Rejoice, football fans. College football began its season last Thursday, while the NFL opened its doors last night in Denver as the hometown Broncos played host to the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Two former Wisconsin Badgers, running back Montee Ball and tackle Ricky Wagner, made their NFL debuts in front of a national television audience (well, except for those in Milwaukee who have Time Warner Cable, which is currently feuding with Milwaukee's NBC affiliate).
Many Wisconsin fans expected and hoped Ball would see the field quite often with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, but the Ravens' fourth-round draft pick unexpectedly got the nod in the first half:
Rookie Rick Wagner is in at right tackle for the Ravens. Michael Oher has gone down with an injury and is out of the game.— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 6, 2013
Michael Oher still not back in the game. Rookie Rick Wagner is at RT for the Ravens.— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 6, 2013
Reports came in Oher suffered an ankle injury, which put the West Allis, Wis. native on notice against the Broncos' potent pass rush. He held his own in the first series he was inserted, but had troubles against Broncos linebacker Shaun Phillips, giving up sacks during a one-on-one on third down on the Ravens' first drive of the second half, on the last play of the third quarter in another third-down situation and on another one-on-one late in the fourth quarter. Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio also overloaded the right side of the Ravens line in the third quarter, allowing safety David Bruton to disrupt a Joe Flacco throw.
Looking on the bright side of things, and upon review of some limited replays, it did appear Wagner held his own against defensive ends Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe. It was definitely a baptism-by-fire scenario for the rookie, but an experience he'll learn from. It should be interesting to see Oher's status come Week 2 and if Wagner will get his first NFL start against the Cleveland Browns.
Ball, on the other hand, was used quite sparingly in about a handful of series. He finished the game with eight carries for 24 yards.
Do not read into too much in this first game of the season. Manning had a monster game throwing for 462 yards and seven touchdowns. Ball's still learning schemes and protections weekly, as seen by the miscommunication between him and Manning on a handoff late in the fourth quarter, and the NCAA's all-time leading touchdown scorer will have the ability to show his talents in the Broncos game plans in 2013.
More from Bucky's 5th Quarter:
- Notebook: Freshman fullback Austin Ramesh expected to play Saturday; special teams looking to improve
- Wisconsin's red helmets are happening and they are nice
- KKSE Episode 9: Wisconsin Week 1 recap
- Wisconsin's 3-4 defense showing what it can do, but not everything
- The 2013-14 Wisconsin Badgers will be good, but are they national championship-caliber?
- Tennessee Tech vs. Wisconsin preview: Badgers face FCS squad