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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #36 Wisconsin

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 7, 2014

#36 Wisconsin Badgers

 

2013 Recap:

Gary Andersen took over at Wisconsin, and though he lost his last two games of the season, 9-4 can't be considered a failure. Three of the four teams Wisconsin lost to were ranked and their first loss of the year against Arizona State was very controversial and one where the NCAA even admitted Wisconsin got a raw deal.

 

Coaching:

Gary Andersen had four very successful years at Utah State and led them to their first Bowl victory in nearly 20 years before taking over the Badgers. Andersen is known for a no non-sense defense and a tough running game, making him an ideal fit for what we have seen Wisconsin do for a number of years.

 

Offense

 

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Joel Stave needs to cut down on the 13 interception total from a year ago but overall he has been steady in his command of the offense. Stave is banged up a bit leading to a shorter leash, so Tanner McEvoy may be called upon. If you are looking at the stats for Wisconsin and want to see what kind of work McEvoy has last season you will find him on the stat sheet...on the defensive side of the ball. Injuries necessitated McEvoy to spend the year playing safety and he made 27 tackles with 1 interception and 5 pass breakups, Now he is back at his natural position.

With Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin continues its tradition of fielding 1,000-yard rushers and he will likely move onto the next level after a 1,650 yard rushing season, even though he was technically the backup to James White (who himself had over 1,400 yards). Gordon is currently listed as a 4th round prospect for 2016 but with a huge season there is a small window open that he could declare, as he is a junior this season.

Best Draft Prospect: Melvin Gordon RB 4th Round 2016.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Wisconsin gets a pair of new starters at wide receiver since they lost the dependable Jared Abbrederis to the NFL. Abbrederis had 78 catches for just under 1,100 yards and 7 touchdowns as he was an All-Big Ten wide receiver. New starters Jordan Frederick and Alex Erickson had 10 and 9 catches respectively and have yet to find the end zone in their brief college careers. If Wisconsin chooses to bring Darian Watkins out this season and not redshirt him, we could see a contribution from the young freshman as he was a prized recruit landed by Wisconsin. Watkins was recruited heavily by the Buckeyes as he is from Ohio and he looks like he will be a star down the road.

Jacob Pederson had half the catches of Jared Abbrederis but he was the most important piece to the passing game. Sam Arneson opens as the starter but freshman Troy Fumagalli may assume that role before the end of the season. There is talent on this Badger squad but a lot of very young players who will have to show they are just as good during big games as they are on paper.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

Offensive Line:

You can't talk about a Wisconsin team without talking about the offensive line; it's what defines Wisconsin football. Four of the five players along the line are returning starters and the line averages 315 pounds. Rob Havenstein has close to 30 career starts and is the next in a long line of offensive tackles from Wisconsin that will be playing in the NFL on Sundays. Kyler Costigan and Tyler Marz are both players who could wind up being on the All-Conference team by season's end. If the starters go down or if other players are needed then Wisconsin is still in good shape as the bench is deep at every position along the line. The Wisconsin line may not be the best starting unit in the Big 10 but they look to be the deepest. Michael Deiter and Walker Williams look to be underclassmen that will be contributing in years to come. Wisconsin has made an effort to get more involved in the passing game and finding lineman that are not just run blockers. The recruiting strategy may be changing a little but the same results are being yielded.

Best Draft Prospect: Rob Havenstein OT 4th Round  2015.

 

Defense

 

Defensive Line:

The front seven does not return one starter from 2013 and this is the question mark surrounding the Badgers, yet the coaching staff seems unconcerned. Wisconsin is making a conscious effort to get smaller, faster and more explosive so a changing of the guard was around the corner and it has already shown in the way they are recruiting. Warren Herring got a good deal of pressure up the gut last season but how much of that dealt with playing beside the now departed Beau Allen.  Chikwe Obasih will be starting at defensive end as a freshman as he seems to have won the spot opposite Joe Schobert, a player who had 24 stops a season ago. Herring is the only senior that is starting along the line, so the core of the group should be together for a few seasons.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

Linebackers:

It's not an easy task to replace an inside linebacker like Chris Borland but Derek Landisch will try. The senior posted 33 tackles a season ago and still contributed on special teams. Marcus Trotter and Vince Beigel look like the other starters penciled in but that is subject to change as the Badgers will be utilizing a lot of substitutions and combinations at the positions. Leon Jacobs and Jesse Hayes will be the primary backups who could also see time as starters. There seems to be a nice collection of sure tacklers at linebacker, but not the sideline to sideline speed that Gary Andersen and his staff eventually want at Wisconsin.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

Secondary:

Wisconsin ranked near the bottom of the conference in yards allowed in the secondary and failed to make big plays on 3rd down to kill drives when they had opportunities. Hopefully for Wisconsin, experience was the main issue because three players are returning starters from a year ago. Sojourn Shelton grew up in a hurry and the cornerback looks like he has a future at the next level judging by his limited body of work. Sojourn finished with 36 tackles, 4 interceptions, 7 passes broken up with another 11 defensed as a freshman. Darius Hillary also had 30 stops and seems to be a little more sure as a tackler when stopping the run in the open field. Michael Caputo was the team leader in tackles when you discount Chris Borland making over 100. Caputo really seemed to improve with his angles and is excellent in pass support. The team does not have star power but they are solid and their numbers should improve significantly.

Best Draft Prospect: Sojourn Shelton CB 3rd Round 2017.

 

Special Teams:

Kenzel Doe is the star here as he is a return man that teams will kick away from and try to avoid. Doe will be the primary return guy for punts and kickoffs.

Drew Mayer is an underrated punter who is one of the better directional punters in the Big Ten, while kicker Jack Russell has the leg but his accuracy leaves him vulnerable to some big misses and mistakes.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

Schedule:

Wisconsin gets LSU in Texas at a neutral site to start the year before three home games against some talented teams that they should beat but cannot sleep on, including Bowling Green on September 20th. Three of the five November games are on the road (Rutgers, Purdue and Iowa) while home games exist for Penn State and Minnesota. Wisconsin does have the luxury of avoiding both Ohio State and Michigan State, which is a huge plus heading into the season.

 

Draft Outlook:

No 1st round talent is jumping out but senior lineman Rob Havenstein and sophomore cornerback Sojourn Shelton will ensure the Badgers are still relevant players in the NFL Draft process.

 

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