas) over there saying he can block anybody and he can….
“I know that these guys have got a lot stronger. It’s going to be a physical bunch of people. I know that me and… (center) Donovan Raiola, every day we’re like, ‘Man we’re going to beat people up this year.’ It’s all about if you can last until the fourth quarter. Get physical in the fourth quarter. If you can beat a team a team up all day, you’re going to win.”
“I think that’s the mentality that we want to gain back because for the past two years we really haven’t been a team that can get four yards every running play,” Thomas said. “And that’s the kind of team that we had when we won the Rose Bowls.”
UW’s three Rose Bowl winning teams — the ’93, ’98 and ’99 squads — averaged 4.99, 4.32 and 5.20 yards per carry, respectively. Since the ’93 team ran for 3,009 yards and 29 touchdowns, the Badgers have had at least 2,000 yards rushing, a 4.0 yards-per-carry average, and more than 20 rushing touchdowns in all but two seasons: last year (1,931; 3.63; 18) and the ’95 team that went 4-5-2 (1,418; 3.37; 12).
Had tailback Anthony Davis stayed healthy, last season’s rushing totals would be far more impressive. Davis rushed for 973 yards, a 4.8 yards-per-carry average and 11 touchdowns in just eight games. But UW would still like to see overall improvement in the running game.
“That’s going to be one of our emphasis during two-a-days,” Alvarez said. “Just get that mental attitude that you are going to run. (We) don’t have to trick anybody, we are going to stick it in there and be able to get some offense running the football.”
Last season, UW had the fourth-best touchdown percentage in the red zone in the Big Ten in conference-only games. But the Badgers struggled at times to pick up a mere yard when needed and turned the ball over on downs in the red zone four times in conference games, and six times overall.
Alvarez said UW will focus on being more physical in the red zone this year, and that starts with the team’s goal line sessions in fall camp.
“We’re going to go down and we’re going to load it up, we’re going to tell our defense what we’re going to run and we’re going to run it until we have confidence everybody has a feel we can execute it,” Alvarez said. “We’re not going to try to trick anybody.”
More weight room record-breakers
BadgerNation.com previously reported that Joe Thomas broke five of the six UW strength and conditioning records for left tackles either before or after spring workouts this year.
Thomas, though, was not the only Badger to establish new weight room records for his position.
- Senior Jason Pociask set a new record for tight ends in the squat (650 pounds) and the vertical jump (36 inches) and he tied the records for bench press (405, tying Kevin Lyles' 1996 mark) and hang clean (380, Mark Anelli, 2001).
- Sophomore Chris Pressley’s official fullback’s record in the squat is 665 pounds, though Thomas said that Pressley can squat 700. The school record for any position is 745, set by former offensive tackle Aaron Gibson.
- Senior Owen Daniels set a record for tight ends in the 40-yard dash (4.68 seconds).
- Junior Johnny White established a record for a strong safety in the bench press (350) and tied Ryan Simmons' 2002 mark in the hang clean (320).
- True freshman Andy Kemp’s 570-pound squat is a new record for left guards.
- Sophomore Nick Hayden set a right defensive tackle mark in the hang clean (380).
- Junior Paul Joran tied the hang clean record (365) for middle linebackers that Kyle McCorison set in 2003.
- Sophomore Paul Standring set records for punters in the squat (455), bench (325) and vertical (32.5).
- Sophomore Ken DeBauche set a punter’s record in the hang clean (275).