The Wisconsin Badgers are set to have their annual spring football game this Saturday. Game time is set for noon (CT) and it will be televised by Big Ten Network.
Here are some of the most intriguing things to watch for when the pads come on again for a few hours on April 23rd.
The walk-on wonder who polarized the Wisconsin QB position the last few seasons for the Badgers, Joel Stave, has exhausted his college eligibility.
The QB race seems to be between Senior Bart Houston and red-shirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. With incoming freshman Kare Lyles sidelined this spring, Houston and Hornibrook will each get plenty of opportunities this Saturday to showcase what they bring to the table for Paul Chryst and the rest of the coaching staff.
With just the two of them being healthy scholarship quarterbacks, look for this battle to be front and center. Some reports indicate that things are starting to really click for Hornibrook late in the spring practice season, will that continue with everyone watching?
First look at New Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox
Under Dave Aranda, Wisconsin experienced consecutive seasons possessing a top ten scoring defense in the nation, and Aranda’s defense was instrumental in shutting down USC’s potent offense during the Holiday Bowl win in December. Since then, Aranda bolted for LSU and Wisconsin has hired ex-USC defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox.
Saturday will be Badgers fans’ first look at the new DC. The Badgers will need to overcome losing starters on all three levels of its defense, including both starting safeties and All-American linebacker Joe Schobert.
But the defense returns productive players from last season such as Chikwe Obasih, Sojourn Shelton, TJ Edwards, Vince Biegel, Chris Orr and Jack Cichy, among others. There is still a lot of to like about the talent level of the Wisconsin defense moving forward.
Offensive Line Play
People who follow Wisconsin football know that for years, the Badgers’ bread-and-butter was toting a massive offensive line to pave the way for some talented tailbacks.
Last year was an anomaly. Wisconsin’s running game didn’t get going until the last month of the season. Because of this, Stave threw the football a record amount of times for the Badgers.
Now, this was partially due to an experienced offensive line that at one time, featured three freshman starters. It was also partially due to star running back Corey Clement getting injured before the first game and never fully making it back to health. Clement’s junior season was not what he expected at all.
Moving forward, the Badgers have a talented and crowded backfield with Clement, Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal all returning to give the running game a major boost.
The offensive line is expected to make strides, and with a new QB set to start the season, don’t be fooled by last year’s anomaly. The Badgers will once again boast one of the top rushing attacks in the country in 2016-17.
Wide Receiver Depth
After losing Alex Erikson and Tanner McEvoy, the Badgers will rely on some familiar faces, such as Rob Wheelwright, Jazz Peavy, Reggie Love and even tight end Troy Fumagalli.
But who is behind them? Will red-shirt freshman Kyle Penniston be the backup to Fumagalli at tight end?
Is there a fourth receiver who the Badgers can rely on moving forward? Will George Rushing step up and become a reliable target for the Badgers? Given the injury histories of many of the wide receivers fighting for the top spots, depth is going to be needed to be shown to the public and to the coaching staff in a situation that is closer to a game rather than a practice.
Wisconsin returns just one starter in their secondary in Sojourn Shelton, so Saturday’s game will be a great opportunity for guys to potentially separate themselves from the pack.
Titus Booker, Natrell Jamerson, D’cota Dixon and Leo Musso have been working with the No. 1 unit this spring. Getting depth behind that group is also going to be key, and look for a very interesting battle at safety to also include sophomore Arrington Farrar.
The spring game should be show us which players are ready to contribute and which ones need more time to develop.