The unranked Wisconsin Badgers will take on the #5 ranked LSU Tigers in their season opener at Lambeau Field on Saturday, September 3.
LSU is favored by 10 points, but Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said that he does not consider his team the underdog for Saturday.
“I know who we are as a team,” Chryst said during his weekly Monday press conference. “I don’t really get caught up in underdog, favorite. The opportunity we have is to play our best game and that’s what you work for and that’s what you get to go out and do each and every Saturday.”
With Chryst’s confident mindset in place, we look into the Wisconsin Badgers offense that will play this Saturday.
Last week, fifth year senior Bart Houston was announced as the Badgers starting quarterback.
“Bart did everything that he needed to do and earned the right to get the start,” Chryst said to Chris Hall, UW-Madison’s director of video services, last Thursday.
Chryst continuously stressed his confidence in both quarterbacks, Houston and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook, and said that throughout fall camp his goal was to make sure both were able to play and win games.
Houston, who was named after Packers legendary quarterback Bart Starr, will make his first career start as a Badger on Saturday. He played in a few games, most notably against Illinois last October, coming in for an injured Joel Stave. In 2015, he completed 27 of 47 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s nice that he can get that confidence now and not have to worry about being in a competition,” Ogunbowale said of Houston. “So we’ve definitely seen a spike in his play, just going out there and playing like we know Bart can.”
Ramczyk also stressed that the offensive line has been able to work well with Houston.
“We worked well with Hornibrook too,” he said. “And Bart’s going to be a great starter for us.”
While he only played in a few games last season and most for short periods of time, Houston did have more experience than Hornibrook. In his game against Illinois, Houston proved his ability to make plays in high pressure times and go in and adjust to any situation, needed in any starting or backup quarterback.
Hornibrook seemed to be an early contender for the starting job in spring ball, particularly exceling in the spring game. He made some good throws throughout fall camp and, like Houston, improved greatly in his technique. But Houston was the more consistent of the two quarterbacks throughout fall.
As a starting quarterback, he, like his predecessor Stave, set UW up for success in consistency and stability. He can make the necessary throws and also has mobility to get around a tough pass rush.
Running Backs/Full Backs
Wisconsin has always established itself as a running offense. Though the loss of Clement last season hindered Wisconsin’s rushing ability, Chryst spoke early in fall camp that he has high expectations of the run game this season.
“If you’re talking about Wisconsin and the running game, that standard has always been high,” Chryst said at the opening of fall camp.
In 2015, the Wisconsin rushing offense totaled 1954 yards for 27 touchdowns and averaged 3.8 yards a carry. Current senior and former walk-on Dare Ogunbowale was the top-ranked rusher for the team with 819 yards for 7 touchdowns. Behind him were Corey Clement with 503 yards for 6 touchdowns and Taiwan Deal with 221 yards for 5 touchdowns.
Going into the first game of the season, Clement is listed as the #1 running back with Ogunbowale at #2 and Deal at #3.
Clement will be a key player to watch this Saturday. After expecting to have a stellar 2015 season, injury and personal issues plagued Clement’s year.
“I’m on my last season as a Badger,” Clement said in a fall camp practice. “I need my guys with me. I just think everybody needs to work off one another and compete, just have fun and whatever comes with it, comes with it. I think putting too much stress on the season, you’re only tearing yourself down.”
Clement went on to say, “I’m going to have fun with this last season, roll with the punches, relive the moments.”
Alec Ingold will be the Badgers’ starting fullback following the departure of former starting fullback Derek Watt to the San Diego Chargers in the NFL draft. The Green Bay native expressed excitement about being able to play at Lambeau saying he “grew up wanting to be a Packer and wanting to be a Badger.”
After playing linebacker his freshman year, Ingold was moved to fullback. Behind him is junior Austin Ramesh in the #2 spot.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
In 2015, Wisconsin’s receivers caught 252 passes for 2968 yards and 14 touchdowns. Wisconsin averaged 11.8 yards on a reception with current Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Alex Erickson leading the Badgers receiving corps with 978 yards for three touchdowns. Behind Erickson were wide receiver Robert Wheelwright with 416 yards for four touchdowns and tight end Troy Fumagalli with 313 yards for one touchdown.
This year, the Badgers starting receiving corps are comprised of Wheelwright, junior wide receiver Jazz Peavy, and Fumagalli.
Chryst offered praise for Fumagalli at Monday’s press conference. Chryst hopes for Fumagalli to not only make an impact in the passing offense but also the run offense.
“I hope that Troy is a big part of what we’re doing offensively,” Chryst said.
Wheelwright, entering his final season as a Badger, told SST’s Luke Schaetzel, “It being my final season is motivating me so much. Being able to play here with some pretty good receivers Abbrederis, Erickson, Kenzel Doe, it’s been good just to watch them, but it’s finally my time and I’ll be gone next year. That’s really it. This being my last year I really want to go out there and give it my all and be a leader.”
Wheelwright went on to say that the Badgers coaching in head coach Chryst and wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore is a key factor in increasing the Badgers passing performance.
“Just the atmosphere that Coach Chryst puts us in, making sure everybody plays, making sure everyone is earning the play, being able to put out there in all types of situations, I feel it’s boosted our play,” Wheelwright said.
Despite players like Wheelwright entering his senior year and Fumagalli his junior, the Badgers receiving corps is relatively young in experience. Erickson was the dominant receiver last year and before him, current Packer Jared Abbrederis. This year, as Schaetzel wrote, the receiving corp will look a little deeper with Wheelwright, Peavy, George Rushing, and Reggie Love as well as Fumagalli and #2 tight end Kyle Penniston. Freshmen wide receivers A.J. Taylor, Quintez Cephus and Kendric Pryor will add further depth to the Badgers wide receivers.
While the receivers have been working well with both Houston and Hornibrook throughout fall camp, it may take some time to build the relationship between Houston and his receivers.
Early in fall camp, Chryst described the offensive line as “not a veteran line.” Prior to his unexpected retirement, offensive lineman Dan Voltz had the most experience on the line.
“I like the work that they’ve been doing and the time they’ve been putting in,” Chryst said at his Monday press conference. “I think it will continue to evolve.”
“I like where they are at with the cards handed to them,” he continued.
The current first team offensive line is as follows: LT Ryan Ramczyk, LG Micah Kapoi or Jon Dietzen, C Michael Deiter, RG Beau Benzschawel, and RT Jacob Maxwell.
Junior Ryan Ramczyk will see his first start as a Badger on Saturday after transferring from UW-Stevens Point.
“It’s definitely going to be exciting; I can’t wait honestly,” Ramczyk said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s pretty awesome to play here for the Badgers and then to go play at Lambeau.”
Ramczyk said the offensive line works well together and has been ever since spring ball. He plans to work on the fundamentals at the last practices leading up to the game, but he feels confident in his and his offensive linemen’s ability to protect Houston come Saturday.
The offensive line’s lack of experience coupled with the sudden retirement of Voltz may lead to difficulties heading into the first game of the season this weekend. Last season was a difficult one for the offensive line with constant injury among the young players. The group has been able to work well together in practice, however, and still have the guidance of former center Voltz going into the year. While Saturday may not be the cleanest execution of a solid offensive line unit, Chryst is confident in the progress of the line and their ability to remain consistent and healthy going into the season.