LSU's spring has wrapped up, but it's time to start checking in with the 2014 schedule of opponents to see how their spring drills went. We start with Lucas Mueller of Bucky's Fifth Quarter.
1. Most LSU fans don't know a whole lot about the Badgers, aside from Melvin Gordon returning. What about the rest of the offense/defense?
Offense: The Badgers have an ongoing quarterback battle right now. There are 4 quarterbacks in the mix, but the race seems to be down to two -- former South Carolina QB Tanner McEvoy, and Joel Stave. They have been splitting first team reps throughout spring. Stave injured his shoulder in the Capital One Bowl and is still recovering. He was recently held out of practices, until finally cleared last week. McEvoy transferred from Arizona Western College last year and lost out on the QB battle. He then moved to safety and got significant playing time there later in the year.
Aside from the QB battle, the two top running backs are seeing little action this spring. Melvin Gordon is becoming a household name across the country and could contend for the Heisman given the Badgers have a successful season, staying in the national spotlight. Corey Clement is the other back in Madison. He is a true sophomore next year and will be the new back in their two-headed attack. He ran the ball 67 times last season for 547 yards with 7 touchdowns, so Tiger fans should realize that the Badgers rushing attack is just not Gordon. Both backs are quick, have great vision, and run extremely well. They can beat anyone on the field in a foot race and aren't afraid to run anyone on the field over.
The Badgers wide receiving unit is banged up this spring. They have three healthy receivers and have moved one former wide receiver back to the position - A.J. Jordan -- after he spent a good portion of the spring at safety with the first team defense. Kenzel Doe may be the fastest guy on the team and is sure to be the number-one target for whomever is the quarterback come August 30th. Look for the five incoming freshman wide receivers to get early playing time, especially against LSU.
Defense: The defense has to replace the senior leadership of Dezmen Southward and All-American Chris Borland, among others, and the unit as a whole has had ups and downs this spring. The Badgers have shuffled some players around at different positions. The Badgers are doing all they can to get more athletic on this side of the ball. Warren Herring takes over the nose guard position from Beau Allen and has looked very good this spring. The defensive line is still being moved around as it pertains to reps, but in recent weeks Chikwe Obasih has looked great and gotten good pressure on the quarterback. The Badgers recently moved Mike Caputo back from their hybrid linebacker/safety position to strong safety, where he started all of last year. The Badgers return their two top corners in Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary.
The linebacker corps will have big shoes to fill without Borland. Derek Landisch has already stepped up as a leader on defense. He will anchor the group along with Joe Schobert. Marcus and Michael Trotter will see time at linebacker as well as the athletic Leon Jacobs and Jesse Hayes.
Look for the emergence of defensive line. This is a much more athletic than last year's line and going up against a great offensive line day in and day out will help that unit. The secondary should be fairly stout. With a year of experience for both Shelton and Hillary they will make a great tandem this season. With Caputo moved back to the safety position, the secondary only gains more experience. The free safety position will be interesting because if McEvoy loses the quarterback battle he could move to that spot. You could also see Jordan moved back to the position this summer or the inexperienced Leo Musso.
2. Wisconsin's obvious reputation is for power running behind a very big offensive line. Will the 2014 Badgers keep that tradition going?
The running game will not miss a beat this year minus James White. Although they'll miss his skills as a pass-catcher, they are arguably just as fast and more physical with Gordon and Clement. This tandem could be the most lethal that Wisconsin has ever had -- which is saying something, obviously. Montee Ball, James White and P.J. Hill ran for over 3000 yards as a unit and Ball, White and Gordon nearly did the same a year later. Last year Gordon, White, and Clement were no push overs.
The Badgers are returning many of their starting offensive linemen from last year. Look for them to have great success at opening holes for the running game no matter who they face. It will be great to see them go up against LSU, who always seems to have a strong, athletic line. Although the offensive line for Wisconsin may be large in both height and weight, don't be deceived. These "midwestern farm boys", as they have been described before, are light on their feet and can move very well.
3. How was Gary Andersen's first season received? He seems like quite the departure from Bret Bielema.
As I am sure you have seen in the SEC with some of Bielema's comments, Bielema can be rough around the edges. Gary Andersen is much more soft-spoken, down to business and seems to be more of a player's coach.
Overall, Andersen's first year was received relatively well. Fans will never forget the unfortunate Arizona State loss. Had that loss not happened, the Badgers would have been more in the national spotlight last year because it hurt their ranking throughout the year. The real blemish on their schedule last year was the loss to Penn State in the season finale, although it ended up not affecting bowl location with Michigan State's victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship.
A bowl victory would have been great against a very good South Carolina team, but I think Gary Andersen's new raise speaks for itself. Barry Alvarez obviously believes in him and he did gain support in Madison with his unwavering dedication to the Badgers, even after drawing interest for the Browns head coaching position.
4. What have some of the major story lines been this spring, and what in particular have you been watching for?
The two biggest stories lines of the spring have been the depleted receiving group and the ongoing quarterback battle. The coaches were really hoping this spring would give Alex Erickson and Rob Wheelwright, especially, some invaluable reps at wide receiver so they could support Doe. They have both been injured most of spring, and this means, more than likely, that a guy like Krenwick Sanders will come in this summer and fill that number two position.
As for the quarterbacks, D.J. Gillins' early enrollment brings excitement to the fan base. Although I don't see him challenging for the starting role, based off what I have seen from Gillins this spring, this is finally Gary Andersen's quarterback. He is a dual-threat quarterback which fits Andersen's offensive scheme better, but again I don't see him challenging this year. I think fans in Madison are hoping he is the second-coming of Russell Wilson.
Personally, I have been watching the quarterback battle closely. With Stave's injury and missing the first half of spring ball, the door was opened for McEvoy to take his reps and potentially take the starting role from him. Fans have grown somewhat tired in Madison of Stave's indecisiveness or questionable decisions at time, but I believe he is still in Russell Wilson's shadow, and a season like Wilson had with the Badgers only comes around so often. Stave is a game manager and always will be. He can throw a pretty deep ball, but is prone to throwing interceptions when the defense disguises packages. McEvoy seems composed in the pocket and is a bit more mobile than Stave. McEvoy is entering a second season in the Badgers offense, so he is starting to show his comfort with the system.
To me the quarterbacks are the most intriguing battle for the rest of spring and entering the summer.
5. We've often heard that Wisconsin fans are the LSU fans of the Big 10, and vice-versa. Is there a lot of excitement for this game within the fan base? Disappointment that it'll be Houston-Green Bay rather than Baton Rouge-Madison?
There is definitely a lot of excitement surrounding the game. Wisconsin, over the last two years, has played UMass and Northern Iowa for season-openers. I mean no disrespect, but those teams aren't exactly the types of teams that you circle on your calendar. Some of the players have even mentioned being excited to take on LSU. For Wisconsin, this is their opportunity to showcase their talent on a national stage, which they desperately need to do from a recruiting standpoint after four straight bowl loses.
I do think there is some disappointment from college football enthusiasts that the series isn't a home and home series, but the sad reality of it is this is the college football world we live in today. Gone are the days where two powers like Wisconsin and LSU get together and play a home and home. A big match-up like this now has a sponsor and is played at a "neutral" location to fill more seats, generate more revenue for the cities they are played in, and sell specialized merchandise. I do not know how LSU fans feel about the game being in Houston, but I do know Badger fans are excited about Wisconsin playing at Lambeau Field. The Badgers have actually never played a game there. In 2006, the Badger hockey team played Ohio State in a hockey game where 40,890 fans (a sell-out for the way the stadium positioned seating) filled Lambeau.