SB Nation's Bucky's 5th Quarter talks Purdue-Wisconsin Football.
The Q&A with an opposing football blogger returns this week as the Big Ten opener against the Wisconsin Badgers is the topic. Mike Fiammetta is the manager of SB Nation's Bucky's 5th quarter and he is here to tell us all about Wisconsin.
T-Mill: Thank goodness Monte Ball is gone! He was notorious for going off against Purdue. Who takes his place?
Mike: Wisconsin fans certainly miss Montee Ball, though I'm not sure the Badgers will on the field. Senior James White (806 yards, 6.4 YPC and 12 touchdowns in 2012) and sophomore Melvin Gordon (621 yards, 10.0 YPC and three touchdowns) will be the featured backs this year, and you could argue the only thing they lack as a tandem is Ball's trademark power rushing skills. White is the smaller of the bunch (he's 5-foot-10, 197 pounds; Gordon's 6-foot-1, 203 pounds), but he's proven durable and is fairly experienced for a guy who's never been the regular starter (422 career carries and no fewer than 125 in a single year). He's an able pass-catcher -- an underrated aspect of Ball's game, as well -- and is decent in pass-protection.
Gordon gets mentioned second because he's the youngest, but he may actually be the more talented back. Despite his bigger size, his speed led him to be utilized on tons of jet sweeps and rushes to the outside late last season -- just ask any Nebraska fan how those turned out. That 10.0 yards-per-carry average is obviously inflated, but it's indicative of how lethal he is with the ball in his hands. At first blush, I'd venture the distribution in carries favors White 60/40 to begin the season, though that's anything but scientific and obviously prone to change.
Because us Wisconsin scribes always need a chance to whip out the "three-headed monster cliche," the Badgers do have a potential No. 3 back on the roster, as well. Corey Clement is a freshman from Glassboro, N.J., who might actually be the most natural "power back" among the rushers we've discussed thus far. Already 205 pounds at 5-foot-11, he has room to grow and has already drawn comparisons to Ball as a downhill rusher with natural balance and vision. He was the 7th-ranked running back among the 2013 class, per 247 Sports, and he's as promising a rusher as Wisconsin's recruited in some time. Jeffrey Lewis (a hardly-used but big 6-foot-2 junior running back) is another possibility for the No. 3 RB spot.
T-Mill: Wisconsin was a point of contention under Danny Hope because they were the only team Purdue wasn't even competitive against. Does that change under Darrell Hazell and Gary Andersen?
Mike: I'm not sure if much will change, though I'm also not entirely aware of how high expectations are under Hazell. While Wisconsin's coaching staff is entirely new save for two position coaches, 17 starters return (eight offense, seven defense and two special teams). The greatest changes will probably be seen on defense as first-year defensive coordinator implements a 3-4 base defense that will be varied and heavy on generating pressure.
This game being played in Madison obviously doesn't bode well for Purdue, considering the reputation the Badgers forged at Camp Randall Stadium under Bret Bielema. It's hard to think that'll even change much even though the coaching staff is new.
T-Mill: How much will Andersen ascribe to the Wisconsin football ethic have solid running behind extremely large linemen paving the way?
Mike: As mentioned above, the Badgers are once again stacked at running back. The offensive line is younger (left tackle Ricky Wagner and center Travis Frederick are now in the NFL) than usual, with only one senior (Ryan Groy) projected to start along the offense line [You can find our projected 2013 depth chart here: http://www.buckys5thquarter.com/pages/badgers-projected-depth-chart]. Andersen and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig are also bringing their spread offense from Utah State, which should obviously tweak the traditional Wisconsin offense. Granted, that spread was run-based, so it's not like whomever starts at quarterback will be chucking it up 40 times a game. The more likely changes are more 3-, 4- and 5-wide sets with running backs lined up out wide, directly behind center or moving all around pre-snap. That also isn't entirely new from some changes we saw in the last couple years of the Bielema era, as Ball, White and eventually Gordon were split out wide at varying times the last few seasons.
One note on the quarterbacks, since it's relevant here: there are currently five possible starting quarterbacks, though it's really a three-man battle for all intents and purposes. The first two are known commodities in senior Curt Phillips
and sophomore Joel Stave, while the third is a JuCo transfer from Arizona Western, Tanner McEvoy [Our recruiting profile on him is here: http://www.buckys5thquarter.com/2013/2/4/3952418/tanner-mcevoy-2013-wisconsin-football-recruiting-class
]. The short, need-to-know: McEvoy's a 6-foot-6, dual-threat quarterback that some are pegging the likely starter once he arrives on campus (he just embarked for Madison on Tuesday
; summer workouts begin June 9
). His mobility is most appealing to the system Ludwig & co. want to teach their quarterbacks, and they're likely saving some wrinkles for McEvoy. If he is indeed the starter, we could see an offense even more "untraditional" than the one Russell Wilson spearheaded in 2011.
T-Mill: After three straight Rose Bowls will there be a drop off for Wisconsin, or will they challenge Ohio State in the Division?
Mike: Purely for the sake of accuracy, I need to point out that streak is actually three straight Rose Bowls. We recognize last year was extremely whacky, getting to Pasadena after a 7-6 regular season. This year's schedule is very forgiving -- at least on paper at this early juncture -- and a return trip to the Rose Bowl could hinge on the Sept. 28 game at Ohio State. Obviously it being away hurts and, yeah, OSU will probably be incredible this year. But if there's one top-flight conference opponent that doesn't scare Wisconsin, it's Ohio State. The consensus among fans is an optimistic feeling, buoyed mainly by Gary Andersen's hot start, an experienced roster returning and that easy schedule. Of course, Andersen hasn't coached a game yet and it's still just May. Simply put, expect the Badgers to challenge for the Leaders Division title and either clinch it with an upset of the Buckeyes, or fall short and grab an at-large BCS bid or something like the Capital One Bowl.
T-Mill: I am seeing a lot of seniors on the defensive depth chart. Is that the strength of the Badgers this year?
The front seven -- assuming there are no glaring difficulties adjusting to the 3-4, which I guess isn't necessarily safe -- will be the strength of the defense, and arguably the entire team aside from White and Gordon. The three-man front is stout, with three seniors in nose tackle Beau Allen
and ends Pat Muldoon
and Ethan Hemer. Allen, at 6-foot-3, 333 pounds, could be primed for a killer senior season.
The linebackers are equally talented, and Chris Borland is undoubtedly the defense's top playmaker. Now a senior, Borland has always been somewhat of an injury concern, but as long as he's on the field he's a beast -- 247 tackles (29 for loss), seven sacks and eight forced fumbles over the last two years speak for themselves. At his best, Borland is all over the field, making huge, huge plays from a variety of different positions.
Wisconsin has experimented with different packages over the past few years as assistant coaches have cycled in and out, and some nickel packages last year occasionally took him out of a pass-rushing role. This new 3-4 scheme obviously hasn't been unveiled, but there's talk Borland will be utilized more as the key cog to get everything working right from the middle, and not necessarily has the stud 'backer filling up the box score. Around him, senior Ethan Armstrong is very solid (again, when healthy) and sixth-year senior Brendan Kelly is converting from defensive end and is promising if he can handle the transition. Armstrong will probably be inside with Borland most of the time, leaving one outside spot open opposite Kelly. It seems at this point that it'll be filled by promising redshirt freshman Vince Biegel
, though obviously that can change.
The secondary, simply put, is wildly inexperienced. Strong safety Dezmen Southward
is the only senior, and while he is a terrific athlete who's being pegged as one of the top breakout candidates in the Big Ten, he has only one other upperclassman projected in front of him. That's junior cornerback Peniel Jean
, who's appeared in only 19 games and started zero. The other likely starting corner is sophomore Darius Hillary
, a converted safety who's seen action in 14 games with zero starts. Redshirt freshman Reggie Mitchell
left the spring as the likely starter at free safety, though he's a converted corner who's obviously also inexperienced.
T-Mill: Given the ease with which Wisconsin has beaten Purdue, is there any reason for Badger fans to fear this game?
Mike: The only reason I can think of for Wisconsin fans to fear this Purdue game is that it's the Big Ten opener, one week after a big non-conference game at Arizona State. That match-up was just announced as a nationally televised night game on Wednesday, and I suppose there's letdown/"trap game" potential for Purdue the next week. But like you said, Wisconsin's owned Purdue this past decade -- the Boilermakers haven't beaten the Badgers since 2003. Looking at this game on paper, it's hard to rationally predict an upset.