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2011 Wisconsin Preview – Offense
Wisconsin RB Montee Ball
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Wisconsin Badger Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst had an awful Rose Bowl – KEEP RUNNING THE BALL! – but he and the Badger offense had a special season highlighted by the 83-point explosion against Indiana and the 70 hung up on Northwestern to finish fifth in the nation in scoring with the ground game dominating and the passing game the Big Ten’s most efficient. QB Scott Tolzien is gone, but getting Russell Wilson from NC State might turn out to be an upgrade who brings more mobility to the attack to go along with his bombing skills. Of course, as always, the Badgers will pound away with the running game. John Clay might be done, but Montee Ball and James White form a devastating 1-2 rushing attack. Outland winner Gabe Carimi and all-star guard John Moffitt will be missed, but the Badgers offensive line is big, strong, and should be dominant again with three unsung starters back and more big blockers ready to fill in the gaps. Tight end Lance Kendricks is off to the NFL, but WR Nick Toon is expected to do even more if he can stay healthy. The key, though, is Wilson, who makes the Badgers instant Big Ten title contenders again.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Russell Wilson
Passing: Russell Wilson (at NC State)
308-527, 3,563 yds, 28 TD, 14 INT
Rushing: James White
156 carries, 1,052 yds, 14 TD
Receiving: Nick Toon
36 catches, 459 yds, 3 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore WR Jared Abbrederis
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OT Ricky Wagner
Best pro prospect: Senior WR Nick Toon
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wilson, 2) RB James White, 3) C Peter Konz
Strength of the offense: Running Game, Russell Wilson
Weakness of the offense: No. 2 Receiver, Proven Tight End
State of the Unit: Scott Tolzien wasn’t Cam Newton-flash, and he didn’t put up huge numbers, but he helped the Badgers finish fourth in the nation and first in the Big Ten in passing efficiency. Ultra-steady, he seemed to make every key pass – up until the ill-fated two point conversion attempt in the Rose Bowl – finishing the season with 2,459 yards and 16 touchdowns and six scores. This offseason, the quarterback situation was a problem with injuries, inconsistency, and a slew of mistakes, but now all of that might change with one major signing.
All of a sudden, it became Christmas in July for Wisconsin as NC State’s Russell Wilson chose Wisconsin over Auburn in the derby for his services. In a unique situation of being able to do whatever he wanted after already graduating, he faced with the choice of going back to NC State, working as an infield prospect for the Colorado Rockies, or joining the defending national champions. He decided on the Badgers over the Wolfpack because he wanted to play at, according to him, a major program that plays in major games, and he didn’t pick the Tigers because of a great visit to Madison. Now he might be the difference between a good season and another special one. Quarterback was the one big concern on the 2011 Badgers – problem solved.
While he’s not all that big at 5-11 and around 200 pounds, he’s tough, has a live arm, and enough mobility to get out of jams when needed. He left NC State as one of the school’s all-time leading passers – but Phil Rivers holds almost all the marks – and with his smarts, accuracy, and moxie, he should a perfect fit for the UW offense. In 36 games he has thrown for 8,545 yards and 76 touchdowns with 26 picks, while running for 1,083 yards and 17 scores, but he doesn’t have to do everything for the Badger attack like he did for the Wolfpack. Hand it off, make the third down throw, keep the chains moving. If he can do those three things, he could be an All-Big Ten performer.
This was supposed to be when sophomore Jon Budmayr was going to cut his teeth as the main man for the attack, but with Wilson coming in, that plan is put on hold for a year. The 6-0, 195-pounder completed 8-of-10 passes for 134 yards and a score in garbage time, but he was inconsistent in spring ball and struggled in the spring game. He didn’t have a full receiving corps to work with, but the problems were enough to make signing Wilson more of a priority. Going forward, the key will be staying healthy suffering both a shoulder and a groin injury early on despite not seeing the field, and he missed his entire senior year of high school hurt. A great recruit for the program, he’s a pure pro-style quarterback with a live arm and good passing touch. Confidence isn’t a problem and he has a good enough arm to push the ball down the field if he has to come in.
Also unable to overcome injury problems is Curt Phillips, a 6-3, 224-pound junior with size, tremendous mobility, a world of talent, and knees that can’t stay healthy. The 2007 Tennessee Player of the Year threw for 5,418 yards in high school along with 3,788 rushing yards and 64 touchdowns, but he was knocked out with a torn ACL in each of the last two seasons and hasn’t had any luck. Fortunately, this year’s injury happened early enough to be ready for 2012.
Watch Out For … Budmayr. All the focus and the spotlight will be on Wilson, but the quarterback problems of this offseason still stand. Budmayr, even if it’s in a limited role, has to show more or else 6-3, 199-pound redshirt freshman Joe Brennan will get a longer look at next year’s starting gig, as will Phillips going into 2012 spring ball.
Strength: Wilson. This is one of the most unique situations in recent college football history. Sometimes a JUCO player comes in and rocks – like Cam Newton – but Wilson is a proven star with ACC Player of the Year ability. He might have been the ACC’s signature star this season had he returned to the Wolfpack, and he might turn out to be an upgrade over …
Weakness: Scott Tolzien. It can’t be overstated just how terrific he was at times. In November, over four games, he completed 57-of-71 (80%) of his passes, and he was flawless in the 11 wins. Wilson has the résumé, but he also has some lofty expectations to live up to.
Outlook: Getting Wilson means everything to the Badgers. Now, Wisconsin can win through the air as well as on the ground, but it’ll be vital to get Budmayr and the backups more work so they can be ready to roll next year. Wilson is a once-in-a-lifetime, luck-of-the-draw get, and he should show why right away.
Unit Rating: 8.5
State of the Unit: Gone is John Clay, the battering ram who turned into a Doak Walker finalist last year, and also gone is Zach Brown, who was a key part of the ground game in the past has transferred, but as always, there’s talent and production returning from a ground game that had 1,000-yard rushers and a 996-yarder. Last year the Badgers combined for 3,194 yards and 48 touchdowns, finishing 12th in the nation, and it should be more of the same.
The coaching staff couldn’t stop talking about Montee Ball as a true freshman, and he showed why with a few flashes in a 391-yard, four touchdown season with 115 yards and two scores against Indiana. And then came last year. A bit of an afterthought over the first half of the year, running for just 229 yards over the first nine games, he went on an unstoppable tear over the final five games of the season with 127 yards and two scores against Purdue, 167 yards and three scores against Indiana, 173 yards and four scores against Michigan, 178 yards and four touchdowns against Northwestern, and 132 yards and one score against TCU. At 5-11 and 214 pounds he has slimmed down a little bit and has gotten in better overall shape, and now he should be even quicker and faster through the hole. A proven workhorse when needed, he’s always going forward and he’s always fighting through tackles finishing up with 996 yards and 18 touchdowns averaging 6.1 yards per carry, while catching 16 passes for 128 yards.
The Badgers already had a tremendous threesome in Clay, Ball, and Brown to count on, but there was an ongoing rumbling out of practices early last year that the best back of the bunch was about to emerge. James Whiteseemed to provide a spark and a flash every time he got the opportunity, and he ended up playing a huge role as a true freshman with a team-leading 1,086 yards and 14 touchdowns averaging 6.7 yards per carry. He handle the work in the layup against Austin Peay, running for 145 yards and four scores, and after missing the second half of the Iowa game and all of the Purdue game with a knee injury, he was unstoppable with 144 yards and two scores against Indiana, 181 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan, and 134 yards and a score against Northwestern. At 5-10 and 202 pounds he’s a strong, tough runner who blasts through the hole and is terrific in the open field. He hasn’t had to be much of a workhorse last year, but he will be this season.
Senior fullback Bradie Ewing came to Wisconsin as a walk-on, and he turned into a key part of the ground game as a blaster of a blocker. After struggling to stay healthy in 2009, he turned in a great 2010 starting three games and doing wonders for the ground attack. Smart, he was an academic All-Big Ten performer off the field, and he has the 6-0, 231-pound size and toughness to dominate on the field. While he won’t run much, carrying the ball just three times for 19 yards and a score, he can catch with eight grabs to 82 yards and two scores.
Trying to be a part of the ground game is redshirt freshman Jeffrey Lewis, a star scout teamer last year who fits the mold of Badger runners. At 6-2 and 210 pounds he has good size, but he’s a slippery runner who can zip for yards in chunks. Also looking to make a big impact is top recruit Melvin Gordon, a 6-0, 190-pound speed back who was the 2010 Gatorade Wisconsin Player of the Year after running for 2,009 yards and 38 scores averaging 12.7 yards per carry. He’s next with all the tools to be a superstar in the Badger ground game rotation.
Watch Out For … tougher, nastier backs. Ball and White were tremendous last year, and they returned this offseason in even better shape after obviously making an all-in commitment to being even better. This is their running game and their team, and they’re taking the job seriously.
Strength: The Wisconsin running game. Even with a better passing game thanks to Russell Wilson, and even with some big changes on the offensive front, the Badgers are going to blast away with the running game on a regular basis. It’s Wisconsin; teams know the fastball is coming, but can they hit it?
Weakness: The big back. It’s nitpicking time. The Badger ground game didn’t have problems with smaller backs like Anthony Davis and Brian Calhoun, and it was dominant with speed backs like Michael Bennett, but it’s always nice to have a Ron Dayne/John Clay-like thumper who takes the will out of teams. Ball and White are tough, but they’re not huge. On the last drive against TCU, Clay showed what a big back could do against a tired D.
Outlook: Wisconsin always plugs in very good backs and the production always comes, and Ball and White have the talent and potential to continue to crank out huge yards. The two should combine for well over 2,000 yards, but more backs will be used to keep everyone fresh. Lewis and Gordon will see time, and the opportunities will be there for others to step up and star when given a shot. As always, consider it a shock if Wisconsin doesn’t finish in the top 15 in rushing, and with more of a running quarterback in Wilson, being in the top ten is possible.
Unit Rating: 9
State of the Unit: The receivers are always just a part of the fun for the Wisconsin offense, but they’re mostly accessories. That should change this year with Russell Wilson under center, and now, instead of just moving the chains, the passing game should bomb away a bit more and the opportunities will be there to do even more. UW is becoming Tight End U. when it comes to cranking out pro prospects and top producers, but it’ll still be a problem with leading receiver and go-to guy Lance Kendricks gone, and three of the top four targets have to be replaced.
The Badgers might be losing plenty of proven veterans, but a big key to the season is the healthy return of senior Nick Toon, who was hurt for first part of last year and has had problems with a thigh injury and a turf toe, but he still finished second on the team with 36 catches for 459 yards and three scores as a steady target down the stretch. The numbers might not be great, but the pro scouts are drooling with 6-3, 213-pound size and great deep speed, and now the chances will be there to make bigger plays. A few scouting services have him ranked among the top receiver prospects going into the 2012 NFL Draft, and now, if he can get over his foot problems, he should blow up into a bigger star.
Needing to step up and shine in a bigger role is sophomore Jared Abbrederis, a 6-2, 180-pound athlete who was fantastic early, but only caught five passes over the final seven games and finished the year with 20 catches for 289 yards and three scores. An all-star high school quarterback, he was also a track star setting the Wisconsin state record in the 110-meter high hurdles and winning the state title in the 300-meter hurdles. With the right athleticism and the good size, he’s due to be terrific.
With Isaac Anderson and David Gilreath gone, the opportunities are there for the backups to show what they can do. 6-1, 201-pound redshirt freshman Isaiah Williams was a great recruit out of Miami last year with 142 career catches for 1,959 yards and 48 touchdowns. Strong, he’s a good blocker and has the quickness and speed to be used as a midrange-to-deep threat. Also in the mix will be sophomore Jeff Duckworth, who saw a little time making three catches for 32 yards in mop-up duty. Smart and with excellent speed, he should be a dangerous deep play threat when facing single coverage.
Trying to be the next in the great line of Wisconsin tight end is Jake Byrne, who isn’t going to be Lance Kendrick, Travis Beckum, or Garrett Graham, but he has 6-4, 253-pound size with tremendous toughness and blocking ability. He started eight times last year, but he only caught five passes for 43 yards and a score. His job will be to blast away for the ground game, while 6-4, 256-pound sophomore Brian Wozniak has the potential to be more of a big receiver. After being up a bit, he could be a strong, tough blocker, but he has the hands and the athleticism to be a midrange target. A good talent, he should do far more when he gets a little more time.
The Badgers like to use two tight end sets, and Jacob Pederson will see plenty of work after starting four times and finishing with eight catches for 132 yards and two scores, averaging 16.5 yards per catch. A key special teamer and also a strong receiving tight end, he should do even more for the passing game. 6-2, 213-pound sophomore Manasseh Garner was a big linebacker recruit for the program last year, but he’s moving over to the offensive side after working a bit as a defensive end and finishing with ten tackles. At the very least he’ll be a good special teamer.
Watch Out For … Toon. He hasn’t been able to stay 100% and he hasn’t been able to blow up as expected, but with Wilson under center and with the No. 1 target job all to himself, he could go from good to first round NFL Draft pick-good in a big hurry – if he can stay on the field.
Strength: The tight ends. With the recent pedigree of great tight ends, selling prospects on Madison is easy. Who’s going to be the next star of the show? Pederson and Gardner can be field-stretching receivers, while Bryne and Wozniak have the size and skills to do a little of everything.
Weakness: No. 2 receiver. Isaac Anderson finished third on the team in scoring, and David Gilreath finished fourth. Abbrederis has to prove he can be a steady target on the other side of Toon, and a steady receiving tight end has to emerge to take over for Kendricks.
Outlook: Wisconsin always seems to find good receivers, but this year’s corps will take a step back talent-wise. There are too many unknown parts, and not having a playmaker like Kendricks hurts, but all will be fine if Toon can overcome his disappointing 2010. The passing game might not be as efficient as it was last year, but it should be solid, and with Wilson, more explosive.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: The offensive line turned out to be the best in America led by Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi at tackle and with guard John Moffitt earning First Team All-Big Ten recognition. Three starters return, and while there might not be a Carimi, the line that finished 18th in the nation in sacks allowed and paved the way for the nation’s 12th best running game should be terrific once again. It just might take a little time.
The anchor of the line will be honorable mention All-Big Ten center Peter Konz, a 6-5, 313-pound junior who started 11 times last year but missed two games with an ankle injury. Very smart, great at making all the line calls, and a dominant run blocker who destroys his man, he’s living up to his billing after coming to the school as a top recruit. If he stays healthy, he’ll be on the short list for the Rimington Award, while sophomore Ryan Groy is a promising understudy who got the starting nod two times last year – as a fullback. At 6-5 and 307 pounds he’s a bit tall for the position, but he’s a good athlete who can make things happen on the move and can see time anywhere on the line he’s needed.
6-6, 322-pound junior Ricky Wagner was a bit under the radar compared to the high-profile stars up front, but he earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors after starting ten times at right tackle. Making the move from good backup to strong starter, now he’ll get a shot to take over for Gabe Carimi at left tackle to be the new star of the line for the next two seasons. Also getting a shot at time is junior Robert Burge, a huge backup with 6-7, 323-pound size and a huge wingspan. Used mostly on special teams so far, he’ll get more time at both tackle spots.
Is this the year that Josh Oglesby can finally stay healthy and finally live up to his immense potential? One of the nation’s top recruits several years ago, he was supposed to be a can’t-miss, superstar tackle who was one of the highest rated line prospects to ever sign with the Badgers. Staying in shape has been a problem, and overcoming the knee problems that started in high school have been a bigger issue, but the senior has 6-7, 331-pound size and tremendous tools to be an all-everything blocker at right tackle. However, that’s been said for the last several years, so if he can’t stay in the starting spot, 6-8, 343-pound redshirt freshman Rob Havenstein will be thrown into the spot after starring for the scout team. A great recruit out of Maryland, he has the size and the wingspan that’ll be tough to get around as a pass protector.
Senior Kevin Zeitler earned honorable mention All-Big Ten mention on the field and Academic All-Big Ten honors off of it. He saw time in every game and grew into the starting job getting the call nine times and doing a great job in the key win over Ohio State. Going into his third year as a starter, he’s a versatile blocker who can play anywhere on the inside and can even step in a tackle job if needed at 6-4 and 317 pounds and good skills. Now he’ll be a key mauler for the running game, while 6-5, 315-pound sophomore Zac Matthias has the size and the smarts to step into the role if Zeitler moves to a different job. An Academic All-Big Ten performer, he got in a little work in the rotation in garbage time.
6-4, 338-pound sophomore Travis Frederick saw time in five games as a true freshman, but with so many good players back, he redshirted last year and now is ready to become a key starter. He got the call against Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl and ended up starting four times, with two starts at center, earning the distinction of being the first true freshman in Wisconsin history to start the first game of his career on the line but suffered an ankle injury. Now he’ll be a key starter in place of John Moffitt at left guard. 6-3, 313-pound senior Jake Current saw time in 11 games working as both a guard and center, but he has mostly been a special teamer. While he’s not the most talented Badger lineman, he’s one of the few seniors in the backup mix and can step in and produce whenever and wherever needed.
Watch Out For … Wagner. Carimi was always expected to grow into a superstar with his combination of size and athleticism, and now Wagner will be asked to fill in some huge shoes. He’s bigger and stronger than Carimi, and now the line is his to take over from the left side. The potential is there to be a superstar.
Strength: Size. As always, the Badgers have a bunch of brutish bullies who can blot out the sun. Yes, a good defensive front is fine for a half, or even three quarters, but no one holds up well by the fourth quarter after getting beaten up by five 6-5, 320-pound behemoths. Konz is the lightweight on the lot, and he checks in at 6-5 and 313 pounds.
Weakness: The loss of the stars. Yeah, it’s Wisconsin, there’s always more where that came from, but it’s never a plus to lose an Outland Trophy winner like Carimi and an All-American like Moffitt. Health has been an issue for the Badger line over the last few years, and consistency is more of a must this year than in past seasons.
Outlook: This isn’t going to be the killer line it was last year, but it’s not going to be all that far off. Frederick and Wagner will be great on the left side with a little bit of time, and Konz is one of the best centers in America and is a huge piece of the puzzle to get back. Anything the line can get out of Oglesby would be nice, and if it all finally comes together, look out. Don’t hold your breath, but there are more than enough massive blockers to see time in the rotation.
Unit Rating: 8.5
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