Hustle Belt: The Badgers had a rash of injuries last week against Alabama, including injuries to Michael Caputo and Corey Clement. What is their status heading into Saturday, and is there any other developments on the injury front?
Bucky's 5th Quarter: According to [head coach Paul] Chryst on Monday and Tuesday, Caputo's going through concussion protocol this week, though they're not sure if he'll be cleared to play. If he is, Chryst won't stop the redshirt senior and Badgers captain from playing. In Chryst's words from his weekly press conference on Monday, "If there's a football game, Mike Caputo wants to be in it."
Chryst also noted that Clement could have possibly played more if needed, but did say that there would have been a risk on Saturday. He doesn't expect the injury to linger, but how many carries the junior running back receives on Saturday is up in the air. Clement didn't practice Tuesday but said after practice he expects to play. If the injury does linger, expect redshirt junior Dare Ogunbowale and redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal to receive more attempts.
Junior inside linebacker Leon Jacobs was hobbled a bit during the Alabama game as well, but it appears like he'll practice this week, according to Chryst. The status of redshirt senior Ray Ball, who was supposed to compete at the left guard spot before an arm injury sidelined him, is still up in the air.
Wisconsin had some trouble running the ball on the Tide, to the tune of 40 rushing yards. Was it due to the physical match-up against UA or was it something else?
Alabama's front seven is one of the best, if not the best, in the nation, but it's also the fact that the Badgers started three new offensive linemen: left guard Michael Dieter, right guard Walker Williams and right tackle Hayden Biegel. The starters on the offensive line weren't secured until the week of the game, as injuries to potential contributors like Biegel, Ball, true freshman Jon Dietzen and redshirt freshman Beau Benzschawel hampered reps to develop further chemistry in fall camp. It's the first time in recent years that a concern of the offense is the cohesiveness of the offensive line, but recent misses in recruiting due to career-ending injuries and other ailments have also hurt the depth. They now won't have to go against an elite defense like Alabama's for the rest of the season (until maybe the Big Ten Championship game or bowl season, if they make it that far), which should allow them to gel.
Really though, Alabama played a fantastic game up front. The talent there is at least two-deep, and players like A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen on the defensive line allowed linebackers like Reggie Ragland to plug the holes quickly. Junior center Dan Voltz said post-game that they put a gameplan in to beat Bama up front but, as he put it, they made more plays than Wisconsin did. Couple that with Clement's injury which was tweaked during the week, and those three ingredients contributed to the Badgers not performing well on the ground Saturday night.
Despite the lack of a running game, Joel Stave was able to have success in the passing game, going for 228 yards and two touchdowns. Do you see the team leaning more on Stave as they figure out the running game or will they try to revert back to traditional Wisconsin football as soon as possible?
The 2015 Badgers offense will absolutely need to depend upon the arm and decision-making of Stave if they are to compete and succeed in the Big Ten West Division.
Stave looked solid and much improved Saturday from the year prior -- which is a testament to Chryst's pro-style offense and also the work the former walk-on put during the spring, summer, and fall camps. He was named the starter in the spring, and that allowed him to work on the chemistry with his receivers with anticipating the placement of their routes. A solid example is a 23-yard completion to senior wide receiver Alex Erickson at the end of the first half, where Stave threw the ball before Erickson even broke his route inside on the post. A corner route to Erickson in the second quarter was also another example, as Erickson turned around the have the ball right there for him over the out-stretched arms of a Tide defender. Anticipating throws and putting the ball where needed was a great sign of progression for the former walk-on.
Stave in all likelihood, will not come close to the efficiency of Scott Tolzien and Russell Wilson in 2010 and 2011, respectively -- where Tolzien completed over 70 percent of his passes and Wilson threw 33 touchdown passes. However, if he can complete between 62-68 percent of his passes on the season, and have at least a 2:1 touchdown to interceptions ratio (I'd say more like 2.5:1), Wisconsin's passing game can take the pressure off of a running game replacing the likes of All-Americans Melvin Gordon, Rob Havenstein and Kyle Costigan. That Badgers run game accounted for over two-thirds of the total offense last season, with Gordon gaining 2,587 yards, Clement rushing for 949 yards, and Tanner McEvoy going for 574 yards and an 8.8 yards per carry clip.
That being said, Wisconsin's staple of a power running game will need to still be the center focus of its offense and provide the balance a Badgers' offense has been missing since 2011. Clement's goal is for 2,000 yards this season, and if healthy and the offensive line comes together, is entirely possible (especially with the bulk of the carries going to the 5'11, 219-pound running back).
Defensively, UW had difficulties in stopping the run against Alabama as the Tide had 274 yards on the ground. What kind of adjustments do you see the coaching staff making as it heads into Saturday?
Chryst pointed out Monday the Badgers gave up too many big plays on Saturday, as he noted containment, gap assignment mistakes and missed tackles (17 by Chryst's count) were errors that need to be fixed. Alabama junior running back Derrick Henry had touchdown runs of 37 and 56 yards on Saturday, due to missed tackles but also missed gap assignments where after an initial missed tackle, no one else would be there to stop the explosive tank known as Henry.
Losing Caputo early on made a tall task even taller to take on the Alabama offense as well, so if he clears his protocol this week, he'll provide better direction and corrections. Secondary coach Daronte Jones said in the summer Caputo not only instructs the safeties their duties in the defensive backfield, but also provides teaching moments for other positions on the defense. You lose a player of that caliber from a mental and a physical standpoint, it will definitely affect the play of the defense as a whole. Chryst noted as much Tuesday during the Big Ten Conference coaches' teleconference. Sophomore D'Cota Dixon played quite well for a player being thrusted into a safety role that he's only really started to learn since the summer (he switched from inside linebacker last season). Miscommunication was evident, though, without Caputo, as Wisconsin was caught off guard with certain blown gap assignments.
The gap assignments and containment issues can be corrected through film work and gaining more experience. The missed tackles will have to be addressed during practice and emphasized, which I'm sure they'll be working to correct this week.
Then again, you were facing a 242-pound steam engine in Henry, who can pound between the tackles then outrun defenders in the open field. It was a tough test for Wisconsin to face elite talent like Alabama, but they'll rebound to cause some havoc in their base 3-4 and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's blitzing subpackages.
Finally, what do the Badgers need to do against Miami to assert their new identity under Paul Chryst and pick up the win?
On offense, their "new identity" will really be their old identity under Chryst, who was the offensive coordinator for the Badgers from 2005-2011: combine a physical, power running game with a pro-style passing game. Chryst said they need to get back down to the basics for the O-line with pad level, movement and pass protection. If they can get some drive off their blocks and get to the second level of the defense like many a set of offensive linemen before them, Clement or the other backs should have the opportunity to capitalize.
Stave's performance Saturday says anything, it could bode well for the rest of the season. He just needs to build off that solid outing against the Tide and continue to spread the ball to his targets (eight players with receptions against Alabama), along with getting redshirt senior wide receiver/safety hybrid Tanner McEvoy involved.
With the defense, it's just regrouping and learning from their mistakes. This team has a talented and experienced secondary, and a dynamic set of linebackers that could be the most athletic Wisconsin's ever seen. As senior outside linebacker Joe Schobert said after the game Saturday, "It comes out to communication -- just playing gap-sound, fundamental football -- and we need to improve on that."
If they do that, they'll continue the trend over the last two seasons as a group that's been top-five in total defense.