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2012 Wisconsin Preview - Offense
Wisconsin OT Ricky Wagner
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Wisconsin Badger Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Run, run some more, and run even more. Wisconsin, as always, will have one of the best ground games in America led by Heisman finalist Montee Ball, who along with Melvin Gordon and James White should combine for over 3,000 rushing yards working behind yet another massive line. But the big question mark will be a passing game that was among the most efficient in college football with Russell Wilson at the helm. Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien isn't Wilson, but he's a talented passer who could be in a perfect situation to maximize his skills. He'll get 19 days to throw – if he can hold off Joel Stave and Joe Brennan for the starting job – but will the targets be there to balance out the attack? Jared Abbrederis has to grow into a No. 1 wide receiver and tight end Jacob Pedersen has to do even more.
Star of the offense: Senior RB Montee Ball
Passing: Joe Brennan
6-15, 48 yds, 0 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Montee Ball
307 carries, 1,923 yds, 33 TD
Receiving: Jared Abbrederis
55 catches, 933 yds, 8 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior WR Jeff Duckworth
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OT Rob Havenstein
Best pro prospect: Senior OT Ricky Wagner
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ball, 2) Wagner, 3) C Travis Frederick
Strength of the offense: Running Game, O Line Size
Weakness of the offense: Wide Receiver, O Line Depth
Is it possible for lightning to strike twice? Russell Wilson stepped in as a one-year rental and led the Badgers to a Big Ten title. Now the spotlight is on Danny O'Brien, a 6-3, 215-pound junior from Maryland who looked like the next big thing as a freshman throwing for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. However, last year he lost his magic throwing ten picks with just seven touchdown passes while completing only 58% of his throws. He bombed away for 348 yards in the win over Miami to open the season, and he threw for 289 yards in the loss to West Virginia, but he threw four interceptions in the two games and eventually got benched. His problems were a function of the team's issues as much as his own, but he wasn't the steady leader the team needed him to be. Now he'll get the same break that Wilson had – he doesn't have to do everything by himself. His job will be to hand the ball off, keep the mistakes to a minimum and hit the third down throws. While he can do all three things, he's not going to be Wilson.
Redshirt freshman Joel Stave has been just good enough to potentially make it a battle for the starting job. The 6-5, 223-pound walk-on was hardly a hot recruit, but he's extremely smart, is a great athlete, and adds a rushing element to the equation. While he might not have any experience, he has a good enough head on his shoulders to be able to handle the pressure if he's thrown to the wolves.
6-3, 213-pound sophomore Joe Brennan was the No. 2 man by attrition last season with all the other options going down. He got in a little bit of mop-up work completing 6-of-15 passes for 48 yards with a pick, but he ran for nine yards and a score. A decent recruit two years ago out of New Jersey, he was given every shot this offseason but wasn't exactly sharp. Even so, he'll be deep in the fight for the No. 2 job.
Senior Curt Phillips has suffered from brutally unfair luck. At 6-3 and 225 pounds he has great size, tremendous mobility and a world of talent. He also has really, really bad knee issues. 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 after coming to Madison he was knocked out with a torn ACL in two straight seasons.
Watch Out For … more of a battle than you might think for the starting job. The coaching staff paid lip service to the idea that Russell Wilson needed to fight to earn the No. 1 spot last year, but no one believed it. This year, the coaches are saying that Stave is deep in the hunt for the starting spot and that O'Brien has to work for it, and this time it's for real.
Strength: Bodies. With the emergence of Stave – even if he struggled at times in spring ball – and with the addition of O'Brien to go along with Brennan, the Badgers have plenty of options to test out to see who works. If Phillips can finally stay healthy, then this will be a very, very deep group.
Weakness: Russell Wilson. He hit 73% of his passes. He threw for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns with just four picks. He finished third on the team with 338 rushing yards with six scores. He was magical in the Big Ten championship and came close to pulling off a Rose Bowl win. You don't just replace a veteran quarterback who came up with one of the most efficient seasons in college football history.
Outlook: O'Brien can't press. Yeah, Stave will get his shot, but this will end up being O'Brien's gig, and he can't try to be Wilson and can't try to make things happen that aren't there. It would be nice if Jon Budmayr could get healthy again to be ready for next year, and it would be interesting to see what Phillips could do, but O'Brien wouldn't have signed on if he didn't know he'd likely be the main man. The talent is undeniable, and he might be better than everyone thinks.
Unit Rating: 7
There were rumblings as a freshman that senior Montee Ball might be special. The coaching staff loved to talk about his potential and made him a big part of the offense by the end of his freshman season. However, he fell a bit out of the mix in the first half of 2010 before coming on late to rip off five straight 100-yard games and 14 touchdowns on the way. After committing himself to a conditioning program he got in much better shape, and the results showed.
Robert Griffin III might have been brilliant and dynamic on the way to winning the Heisman, but Ball was arguably the more valuable player tearing off 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns on the ground with 24 catches for 306 yards and six scores as a receiver. Even as a marked man he still produced in the biggest games, and now, after multiple touchdowns in every game last season but the 2011 Rose Bowl, he's now on a tear of epic proportions. Over his last 19 games he has rushed for 2,700 yards and has scored 53 times averaging 2.8 touchdowns per game. Most impressively, he has handled the ball 620 times in his career and has yet to lose a fumble.
At 5-11 and 212 pounds he has a low center of gravity with tremendous quickness – despite adding a little bit of good weight - and a pinball style that almost never allows defenders to get a clean shot. The coaching staff won't overuse him with other options to help carry the load, but he should be a lock for well over 250 carries and 1,500 yards.
Will James White get more work in the rotation again? After a tremendous true freshman season rushing for 1,052 yards and 14 scores, he gave way a bit to Ball. His workload wasn't diminished by too much – getting 141 carries after running 156 times in 2010 – and he averaged 5.1 yards per carry, but he dropped off production-wise with 713 yards and six scores to go along with 15 catches for 150 yards. At 5-10 and 197 pounds he isn't huge, but he's slippery quick and very tough when he has to get through the line. He could step in and be a yardage machine whenever needed.
The coaching staff has been raving about redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon, who was able to keep his eligibility despite playing in three games and running for 98 yards and a score. The 6-1, 205-pounder former Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year was a great recruit with size, speed and the toughness and potential to be the next great Badger back. Able to be used in a variety of ways – with the wheels to get outside and the strength to pound away – he should be a big part of the rotation.
With Bradie Ewing gone, 6-3, 236-pound sophomore Sherard Cadogan will get the first look at the starting fullback job. While he's built more like a tight end, and he came to Wisconsin as a defensive end, he's a tough blaster of a blocker. Very smart and athletic, he could get the ball a bit as an outlet target, while 6-0, 230-pound redshirt freshman Derek Straus is a good rushing option at the position who could find a role as a short yardage back.
Watch Out For … Gordon. Even with Ball and White firmly established as two of the best backs in the Big Ten, Gordon is about to get plenty of work. If he's not the team's No. 2 back, he'll be a fantastic No. 3.
Strength: Running the ball. The Badgers could have three 1,000-yard rushers. Without Russell Wilson there will be even more of an emphasis on a ground game that's going to be among the most dominant in college football. Ball is a talent, but it still takes a big effort from the entire offense to crank out 3,298 yards and 48 scores.
Weakness: A huge runner. It's nitpicking. Gordon is hardly a scatback, but there isn't John Clay to rumble through a lineman for a hard yard in a one-on-one situation. Ball, White and Gordon aren't going to have any problems going forward, though.
Outlook: There are other excellent running back situations among the top 25 teams, but the threesome of Ball, White and Gordon should be something truly special. Consider it a major disappointment if they don't combine for over 3,000 yards and 40 scores.
Unit Rating: 10
Can Jared Abbrederis become a No. 1 target? The former walk-on was an all-star high school quarterback and track star setting the Wisconsin state record in the 110-meter high hurdles while winning the state title in the 300-meter hurdles. It all came together last season catching 55 passes for 933 yards and eight touchdowns while also serving as a special punt returner averaging 15.8 yards per try with a score. At 6-2 and 180 pounds he has decent size, great route-running ability and terrific athleticism, but he was great as a running mate to Nick Toon. Now he has to be the main man and has to be 100% after missing time this offseason with a foot injury.
6-0, 212-pound junior Jeff Duckworth has seen a little time over the last few years catching 15 passes for 230 yards and a score last season highlighted by a big 53-yard day in the Big Ten championship. Smart and with excellent speed, he has the potential to grow as a deep-play threat and should be able to stretch the field. Being consistent with a bigger route tree will be a must.
At 6-5 and 212 pounds, sophomore Chase Hammond is a big target with terrific upside. He'll work in a rotation with Duckworth, and while he'll be able to get deep from time to time, he'll be at his best when he gets to use his size across the middle as a matchup problem. Hammond provides the size, while 6-1, 194-pound sophomore Isaiah Williams will provide the wheels. A great recruit out of Miami, he's a tough blocker with terrific quickness and the potential to be a dangerous midrange threat. A special teamer so far, the potential is there to be a huge part of the equation.
While the offense might be looking for more wide receivers to step up and shine, it has a great pass catcher in junior Jacob Pedersen, the team's next great tight end who finished third on the team with 30 catches for 356 yards and eight touchdowns. At 6-4 and 242 pounds he has the right size, the athleticism and quickness to find the openings across the middle, and great hands with the ability to make the tough catch. The second-team All-Big Ten performer was steady, but he only caught three passes for 37 yards over the last four games. He'll be backed up by 6-4, 260-pound junior Brian Wozniak, a big blocker who spent most of his time on special teams. He has the ability and potential to be used as a large receiver and should be a decent option in two tight end sets.
Watch Out For … Duckworth. The Badgers desperately need a No. 2 target to rely on and they have to hope for Duckworth to be able to make a few big plays here and there. He's a dangerous deep threat who has to take advantage of teams paying attention to Abbrederis.
Strength: Blockers. It might not seem like that big a deal for a passing game that was so efficient and so effective last year, but if you can't hit, you can't play wide receiver at Wisconsin. No corps in America will be better at downfield blocking.
Weakness: Wide receivers. Abbrederis is a terrific playmaker and Pedersen has Mackey potential. But Nick Toon and his team-leading 64 catches for 926 yards and ten scores will be missed, and there isn't a sure-thing prospect ready to help pick up the slack.
Outlook: For what the UW offense wants to do, the receivers should be fine. It's their goal to make the third down catch and block down the field – they can do that. Abbrederis and Pedersen are enough to keep the passing game moving, but a few of the wide receivers have to step up and shine when they get their chances.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The Badger offensive line will once again be the Badger offensive line, and while it'll have its share of all-stars, senior Ricky Wagner will be the one everything works around. After dominating as a right tackle in 2010, he took over for Gabe Carimi last season and started every game at left tackle. The former high school tight end is tremendously athletic a 6-6 and 332 pounds and did a wonderful job of keeping Russell Wilson clean. An honorable mention All-Big Ten performer over the last two seasons, now he's about to get the spotlight as one of the nation's premier all-around blockers and possibly the first offensive lineman taken in the 2013 NFL Draft.
It's not like Travis Frederick was a big-time recruit or a special talent coming out of high school, but the 6-4, 328-pound junior saw time right away earning the distinction of being the first true freshman in Wisconsin history to start the first game of his career on the line, suffered an ankle injury, redshirted in 2010, and then came back last season to dominate starting 11 times at left guard before stepping in for an injured Peter Konz at center against Penn State and Michigan State in two of the biggest games of the season. With Konz taking off early for the NFL, now the center job is all Frederick's.
Junior Ryan Groy is a big, versatile blocker who looked like a possible center when he started his career but now will work at left guard. The 6-5, 322-pounder came to Wisconsin a fullback and has gotten bigger – a lot bigger. He has bulked up in a huge way, but he's a good enough athlete to get on the move and be a key pounder for the ground game.
6-6, 334-pound junior Casey Dehn was push for the right
guard job after getting a start two years ago and
seeing a little time over the first half last year,
but he had academic issues, came back, and then
chose to leave the team.. A decent recruit, he had
the requisite bulk and the brute strength to be a
good one, but now there's a fight for the right
guard job led by Dan Voltz, a true freshman who qualifies as a lightweight at 6-4 and 288 pounds. A big-time recruit this year, he has the size to be a tackle but the athleticism to be a great guard on the move. If he doesn't hold down a starting job he'll be used in a variety of ways including center.
Sophomore Rob Havenstein was a key backup last season and a spot starter at right tackle, and now the job should be his. At 6-8 and 343 pounds he's a massive blocker who's impossible to get around. With a long frame, even for Wisconsin linemen, his wingspan will make it impossible for speed rushers to get into the backfield, and he can also get physical when needed.
6-7, 320-pound senior Robert Burge will be a key swing reserve. Mostly a special teamer so far, he'll also see time at tackle and could provide a push for the right guard job. At 6-7 and 320 pounds he's a big body with a great frame and nice versatility.
Watch Out For … Voltz. Will he be ready to roll right out of the box? Usually, Wisconsin blockers get a little while to bulk up, and Voltz will be a 300-pound road grader soon enough, but the true freshman could be too talented to keep out of the starting five.
Strength: Size and talent. As always, Wisconsin will field five gigantic human beings who can all destroy the men in front of them. Good defensive lines can hold up for a little while against UW, but they wear down after getting beaten on for four quarters.
Weakness: Lost stars. There's no real reason to worry considering this was supposed to be a big problem last year after losing Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt, and everything turned out to be more than fine. This year the line has to replace Peter Konz in the middle along with guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Josh Oglesby.
Outlook: Every team knows what's coming and there's nothing to do to stop it. Wagner and Frederick are two of the best blockers in America, and it's Wisconsin – the fill-ins will be fantastic. Depth might be a bit of a concern if a rash of injuries hit, but there are plenty of large bodies ready to step in and pound away if needed.
Unit Rating: 8.5
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