MADISON — A couple of linebackers have a name for tailback Dywon Rowan that just might catch on with fans of the University of Wisconsin football team: “Big Shifty”.
The name certainly suits Rowan, a burly 5-foot-9, 243-pound senior walk-on who has a surprising amount of quickness for a man his size. After his performance in Saturday’s intrasquad spring football game, Big Shifty may begin to draw adherents beyond Jammar Crane and Josh Neal, the authors of the moniker.
Count head coach Bret Bielema as a believer in Rowan’s abilities.
“He’s got really good hips, and I think he’s able to get himself vertical and change directions in a short amount of time,” Bielema said.
Rowan ran six times for 50 yards and a 2-yard touchdown Saturday and caught three passes for 46 yards to help lead the Cardinal squad to a come-from-behind 19-14 win over the White. His tallies included a 32-yard reception on a screen pass and a 23-yard run
“(Rowan) always has good ball security and I just like the way he competes,” Bielema said. “I thought he caught a couple nice screens today as well. He’s got the ability to catch the football as well as run.”
Rowan, who averaged 10.7 yards per touch, was a yard shy of the game high in total offense despite receiving all of his touches in the first half for the Cardinal, which was composed of first-team players in the first half, and a first- and second-team blend in the second half.
Rowan’s performance came on the heels of an injury to No. 1 tailback P.J. Hill. On his second carry of game, the redshirt freshman re-aggravated a “stinger” in his neck originally suffered in a scrimmage April 15 and did not return.
“I’ll be fine,” said Hill, who ran for seven yards. “All I need to do is rest.”
“We were cautious coming in just because we knew that if he got a straight shot on him again he had a little bit of an issue, but it shouldn’t be anything that takes very long to recover,” Bielema said.
For Rowan Saturday was an opportunity to show that he belonged.
“I hope that today I proved myself that I should get a shot at the No. 1 spot,” he said. “I think I’ve put myself in a position where during fall camp I will be in a position to compete for that spot.”
After Hill’s injury, No. 3 tailback Jamil Walker switched from White to Cardinal and also had a solid afternoon, serving notice that he will also have a say in the competition to replace All-American tailback Brian Calhoun. Walker ran 16 times for 74 yards and a 9-yard touchdown and also caught two passes for 23 yards.
All in all it was a good day for the offense, particularly for the starters in the first half. They may not have lit up the scoreboard, but it was a much better display than in last year’s spring game, when the offense struggled miserably.
A miscue set the Cardinal back early. Quarterback John Stocco threw a little behind receiver Paul Hubbard, who reached back for it but had the ball go through his hands. Cornerback Zach Hampton immediately snagged it and raced 59 yards for a touchdown that gave the White — who received double points — a 14-0 lead.
“I was just reaching in trying to knock it down and for some reason I got my hand all the way around it and it stuck,” Hampton said. “So I was gone.”
In the week leading up to Saturday’s game, Bielema emphasized that he wanted to challenge his starters. He was happy with how they reacted to the 14-0 deficit.
“From my point of view I kind of like that because now they’re behind the chains coming out,” Bielema said. “They had to meticulously get themselves back into it.”
Aside from the interception, Stocco had a fine afternoon, completing 10 of 13 passes for 154 yards before sitting out the second half.