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Wisconsin scrimmage recap: 1st units, pair of freshmen impress

Did Curt Phillips or Joel Stave provide any separation in the QB race? Who stood out at wide receiver, linebacker and safety? Is true freshman Leon Jacobs Superman?


A little after 5 p.m., the dust settled and Wisconsin's second scrimmage of fall camp concluded. A nice crowd came out to see the team.

First things first:

  • Seniors linebacker Chris Borland and nose tackle Beau Allen did not participate. They were healthy scratches.
  • Senior safety Dezmen Southward, according to head coach Gary Andersen, only played about five plays in sub packages, allowing sophomore Mike Caputo and redshirt freshman Leo Musso more reps with the starting defense.

Key offense observations:

  • As Andersen stated right off the bat after the scrimmage, "The ones pretty much dominated on both sides, which was good to see." That's what pretty much happened throughout the entire practice, as they went up against the twos (second-string).
  • The heir apparent to the starting quarterback battle was not answered. Both sophomore Joel Stave and senior Curt Phillips looked good with the first-string offense. Coach Andersen said there was good and bad on all fronts, and he did state the ability to throw the football downfield has improved. The timing is crucial now for the number of reps for the two players competing as lead signal caller, he said. The offense overall looked a lot better than what was reported last week when the offense running sprints post-practice.
  • Stave lead the ones on a successful first drive with no incomplete passes, ending with a Melvin Gordon touchdown run. He also led the offense to two first downs in a goal line drill, where the offense was backed up to its own 3-yard line, connecting with redshirt freshman receiver Alex Erickson and junior tight end Sam Arneson to move the chains twice and complete the drill.
  • Andersen has repeatedly stated the quarterback needs to get the ball to the third level. With the first-team offense, Phillips did so today, connecting with senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis on a nice 43-yard strike. The play after, he connected with Erickson for a touchdown. Junior linebacker Sherard Cadogan did cause a Phillips fumble as he was about to pass during first-team drills.
  • Sophomore quarterback Tanner McEvoy started out rough with the first-string offense. He especially struggled on his first couple of series, most notably on a pair of negative running plays and then an impressive deflection into an interception by sophomore F-side linebacker Joe Schobert. McEvoy also had a non-contact fumble, but recovered to complete a pass.
  • McEvoy, did, however recover nicely. The next time he was with the ones, he hit sophomore fullback Derek Watt for a 25-yard touchdown pass on the first play, then also hit him out of the right flat for a 3-yard score.
  • Saying onlookers have not yet seen Wisconsin's full offense, Andersen hinted at fly sweeps and the screen game, as well as the possibiity of having McEvoy on the field with Stave or Phillips. "Tanner's a great athlete. He'll fit somewhere on the offense at some point as far as being involved, maybe as a package as a quarterback, or getting out there at wide receiver."  Andersen also thought McEvoy, who he described as an athlete, would be open to playing receiver.
  • Speaking of Watt, he's making a case to be a substantial part of the offense, both as a lead blocker and as a threat out of the backfield in the passing game.
  • On to Erickson, who was very impressive. The redshirt freshman has caught almost everything thrown his way and has apparently earned the opportunity to get some playing time on Saturdays. "Definitely, he'll be in that rotation, and I'm proud of the way he's gone through camp and fought," Andersen said.
  • The running backs looked good as well, as senior James White started the scrimmage with a nice 25-yard gain and sophomore Melvin Gordon had an impressive 83-yard run, breaking several tackles along the way... but only before it was all brought back by a holding penalty.
  • It appeared the starting offensive line, from left to right, was: Tyler Marz, Ryan Groy, Dallas Lewallen, Zac Matthias and Rob Havenstein. Remember, Dan Voltz is still out with a sore hamstring.

Key defense observations:

  • Before we talk about the starting defense flexing its muscles, let's address the impact made by freshman outside linebacker Leon Jacobs. Every time he was on the field, it felt like he was around the ball. It's one day, one glorified practice and he is a true freshman, but to say he was impressive might be an understatement.  He ran down Gordon on the called-back 83-yard scamper, deflected passes, chased down players and covered. "I think the waters are calming for him, and he's able to go play and react. He's a tremendous athlete, and it looks like right now, he won't redshirt," Andersen said, adding Jacobs almost assuredly won't redshirt.
  • Caputo has moved ahead of Musso in the starting safety race next to Southward, but Musso is not far behind. Caputo made some nice plays today, including pressures that included a deflection and a sack of Phillips. He's clearly made some noise the first two weeks of camp. "That young man, to go through what he went through, to get himself back and rehab that he did and how hard he fought to get back onto the football field in the fall, showed me his toughness and his true 'want-to", and he's a good athlete," Andersen said. "He's picked up a defense that's very complicated on the backend. He's doing a nice job, so he's a very smart, young man as well."
  • Sounds like both Musso and junior Michael Trotter will see plenty of time on the field in safety subpackages, as Andersen is hoping to have four quality safeties available and travel with six for gamedays.
  • Schobert showed off some athleticism today, tipping a McEvoy pass before intercepting it.

Special teams:

Sophomore kicker Jack Russell stepped up in the kicking competition, going 3-for-3 in field goals today. Junior Kyle French missed 2-of-3 from 42 and 45 yards.

"It's definitely a battle, it's a competition," Andersen said, adding that while he was a little disappointed in French, it's just one practice. He did make clear he's expecting a quick bounce-back from French.

Check out tonight's Kielbasa Kings Sports Extravaganza for more scrimmage recap!

Also, follow me on Twitter at @KKSE_Kuba, along with my awesome co-host Scott Wisniewski at @ScottWisniewsk2.

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