While the 2015 season saw a reversal of Wisconsin’s normal offensive strategy, the hope for 2016 remains a return to normalcy. Getting the running game going and hitting opposing teams hard in the play-action passing game.
Doing that will rest on the arm of a new starting quarterback for the first time in nearly four years and on four really young, but talented offensive linemen.
Just what will the 2016 Badgers offense look like? It’s time to go in-depth on the UW offense.
For the first time in four years there is a guarantee that Joel Stave will not be the starting quarterback for the Wisconsin Badgers. After a long spell at the helm of the offense and an assault on the career record books as a result, UW is left with a two-man battle to replace Stave.
Most assumed this would be the moment that former Elite 11 quarterback Bart Houston finally reclaims the potential that was there in his recruitment. That may still happen, but Houston didn’t exactly rock it during spring camp and that makes things real interesting going in to fall camp.
Also making things interesting was the play of redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. It appears to be a two-person battle for the starting job thanks to Hornibrook’s increase in production and consistency during the second half of spring ball. If that continues it may be hard not to start the freshman.
The only other scholarship player at the position is true freshman Kare’ Lyles, who possesses a big arm and a winning pedigree from his high school. However, he spent the first half of this year recovering from hip surgery and may not be much of a factor thanks to the lost time on the field.
Nothing went right for the Badgers running game last season, but the struggles of 2015 could yield big results in 2016. Most of that hope rests on the healthy return of star running back Corey Clement, who spent most of last season injured and it resulted in an untested backfield failing to live up to the lofty expectations of the UW run game.
However, Clement being gone for most of the season meant plenty of playing time for the likes of converted cornerback Dare Ogunbowale and redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal. Ogunbowale led all players with 819 yards rushing in his first action as a true running back, while Deal went for just over 500 yards in his first season.
That experience, along with the return of Clement and the addition of former Hoover (Alabama) running back Bradrick Shaw, who the coaching staff raved about in the final weeks of spring ball, mean UW could be back to the days of a loaded running back position once again.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Just as the Badgers face life without a 4-year leader at quarterback, it also faces life without its most reliable wide receiver over the past two years. With Alex Erickson off the NFL, it is up to Robert Wheelwright to take up the mantle as the No. 1 wide receiver.
The question for his his health, as he’s had plenty of injuries throughout his career. Last season Wheelwright led all players with four receiving touchdowns, while ranking second on the team in receptions (32) and yards (416). If healthy he has the capacity to be an All-Big Ten type wide receiver.
Next to him will be junior Jazz Peavy, but after that is where things get interesting. UW needs to see the likes of George Rushing, Reggie Love and Krenwick Sanders finally start to perform up to their potential.
As a group, those three combined for just five receptions, 65 yards and no touchdowns — let’s just say that can’t happen in 2016 and expect this offense to be a success.
Helping this group of unproven receivers will be junior tight end Troy Fumagalli, who was third on the team in yards per game (28.5) last season. He’ll likely get some pass catching help from a pair of intriguing redshirt freshman in 4-star Kyle Penninston and ex-high school quarterback David Edwards.
UW is also in good hands at the blocking area of the tight end position with Eric Steffes, who also emerged as a nice option in the passing game during spring camp.
Overall, this is a group with plenty of intrigue and a lot of potential, but will need to show it consistently to make the passing game viable in 2016.
Transition feels like the name of the game for the Badgers 2016 offense, and it is no different for this offensive line thanks to the graduation of long-time left tackle Tyler Marz and plenty of youth. Up to four freshmen saw starts along the line at some point last season and that can only mean good things in terms of growth at the position after a tough 2015 on the ground.
The loss of Marz brings up perhaps the most interesting offseason development on the offensive side of the ball. That’s because a former D3 player, Ryan Ramczyk, is taking over as the starter their. He’ll be joined by former starting center Dan Voltz to form a pretty shocking, but very stout left side of the line.
Voltz volunteered to move to guard after watching sophomore Michael Deiter kill it at center all spring camp long, which means from the middle out to the right will be all second-year players on the UW o-line.
Look for Beau Benzschawel to be the starter at right guard after seeing time at both guard and tackle last season. However, he is going to get a big push from freshman Jon Dietzen, and it is a battle to keep an eye on in August. Next to the winner of that battle will be sophomore Jacob Maxwell.
Wisconsin’s real strength comes from finally having some quality depth, with names like George Panos, Micah Kapoi and David Moorman all likely to see snaps at some point this season.
Our Projected Starters
WR: Robert Wheelwright, Sr.
WR: Jazz Peavy, Sr.
TE: Troy Fumagalli, Jr.
LT: Ryan Ramczyk, Jr.
LG: Dan Voltz, Sr.
C: Micheal Dieter, So.
RG: Beau Benzschawel, So.
RT: Jacob Maxwell, So.
RB: Corey Clement, Sr.
FB: Austin Ramesh, Jr.
QB: Bart Houston, Sr.