By TOM LEA
MADISON – The number of people that knew Wisconsin legend J.J. Watt was going to take in his former team’s season opener against Northern Iowa was pretty low.
That’s exactly how the elder Watt wanted it.
“He wanted his brother’s first game to mean something,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said, in reference to redshirt freshman Derek Watt’s first game as a Badger fullback. “I thought Derek would have a big day today.”
Watt, having played the fullback position for slightly less than three weeks before Saturday’s opener caught two passes for 14 yards, numbers that could have been better had he not dropped a pass midway through the third quarter.
“He’s going to be very hard on himself,” Bielema said. “I couldn’t be happier with Derek and where he’s at. Sherard Cadogan and him give us a nice little one-two combination there. I got to see J.J. I know he was excited to see his brother’s performance here today as well.”
OFFENSIVE LINE A BIT OFF:
It could have been first game jitters, adjusting to the game day coaching style of Mike Markuson, fiddling with the rotation at right guard or a number of other variables, but junior center Travis Frederick admitted that the offensive line was just a tad off throughout the course of Saturday’s 26-21 win over Northern Iowa.
Montee Ball, UW’s elite tailback, wasn’t able to break off a run for more than 14 yards throughout the course of the game, something that seems a bit unusual considering he averaged better than six yards per carry a season ago.
This time, though, Ball only mustered 3.8 yards per carry on 32 attempts.
“I think it was a good learning experience,” Frederick said. “They were running a pretty tight box and were bringing some guys in there. It came down to not getting the vertical push we needed to get. That’s something we pride ourselves on and something we didn’t live up to.
“There were a lot of things today that we were really close on, but being close isn’t where we need to be.”
Junior James White carried the ball nine times for 47 yards with a long of 20. His averaged was north of five yards per carry, but like Ball, White struggled to pick up big chunks of yardage for most of his nine carries.
“Montee and James both broke one,” Frederick said. “It should have been that way every time, but we were just off by a hair. Having a game like this shows you exactly that close doesn’t cut it. There are a lot of lessons to be learned.”
RIGHT GUARD BATTLE:
It’s the positional battle that won’t end. Junior Zac Matthias started UW’s opener at right guard, but sophomore Kyle Costigan got reps throughout on separate occasions. It was clear Matthias earned more reps, but the fact the coaching staff continues to play a couple of guys at the position suggests neither has really emerged as the hands down favorite.
Deep down, it’s not too far-fetched to think the coaching staff is waiting for sophomore Dallas Lewallen’s medical clearance (Bielema expects that sometime this next week) so they can put him in the mix at the position as well.
“Matthias handled the week a lot better than he had been with the detail that you need,” Bielema said. “It was good to get him in there. I don’t really remember how him and Costigan played. I don’t remember any play looking bad, per se, but I’m excited where that’s at.”
GORDON DIDN’T PLAY MUCH:
Freshman tailback Melvin Gordon has been hyped as one of the most talented running backs Bret Bielema has ever seen during his time as a head coach. However, the young tailback did not receive one carry from scrimmage.
“Our first plan was to get him in on kickoff returns,” Bielema said. “We had him back there, but they were just kicking the ball well. There were two that became touchbacks. We really do want to get him involved. We were never in our situation at the line of scrimmage.”
Sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Williams and sophomore linebacker Cody Byers did not dress for Wisconsin’s season opening game. The two players weren’t on the initial fall camp roster to start August, but were eventually brought back into camp midway through.
There has been some speculation that Williams and Byers were the two players Bielema said were involved in a fight that precipitated Ball’s attack, but the seventh-year head coach never admitted to it. He said they were both held out during Saturday’s game with a groin issue (Williams) and a concussion (Byers).
-Vince Biegel could potentially return next week, according to Bielema.
-Wide receiver Chase Hammond, dealing with a foot injury, could also return next week.
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