No. 19 Wisconsin tunes up passing game for Jan. 1
The smiles returned to the faces of the Wisconsin Badgers this
week, back on the practice field getting ready for a New Year’s Day
game far away from the arctic cold gripping the Midwest.
They’ve moved on from the regular season-ending loss to heavy
underdog Penn State – but they haven’t forgotten about how they
So a big focus for 19th-ranked Wisconsin over the next few weeks
of practices is improving the passing game to make opponents pay
for stacking the box to stop 1,300-yard rushers Melvin Gordon and
”Defenses are ganging up on us more so than they have all year
long,” coach Gary Andersen said this week. ”To get rid of that is
to complete some balls down the field and cause some issues.”
Working on footwork and gaining consistency is a focus for
quarterback Joel Stave as Wisconsin prepares for No. 8 South
Carolina in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando, Fla. This
might be a crucial few weeks for Stave to get a head start on a
potential quarterback competition in 2014.
The Badgers (9-3) are built to succeed on offense by running the
ball. At their best, they’re then able to go downfield on
play-action passes to top receiver Jared Abbrederis, and soften the
middle with tight end Jacob Pedersen.
The 31-24 loss to the Nittany Lions stopped that strategy cold.
Penn State stacked the box and limited Gordon and White from
hitting signature big plays. A high ankle sprain that hampered
sophomore left tackle Tyler Marz didn’t help.
Junior Dallas Lewallen has missed time at center with a leg
injury, and the Badgers started redshirt freshman Dan Voltz in his
place the final four games of the regular season.
Stave threw for 339 yards and three touchdowns, but also had
three interceptions. The sophomore has had a choppy year in his
first full season as the starter.
Stave has shown an ability to hit Abbrederis deep and then miss
open receivers on short to intermediate routes on the next series.
Pocket awareness and poise were also on the to-do list for Stave
from offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who called his starting
quarterback a ”conscientious worker” who has shown improvement
through the year.
”He still has a lot of untapped potential, a lot of development
ahead of him,” Ludwig said.
Andersen notes that other members of the offense need to step
up, too. He’s looking for improved pass protection, and he’d like
younger wideouts to emerge, given that Abbrederis will be playing
his last game as a senior.
”We want to do some different things, and we need to do some
things differently in this bowl game,” Andersen said.
At least the Badgers will get the crucial extra practices to
work on flaws. It’s not the Rose Bowl – Wisconsin’s postseason
destination the previous three seasons – but the contest against
the Gamecocks is about as difficult an assignment that can be drawn
in a non-Bowl Championship Series affair.
Even if Wisconsin beat Penn State, the Badgers likely would have
ended up in the Capital One Bowl anyway since Michigan State upset
Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, ensuring the Spartans
would join the Buckeyes as the two conference teams in the BCS.
”As it all ended up, this is where we would have been. I’m
fired up to be at his bowl,” Andersen said. ”But no, it doesn’t
lessen the sting of the loss. We’ve moved past it. We’ve just got
to get better.”
Notes: Andersen said that he’s spoken to Gordon, a redshirt
sophomore, about getting an evaluation about his NFL draft
prospects. Andersen said he’s told Gordon he thinks he needs more
development and wants him to return for a chance to compete for
awards next year. But he’s encouraged Gordon to get his evaluation.
… Dezmen Southward had what he called a minor procedure performed
on his wrist after the Penn State game. Andersen expects his
starting safety to be able to participate fully in practice the
week before the bowl game.
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