MADISON — It appears the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers could be set to regain another piece to their defense for Saturday’s game against New Mexico.
Redshirt sophomore defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk spoke with reporters on Wednesday, saying he was “100 percent planning on getting some reps this weekend” after recovering from offseason surgery.
When asked how he feels physically, he used that same percentage, though he admitted he will have to work back a hint.
“I feel 100 percent right now, but it’s still going to take some time just to kind of get back into the swing of things since I did miss all of camp,” Loudermilk said. “It’ll kind of be like my camp when I get in there, get reps, kind of seeing stuff again, but physically I feel ready to go.”
Earlier in the week, head coach Paul Chryst mentioned that both Loudermilk and tight end Zander Neuville were cleared and “able to go,” but wanted to respond to the volume of work both absorbed during the week.
Senior nose tackle Olive Sagapolu said he saw Loudermilk take around the same amount of reps on Tuesday and Wednesday, but he also noted defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield was “working him in slowly but surely.”
When asked on Wednesday, Loudermilk said the work has been around the same amount he has been used to, though the coaching staff has provided some guidance.
“I’m probably taking about what I normally would,” Loudermilk said, “but there are some times where coach ‘Nokes’ will kind of reel me back in a little bit just so I’m not getting as many, just to feel it out the next day to see how everything’s feeling. But mostly it’s been normal reps and everything.”
Loudermilk said he felt good Wednesday morning after Tuesday’s session, admitting he felt a little more banged-up in general, but the knee he had offseason surgery on did not feel off.
“Knee felt great waking up this morning,” Loudermilk said. “I got back at it at practice again today. Still felt great, so everything’s feeling good. I’m feeling ready.”
Loudermilk said that last week was the first time he was able to work in team situations and have contact against other players, with the week prior allowing him to participate in individual work.
Redshirt freshmen Matt Henningsen and Kayden Lyles both made starts in their first college football game last Friday in the 34–3 win over Western Kentucky, but the return of Loudermilk prior to the Big Ten season opener would provide more depth at end with junior Garrett Rand out and the departures of outgoing seniors Conor Sheehy, Alec James, and Chikwe Obaish (156 career combined games).
It would also allow Wisconsin to add its most experienced player at the defensive end position with Rand out for the season due to a right leg injury. Last season, Loudermilk played in 11 games, recording 1.5 sacks.
“It’s definitely going to be big in terms of having another guy who has experience,” Sagapolu said. “I mean, Isaiahh’s done everything that he can in order to get himself this much closer to playing, so now that he’s here, hopefully he’s ready to get some cardio in.
“I mean, it’s always tough, everybody knows it’s always tough to kind of get back into playing shape, but he’s doing the best in can in practice today, yesterday, so now we just got to move on and hopefully we’ll see him in the game.”
Loudermilk mentioned he dropped down from the 300-to-305-pound range to around 290 at the moment, thanks to changing his eating and biking.
“Really, I can notice it kind of in all aspects,” Loudermilk said. “I feel like I’m quicker, a lot quicker off the ball, especially in pass-rush. I feel like I can plant, my plants are quicker and everything like that, so I feel like that 10–15 pounds is going to be able to help me a lot.”
Baun assesses first performance of 2018
Redshirt junior outside linebacker Zack Baun felt a lot of nerves heading into last Friday night’s season opener against Western Kentucky, but he knew he had to be confident.
“I knew I was getting excited, but not too excited,” Baun told B5Q on Wednesday, “and it was difficult controlling the emotions, but I think I did pretty well.”
The Brown Deer, Wis., native missed last season with a left foot injury and finally saw time on the field Friday for the first time since the 2016 campaign. Baun performed relatively well in his first game action in over a season, recording five tackles (all solo).
“I think I did pretty well,” Baun said. “Of course, there’s a lot of mistakes and two missed tackles I think I had, but lots of room for improvement. I just know I have to be consistent, week in and week out.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard mentioned “it was great to see” Baun back on the field.
“A little bit rusty, but he played extremely fast and physical, and he ended up making a lot of plays for it,” Leonhard said on Wednesday. “He disrupted a lot of plays this past weekend and [I’m] just going to continue to push him to develop the pass rush we know he has. Just get in those game situations. Obviously, things change a little bit, just trying to grow that confidence.
“We’re expecting a lot out of him this season. Maybe that’s not fair to a guy that doesn’t have a ton of experience, but we’re excited about what he’s done in this program when he’s been healthy. Through week one, I think we’re pleased with what he’s done and we’re just going to continue to push him to take the next step.”
Heading into this week’s action against New Mexico, Baun mentioned he’s focused on improving his conditioning by running some sprints.
“I’m working with an assistant coach on doing extra running after practice, because I was really feeling it.”
That could come in handy against New Mexico, a team that ran 91 plays and gained 680 yards against FCS opponent Incarnate Word last Saturday.
“They’re a big running offense,” Baun said. “They’re a big gadget team. They try to throw your eyes different places and we just need to be fundamentally sound and stick to our responsibilities.”