Quite a few Wisconsin Badgers performed well in front of 9,630 fans during Saturday's spring game -- a contest that ultimately led to the first-team, "Team Gasser" squad cruising to a 35-7 victory over "Team Dukan."
As we stated in our previews of the glorified scrimmage, it is just that -- another version of practice (and with some players switching "teams" between Team Gasser and Team Dukan, a confusing one at that). One good day does not paint the entire picture for the spring practice season, but you cannot deny the day the following players had.
When healthy, Wheelwright can be a factor. Saturday, the former four-star receiver made an impact from the start of the game, hauling in a 17-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Joel Stave on the opening series. Wheelwright consistently got open against defenders and caught what was thrown to him. He finished the day with seven receptions for 79 yards and two touchdowns, the second coming on a 20-yard reception from junior quarterback Bart Houston in the second quarter.
"He had a really nice day today and made a few nice plays," Stave said. "I think that's the kind of player he is. He's got all of the ability to be that big player, it's just a matter of putting it all together and I think the summer is going to be good for him. He realizes that he is a good player and he knows the contribution he can make"
Many forget former wide receivers coach Chris Beatty noted Wheelwright ran the second best routes on the team next to Jared Abbrederis as a freshman in 2013. Can he stay healthy and build off of this heading into summer and fall camps, especially with the need for a second receiving threat to senior Alex Erickson? Head coach Paul Chryst hopes so, as noted in his post-game press conference:
Yeah, we need hopefully Rob can take this and gain some confidence from it. A perfect example, I think, of a guy that wants to but needs to have a great summer. I thought Reggie Love was making progress towards the end of spring practice, and wasn't able to go yesterday and today, but there's a group there. I thought Alex Erickson has been consistent and appreciate and feel like I know what he can bring. But as a group, there's still some question marks, and yet I think there's some guys that have shown the ability to be significant contributors, and that's, I think, a great illustrate, groupwise, if they can take advantage of the summer and then lead into fall camp with it because if we're going to be any good, we've got to get some production at that position.
T.J. Edwards and Leon Jacobs
Inside linebacker, along with offensive line, were arguably two of the biggest concerns heading into spring camp. Jacobs was the only returning player on the depth chart to have significant on-field experience last season. Edwards redshirted in his first year as a Badger. They have to replace the production seen from former inside linebackers Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter, who combined for 177 tackles, 28 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks last season.
Based on media reports, along with Saturday's performance, there's an optimism about this position heading into summer conditioning. Edwards has come on in the past few weeks, and combined he and Jacobs made 17 tackles (3.5 for loss) and 2.5 sacks in the spring game. Both showed lateral quickness and having a nose to get to the ball carrier to make a play on Saturday.
Yes, they were against the second-team offense today, but based off of the spring as a whole, there's evidence to show this position group could grow into a strength -- if it hasn't already.
More from the Spring Game
More from the Spring Game
The sophomore defensive end led the defense with 2.5 sacks against the second-team "Fightin' Dukans." On back-to-back plays, he was involved in sacks against true freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook. He even forced two fumbles on the afternoon, recovering one, and finished with four total tackles.
With a defensive line losing seniors Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring, the Brookfield, Wis., native will need to step up huge -- along with fellow defensive linemen Arthur Goldberg, Alec James and Conor Sheehy. Obasih noted how he
Small sample size, yes, but Stave was perfect in his first (and only) series, completing 2-of-2 passes for 55 yards and the touchdown to Wheelwright.
Both throws were needed where they were supposed to be -- a 38-yard out-and-up to Erickson that was laid out in front nicely, then a strike to Wheelwright that was thrown to the back shoulder, something sophomore cornerback Natrell Jamerson couldn't defend.
It was a solid series, but it was interesting how Chryst noted after the game, when asked about where he expects the quarterbacks to be after summer conditioning, that he wants Stave to trust the offense:
"He's played a lot of football," Chryst said.
"I think that he still needs to continue to learn this offense. There's the trust factor of trusting himself within the offense, and I think the lack of continuity at the receiver position, we've got to develop that. I think summer that is one area that he can spend a lot of time with them and build that."
Bart Houston and D.J. Gillins
Chryst had some positive notes for both competing quarterbacks for the No. 2 spot.
Houston took over for Stave with the first-team offense, finishing 9-of-16 for 103 yards and the 20-yard touchdown to Wheelwright in the second quarter. His demonstrated pose in the pocket, especially on that touchdown throw when getting hit in the process.
"I think his strength is he goes out and just competes," Chryst said. "There's areas that he needs to clean up, but I was impressed with that."
Gillins had difficulty leading Team Dukan with the second-team offense against the first-team defense, but he did shine on a couple of plays against them and was more consistent with the first-team offense. Though he finished only 5-of-10 for 50 yards passing and 13 yards on 11 carries, he showed zip on his passes -- one in particular on a route to the right sideline -- and scrambled well, including a 35-yard scramble against the first-team defense in the first quarter.
"D.J., today was a little bit of a glimpse, and many of you were there last Sunday," Chryst said, "when it's live that's a pretty good thing for him, and yet I think as he learns and understands the balance of when you're scrambling, pulling the ball down versus maybe hitting a check down on that. Young player, and yet I really liked his approach to it all, and like young players had some ups and downs."
Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal
B5Q noted in our preview Friday to watch to see which back would make waves during the game. When both were given chances with the first team offense, both played very well.
The redshirt freshman Deal played primarily on the first-team in the first half, and showed his power when running the ball. He finished with 76 yards on 15 carries for the afternoon.
Ogunbowale, the walk-on who converted from cornerback last season, made the most of his opportunities in the second half with the first team -- including owning the longest play from scrimmage with a 55-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Adding another touchdown in that quarter, he finished with a team-high 89 yards on 11 carries.
When asked if the competition's helped the two backs, Ogunbowale responded both have worked to push each other both on and off the field this spring.
"Taiwan is like a little brother to me and he’s a great running back. He’s going to be a great running back. I’m just excited to see him doing well and we’re just making sure that we both compete going against each other."
Another walk-on who made waves Saturday, he led the team with 12 tackles while also credited two pass break-ups. The Madison, Wis., native had a solid day for the second team, and would have had an interception to this credit but was ruled out of bounds.
Bondoc said how the defense played more of a base scheme, which allowed him to go out and make some plays, and also noted how he's received help with upperclassmen in seniors Darius Hillary, Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy. Did he expect to put up those numbers?
"Yeah, I've been working hard and learning to try and get better," Bondoc said. "I give a lot of credit to the guys who helped me out."
What type of splash he makes on the roster or place in the two-deep outside of Saturday's game, we won't know, but it's good to have a moment in the sun.