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5 Biggest Questions facing Badgers football following spring practice

UW’s annual spring football camp left plenty of questions to be answered in the fall. Does it mean good news or bad news?

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Friday night under the lights of Camp Randall gave us all the final glimpse of this Wisconsin Badgers football team until August. It also meant 15 practices were in the books and now is the perfect time for reflection.

It is what the coaching staff will be doing while they hit the recruiting circuit in earnest.

So, we’ll follow suit all week here and take a look back at the 2017 spring football camp.

That will start with a look at the unanswered questions coming out of spring camp, and for a team with a lot of turnover there are plenty left to be answered.

What Will the Offensive Line Look Like?

The spring was a bit of a mixed bag for the offensive line. On the one hand, there are plenty of players with starting experience in the mix. On the other hand, a lot of those players were missing from spring football.

It opened opportunities for players like Tyler Biadasz and Micah Kapoi, both of whom had solid spring camps. However, it also puts offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Rudolph in a very interesting position.

Many thought the offensive line was pretty easily set, lining up like this from left to right — David Edwards, Jon Dietzen, Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel and either Jacob Maxwell or Patrick Kasl at right tackle.

But, Edwards, Dietzen, Benzschawel and Maxwell all missed parts or the whole of spring camp. It meant Biadasz playing a lot of center and playing it at such a high level he may be pushing Dieter out to a different position come the fall.

If that happens, we’re likely to see Deiter at left tackle and Edwards back at right tackle. But, that is all a big if at this point.

While there are some really good pieces to the puzzle in play, figuring out the five best players and where they belong will be a huge challenge for Rudolph and Co. come the fall. At least this group has the depth to worry about who the best five are and not just finding five capable players anymore.

Depth isn’t a concern, just chemistry and the best thing for this offense overall.

Who Is the Backup Quarterback?

As deep as the offensive line is, Wisconsin is razor-thin at quarterback. It was easy to see why sophomore Alex Hornibrook was named the starter before spring camp even broke for the first time. He’s lightyears ahead of early enrollee Jack Coan and redshirt freshman Karé Lyles.

In fact, if the spring game was any indication, UW may be in some serious trouble if something happens to Hornibrook.

Lyles looked timid at times, while Coan is clearly still trying to develop within a college offense. At least the raw tools seem to be there for Coan and the confidence was also more evident. But, he’s got a lot of progressing to do if he wants to have that redshirt taken off of him.

It is also incumbent on Lyles to become more comfortable throwing in the pocket over the tall offensive line in front of him. Can he overcome the biggest issue we see in his game to overtake Coan and become the backup?

If the Badgers really want to redshirt Coan, Lyles is going to have to give the coaching staff a reason to beat out the other freshman on the roster. Summer workouts and fall camp are going to be vital to the progression of the quarterback position as a whole.

Right now, it is difficult to be confident that this group can be more than a game-managing one at best.

Is There Enough Playing Time For All The Talent at Linebacker?

A lot of teams would love to be in the position the Wisconsin Badgers find themselves in at the linebacker position. Not only does UW have four returning starters at inside linebacker, it also had two players who made a case to be starters after spring football — Griffin Grady and walk-on Mike Maskalunas.

We should see the full return of players like Jack Cichy, Chris Orr, T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly. So, if you’re counting along with us at home that makes six really good players for two positions at inside linebacker. It also means there is going to be a huge fight for snaps come the fall.

You could say the same thing at outside linebacker where Zak Buan and Garrett Dooley have starting experience, but there’s a host of talented and exciting options outside of those two names. Players like Andrew Van Ginkel and Alabama transfer Christian Bell have stepped up and so has the returning Leon Jacobs (who moves back to where he started his career in a Badgers uniform) along with sophomore Griffin Grady and freshman Izayah Green-May.

All could stake a claim to being good enough to start, and all are likely to see the field in some capacity this season.

That’s where the interesting part of Jim Leonhard’s first year in charge of the defense will come. How does he rotate and get players the snaps they need based off production in camps? There may simply not be enough snaps to go around and patience may be key at this position in 2017.

Will Move of Natrell Jamerson to Safety Be the Right One?

There’s no questioning that Natrell Jamerson is one of the four best defensive backs the Wisconsin Badgers have. However, the bigger question is if the role they have put him in — strong safety — is the right one for this team.

Let us flashback to Penn State and even Western Michigan torching the UW secondary last year. Jamerson wasn’t one of those players getting regularly torched and that was due to his ability to be a rangy player in the back of the defense. He also was one of the three best cornerbacks UW had.

Fast forward and Jamerson won’t be a starter at cornerback thanks to Nick Nelson’s emergence after transferring and sitting out last season. Still, the Badgers have very little experience or quality behind the starters.

Would Jamerson be better suited at a less-loaded position like cornerback and allow for younger players like Eric Burrell and Patrick Johnson III to settle in at safety? A lot of the answers are going to come from the play of Donyte Carriere-Williams and Lubern Figaro.

If Figaro can figure out how to stop getting burned and Carriere-Williams can continue his strong progress from the spring to the fall, then Jamerson’s move to safety could be the best for this defense. However, don’t be surprised to see more tweaks to the secondary from defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.

Can Rafael Gaglianone Be the Weapon He Was Supposed to Be as Kicker?

When you hear the words back surgery and kicker in the same sentence, one gets a bit squeamish. That is exactly what happened to Rafael Gaglianone last season and it was for the second time in his life too.

That has to be worrisome for a kicker who relies on power and a kicking style that is hard on the body. He also has been a huge weapon in knowing he can kick deep field goals at a good clip.

In the spring game we saw him hammer a few home from 42 yards out and that is a good sign that the strength is still there. Still, one has to wonder if 42 yards was put out there on Friday night because that was as far as Gaglianone could comfortably kick or not.

How Does Running Back Group Shape Up?

We know a lot about Bradrick Shaw, and he seems to be the most decisive and downhill runner the Badgers have in the backfield this season. However, Pitt transfer Chris James was neck-and-neck with him throughout most of spring.

Some believe he may even have a leg up thanks to his better pass protection and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Oh, and then there is Taiwan Deal, who is coming off ankle surgery in the hopes of staying healthy.

When healthy, Deal has shown enough to be considered in the race for the No. 1 spot. But, can the affects of surgery and injury be shaken off in time to catch up to Shaw and James during fall camp?

Competition is great, and a welcome sight to a running back group that has been depleted over the past few years beyond the starter. It also means that fall camp will have a lot of the answers to the question of how this group shapes up.

It will certainly be a fun group to watch compete and work in camp, that’s for sure.

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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Michigan Wolverines: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications

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After a week without a game, it’s back to the turf at Camp Randall for the Wisconsin Badgers. It’s also time for Big Ten play, as the Badgers welcome the No. 11 ranked Michigan Wolverines to town.

Much has been made of this matchup in the national media, but it’s time to finally put our money where our mouth is and give you all you need to or want to know about the Badgers and Wolverines on Saturday.

Kick is scheduled for 11am CT on Fox, so tune in with us.

Don’t forget, Andrew is 2-0 so far on the season in his predictions and both have been close to the final score as well. Also don’t forget to hit that Subscribe button on the YouTube page while watching this video!

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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Michigan Wolverines: 5 Things to Know

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It feels like forever since the Wisconsin Badgers took to the field for their Camp Randall home opener. That’s probably because it has been a whirlwind start to the year.

Zero points given up, two blowout wins and all seems good. But, now the season gets real as the Michigan Wolverines visit Camp Randall.

The opponents come to Madison off their own bye week, but have largely failed to impress in their first two games of the season, narrowly escaping with an overtime 24-21 win over Army two weeks ago.

So, what should you know about the series, the matchup and these two teams ahead of the big top 15 clash?

Let’s take a look.

5: Wisconsin is looking for win No. 5 in a row at home over Michigan

Few teams have given the Badgers fits more than the Wolverines have historically. But, in the recent past it has been all UW at home to say the least.

Wisconsin has won the last four games played inside Camp Randall, having last lost at home to Michigan in 2001. The winning streak started in 2005, making this winning streak span over the course of multiple classes of UW football.

Things have been much more even overall in the series though, because of the lack of matchups with the two teams on opposite sides of the divisions since the original split in 2011.

The Badgers and Wolverines have split their last 10 meetings, dating to 2002. Over the last 10 years (since 2009), Wisconsin owns a 3-2 record in the series as well.

4: Wisconsin has won 4 straight games with Jack Coan as the starter

Personally, I’ve always been skeptical of these stats thrown around regarding the record of starting quarterbacks. After all, this is a team game and the quarterback can’t win or lose a game on his own.

However, there is little denying just how much Coan has grown and transformed the Badgers offense either. To that end, the Badgers have won four straight games and have scored a ton of points in the process.

During that 4-game winning streak, UW is averaging 48 points per game.

That’s far from a coincidence, as Coan has set his career high for passing yards in three of those four games and has thrown for 8 touchdowns with just 1 interception in those four starts.

As for this season, Coan is currently the best quarterback in the Big Ten. He leads the league in completion percentage (76.3), QB rating (184.5) and yards per game (282). He is averaging nearly 20 yards more per game than the No. 2 ranked QB in the Big Ten — MSU’s Brian Lewerke.

All of that is happening while he is attempting just the 5th most passes in the league (29.5).

Will he be able to keep himself near the top with the Wolverines in town?

3: Michigan has lost just 3 Big Ten openers since 1968

As if you needed any more proof of just how long-term dominant Michigan has been in the Big Ten, try on the fact that they have gone 48-3 over the last 51 seasons in their conference opener.

In fact, in the 113 previous conference openers, the Wolverines are an impressive 86-25-2. That’s to say, history suggests this is going to be a difficult task.

That said, Wisconsin owns two of those 3 wins in Big Ten openers over Michigan. The first came way back in 1981 and the second in 2005 — both of them coming inside Camp Randall no less.

2: UW has only 2 wins in Top 25 matchups between these two teams

As we’ve previously highlighted, success in this series has been fleeting for the Badgers. That has historically been true in matchups between these two schools when they both were ranked in the top 25.

Michigan leads that part of the series 7-2. However, the good news for Wisconsin is that both of those wins have come inside Camp Randall and they are 2-2 in these types of matchups at home.

Those wins came in 1993 and in 2017, which was the last win in the series for the Badgers. Interestingly, those two wins also came as the Badgers were the better ranked team.

On Saturday, the Wolverines come in ranked No. 11 and the Badgers are ranked No. 13 for what it is worth.

1: Wisconsin has the No. 1 defense in the country

Okay, so I’m readily admitting that this number comes with a rather large asterisk to date given the competition level of the teams played to date. But, all you can do is play the opponents in front of you and the Badgers defense has bene utterly dominant in those two contests.

Just how dominant? Well, Wisconsin has allowed just 107.5 yards per game to lead the nation. That number is over 100 yards better than the No. 2 team (102 yards better to be exact).

In comparison, Michigan comes in to this one giving up 272 yards per game as a team — a mark that is fifth in the Big Ten to date.

Additionally, UW has outscored opponents 110-0 and became the first team to score 100 or more points and not give up any in the first two games of the season since South Carolina did it in 1980.

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Can Benton step up to big challenge against Michigan?

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Through two games, the Wisconsin Badgers defense has been the talk of the town. Pitching back-to-back shutouts and doing so with a lot of new players in the mix was equally impressive.

Maybe the competition wasn’t the best, but a young group of players stepped up and the result has been zero points on the board and a 2-0 record.

One name has played above the rest in the group of freshman and sophomores in the mix — true freshman nose guard Keeanu Benton.

He had no choice but to play last week, as regular starting nose guard Bryson Williams went down with an injury late in the week and there isn’t much depth at the position.

If you pay attention to the analytical side of the game, Benton took his opportunity and ran with it though.

You may not see it on the stat sheet (1 tackle, 1 tackle for loss), but Pro Football Focus named Benton the best of all the Badgers in the win over Central Michigan two weeks ago.

He was in the top 10 players in the win over USF in the opener as well. That’s about as good a start as you could have hoped for for the young man.

Benton played 19 of the 45 plays that the Chippewas had last week, accounting for just over 42 percent of all snaps. His grade of 89.1 edged out Jack Coan’s grade of 86.9 for the top spot in that game.

Most importantly, Benton graded out well against the run, with an 89.6 rating in that category alone.

Given that Michigan has tried hard to establish the run early on in the season, having Benton play so well with his limited snaps is going to be huge come game day against the No. 10 Wolverines.

The hope for the Badgers was that Benton could use that experience and build off of it as starter Bryson Williams returned from an injury sustained in the build up to the CMU game.

Unfortunately, as the Badgers get ready for the Wolverines we already know that Williams will be out. He was listed as such on UW’s first injury report for this week.

While we’ve seen great work overall from Benton in the first two weeks of the season, and the Badgers defense has produced great things on paper, this is going to be a much bigger challenge.

Michigan comes in to this game ranked 45th in the country in rushing, having gone for 341 yards in just two games. Admittedly, most of that work was done in the opener against Middle Tennessee, where they ate up 234 yards.

Against a much more stout Army defense, Michigan’s ground game stumbled to just 108 yards on the same 45 carries it had in the opener.

Michigan has punched the ball in to the end zone five times already, including the critical scoring in the 24-21 win over Army in Week 2.

On the other hand, Wisconsin’s run defense has been its bread and butter. UW leads the nation in rush defense, giving up just 41 total yards on 44 carries over the course of the first two games of action. There hasn’t been any touchdowns given up since the Minnesota game to end the regular season last year too.

Benton has been a big help in that effort over the course of his first two games in action and his fellow players are quick to take notice of his efforts early on in his career at Wisconsin.

“Coming in, Keeanu was raw. He still is kind of raw. But he’s a big body, he’s fast, he’s strong, but what we’ve seen from him so far in camp and in the first two games, he’s definitely a playmaker,” defensive end Isaaiah Loudermilk said Monday, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Senior captain Chris Orr has also been impressed with what Benton brings to the game.

“He’s big. Big,” Orr said to the Wisconsin State Journal. “When I first saw him, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, put him right there in the middle in front of all of us. Let him eat up them blocks.’ But I think what I’m most impressed about is that he doesn’t just stay on blocks. When he gets double-teamed, he’ll eat the double then split it and go make a play.”

Doing that on Saturday against better overall competition will be a telling sign of where Benton is and where his potential lies.

If he can step up on the big stage against the biggest opponent to date, the sky may just be the limit for him and this Badgers defense.

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What the Badgers need to work on in the bye week

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Two games, two victories, two shutouts and two record-setting performance. It would be easy to think the 2-0 Wisconsin Badgers football team is riding high in to its early bye week.

But, with the challenge of the Michigan Wolverines just around the corner things are not exactly going to go as planned.

So, with a week off to prepare what are some of the areas of concentration and concern heading in to the matchup with the Wolverines?

Get Healthy

I feel like this is a mantra of any team on a bye week, but after only two games it shouldn’t be that bad. But, guess what, Wisconsin is two games in to the season and the injury gods have not been kind to this team.

On Sunday, we learned that starting safety Scott Nelson will miss the rest of the season with a leg injury.

Late last week we knew that five other players were going to miss the Central Michigan game, with two of those being starters on defense in Bryson Williams and Izayah Green-May.

Now luckily, the depth of this team showed up as true freshman Keeanu Benton (1 TFL) played well in place of Williams and Noah Burks (2 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 pass break up) made it seem like there was nothing missing at outside linebacker.

But, there’s no question that playing with a full group of players against Michigan will be advantageous. Let’s see if the Badgers can get Williams and Green-May healthy and my guess is that they will be able to do just that with nearly three weeks of treatment and testing.

Stay Hungry

One of the things that has been clear so far about this team is that they have been playing with a lot of emotion and edge to them. It’s almost as if they spent an entire offseason stewing over a less-than-stellar performance in 2018 and are bound and determined to not let that happen again.

Whatever was bottled up in the offseason was certainly unleashed in the first two weeks of the season. Can UW find a way to continue to play with that edge and fire now that they have no game this week?

Sometimes the bye week can mess with a team, especially one that is rolling like the Badgers are. But, I have a distinct feeling that motivation and focus are not going to waver at all with this coaching staff in place.

Wisconsin also has the advantage of being the underdog in the matchup with Michigan (at least on paper it will) and has a ton of hungry young players looking to make a name for themselves.

What better way to do that than against Michigan with the whole college football world watching you?

This idea of staying hungry doesn’t worry me in the least, but it would be something to watch coming out of the gate against Michigan. If the Badgers look flat or out of sorts, I’d be worried. If not, then look for Michigan to be in some serious trouble on Sept. 21.

New Wrinkles?

Early on this season, we’ve already seen a lot of Jonathan Taylor the running back, but we’ve also seen a lot of JT23 the receiving back and it has produced glorious results.

Even better is the fact that the Badgers coaching staff hasn’t had to get exotic with the play calling early on this season either. There’s been few sightings of Aron Cruickshank end arounds or double running back sets or anything crazy.

Wisconsin has lined up, punched the opposing defense in the mouth up front and done the basics needed to put points on the board.

It will be interesting to see what wrinkles will be added with the extra time and the opponent at hand. Will the Badgers break out a few things that Michigan won’t be ready for or will they stick to the tried and true and just see what happens?

Pass Protection

If there’s one thing we know about Michigan’s defense is that it is nearly the Badgers equal in aggressiveness. Through two games the Badgers have allowed four sacks on the quarterback.

It may not seem alarming, but last season, UW allowed a total of 24 through 13 games for an average of 1.85 per game and that was a bit of a problem in bigger games. Furthermore, 12 of the 24 sacks came in Wisconsin’s five losses last year.

The good news seems to be that UW is going to get some help for the quarterback spot in avoiding some of those sacks this year. Jack Coan may not be a world-record sprinter, but he has shown to be more comfortable stepping up in the pocket and taking off if needed.

But, the Badgers were not really tested so far in terms of overall talent and did give up three sacks against USF in the opener. On the flip side, the offensive line looked much better against CMU and only one sack happened on the day.

Does that indicate improvement or just how bad the Chippewas were? With an extra week to work on things, lets see how the Badgers offensive line works through any potential issues and any adjustments that may be needed.

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