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2015 Fierce 40 Previews: #18 Wisconsin

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 25, 2015

#18 Wisconsin Badgers

2014 Recap:

An 11-3 season which culminated with a birth in the Big Ten title game where they decimated by Ohio State 59-0, it’s easy to say that was the low point of the campaign. The highlight would have to be the eight-game winning streak that took place prior to that title game and the “run” Melvin Gordon during the season. Wisconsin capped the season with a thrilling bowl game victory, a 34-31 overtime victory over Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

Coaching:

Paul Chryst has taken over at Wisconsin, becoming the 30th head coach in their history of the program. Chryst comes over from Pittsburgh, but previous to that head coaching stop he was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, so this is a homecoming of sorts. Joe Rudolph served with Chryst on the Wisconsin staff previously and followed him to Pittsburgh. Rudolph has also come full circle, as he will serve as the offensive coordinator and the assistant head coach. Dave Aranda starts his third season as the defensive coordinator, and has enjoyed tremendous success. Over the last three seasons only Louisville and fellow Big Ten contender Michigan State has allowed fewer yards per game than the Badgers.

 

Offensive Analysis

 

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Wisconsin quarterbacks are not ones we usually refer to shredding defenses, putting up gaudy numbers or making the transition to the next level (Russell Wilson is the exception, but he was only at the institution for one year after transferring from NC State). Joel Stave fits that bill perfectly, as last season was regrettable from a statistical standpoint. Stave threw for more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9) and has been injury prone during his tenure at Wisconsin. One thing you can’t argue about Stave, he knows how to win. It can’t all be the running game, as Stave has started games since he was a freshman and owns a 21-7 career record as the starting quarterback. Bart Houston looks to be the backup even though Tanner McEvoy is still with the team after throwing 112 passes last season as opposed to Houston who tossed three. McEvoy was used as a safety as well last season, and that is the primary plan for 2015.

Corey Clement is an accomplished running back, and he nearly gained 1,000 yards on the ground while backing up Melvin Gordon and his 2,500 yard campaign. Wisconsin never seems to miss a beat when replacing a running back, and Clement should be well on his way to 1,500 yards. The Wisconsin rushing attack ranked third in the country last season behind only Georgia Tech and Navy.

Best Draft Prospect: Corey Clement RB 4th Round 2017.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Wisconsin has cranked out some receivers at the pro level despite being a team that likes to run the football as frequently as possible. While this year the roster isn’t littered with next level prospects, the Badgers do have a host of big receivers that are big targets for Stave and the offense. Alex Erikson is back in the fold after leading the team with 55-772-3. At 6’0” Erikson is the smallest of the three starting receivers in the offensive scheme. Rob Wheelwright stands 6’2”, and Jordan Frederick is an imposing 6’4”. The pair combined for 14-143-1 last year, but they are capable of making the leap to being featured members of the offense.

Tight end Troy Fumagalli could become the most prominent pass catcher in the Wisconsin attack, and like many past tight ends he should be seen as more of an h-back. Fumagalli will be used in the backfield and lined up like a traditional fullback in a number of sets. Fumamgalli may not lead the team in receptions, but the sophomore is a good bet to catch at least five touchdowns and possibly led the Badgers in that category.

Best Draft Prospect: Alex Erikson WR UFA 2016.

 

Offensive Line:

Wisconsin only has two starters returning from last seasons squad, but the two they have are both worthy of a shot at the NFL. Tyler Marz is one of the most experienced offensive tackles in the conference, and Marz is very nimble and athletic for a 320-pound lineman. Hayden Biegel will man the right side with Marz waiting to make a likely move to the left side of the line after Marz graduates after this season. Biegel has yet to see any action, but he drew raves during spring ball.

Dan Voltz is likely the top center in the Big Ten outside of Michigan State interior lineman Jack Cook. The 310 pound center could even consider a move to the NFL after this season, something many centers will not do. Marz is still the best bet as top candidate for the next level among the Wisconsin linemen. Michael Dieter and Ray Ball look like they will be the starters at the guard positions although the announcement has not come formally from the coaching staff. Ball is built more like a tackle at 6’7” and 330 pounds. As we have seen in years past there are plenty of willing backups on this Wisconsin teams that can fill ion at a moments notice.

Best Draft Prospect: Tyler Marz OT 3rd Round 2016.

 

Defensive Analysis

Defensive Line:

The Wisconsin front line faces a lot of turnover from last season. Chikwe Obasih as a redshirt sophomore seems like he will already be assuming a leadership role. Obasih registered 21 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 quarterback sacks in 2014 with limited time in a starting role. Alec James is a fellow redshirt sophomore that is currently penciled in to start opposite Obasih. Jake Keefer had 8 stops last season and figures to be the top backup at both end positions.

Arthur Goldberg and Jeremy Patterson look as if they will platoon at defensive tackle. None of the players mentioned thus far are seniors, so this year will be an important building block for the future of the Wisconsin defense. Wisconsin will be looking to add upon the 37 sacks they registered a year ago, a mark that left them in the upper half of the Big Ten but can be improved upon.

Best Draft Prospect: Chikwe Obasih DE 5th Round 2018.

 

Linebackers:

The linebacker play should be the focal point of the defense with a pair of outstanding prospects along the edge for the Badgers. Senior Joe Schobert and junior Vince Biegel are not only exceptional prospects but they put up strong numbers, not leaving the word “potential” out there when describing their worth and ability. When you combine the efforts of these outside linebackers from last season, you are left with 125 tackles with 30 coming for loss and 10.5 quarterback sacks. Those numbers are awful gaudy, and they could be pedestrian to the production we will see this season. With the young defensive line look for a number of plays, where the linemen are simply charged with opening holes and gaps for penetration for the linebackers to make big plays. Biegel looks like a netter prospect from a pure pass rushing standpoint, although Schobert is more versatile and will be asked to loop around more to the inside and get an interior rush on occasion.

Leon Jacobs will be playing on the inside, while freshman T.J. Edwards looks as if he has won the remaining starting inside position. A pair of sophomores D’Cota Dixon and Keelon Brookins are the current backups on the depth chart and will be asked to contribute a number of quality snaps to the back of the defensive front. Jesse Hayes is a linebacker who can play along the interior or the edge of the line and will be another key reserve with multiple roles in a variety of defensive schemes and formations.

Best Draft Prospect: Joe Schobert LB 5th Round 2016.

 

Secondary:

While it is safety Michael Caputo that is back in the secondary as the leading tackler from Wisconsin last season, he is not the best prospect we see in the back of the Badger defense. Sojourn Shelton is an inconsistent yet very talented cornerback that has as much natural ability as any cornerback in the country. While Shelton has yet to “put it all together” the potential to have a breakout year exists, and he could be an early declaration candidate.

Cornerback could be the position in the draft class that vastly changes more from year to year. The continued rise , development and sometimes limited opportunities to see small school prospects at this position can change the field in an instant. Shelton has a chance against some high-rated experienced quarterbacks in the Big Ten, and he could put himself among the elite of the SEC and ACC corners at the top of the board. Shelton needs to work on his tackling skills, as his angles and willingness to be overly physical can come into question. Shelton is helped by having a solid corner across from him in senior Darius Hillary. Caputo and his 106 tackles with a pair of forced fumbles will team up with athlete Tanner McEvoy, and again Wisconsin wants to keep McEvoy away from playing quarterback this season and focus solely on the defensive side of the football. This is a very talented secondary, but the unit is not nearly deep as the linebacking corps, so keeping the starters healthy will be paramount to the teams success.

Best Draft Prospect: Sojourn Shelton CB 3rd Round 2017 (early declaration candidate).

 

Special Teams

Drew Meyer has plenty of experience, as the senior punter has started since his freshman season. Meyer has seen his YPK average dip, but his net average and hang time have improved. Rafael Gaglianone went 19-22 as a freshman with a pair of 50 yarders. Another season with numbers like that and Gaglinone could start to garner some pro prospect chatter. For the first time in five seasons Wisconsin failed to bring either a kickoff or a punt return to the house for a touchdown. The punt return and kick return positions are not nailed down for this team, and we could see a host of players take turns with the duties.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

2015 Schedule

Wisconsin is known for having some stiff tests early in their season before they start the Big Ten slate, and this year brings a game with Alabama (which will be played in Dallas). The Badgers will then enjoy four easier home games before starting the Big Ten on the road against Nebraska. Wisconsin does not have Ohio State or Michigan State on the schedule, so this could be one of the easier roads to the Big Ten title game. Wisconsin would just hope this season turns out as little better then 2014.

 

Draft Prospects & Outlook

Tyler Marz looks to be the best prospect Wisconsin has for this season, and the majority of prospects seed to be on the offensive side of the football. Cornerback Sojourn Shelton could turn out to be the best overall prospect, and he certainly is the top defensive prospect right now. Shelton just needs to produce more consistently, and he won’t have the same type of talent level around him as the offensive players, especially along the line. Corey Clement will make the transition from Melvin Gordon easier, as he will continue the tradition of great running backs at Wisconsin preparing for the next chapter in their football lives.

 

DJ Boyer