UW coach Gary Andersen knows more about his team following their second scrimmage of fall camp but question remain.
Still putting it together
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - The University of Wisconsin held their second scrimmage of fall camp on Monday, but the number of people that saw it was smaller than expected. The session, which was 60 to 70 plays, was supposed to be open to the media, but UW coach Gary Andersen limited their viewing time to about 20 minutes. The second-year coach said afterwards he felt it was something he needed to do for his team.
“I just felt like there was information (involved) that could possibly help us win a game,” Andersen said of why he limited the access. “We did a lot of things from a scheme standpoint we want to definitely protect. From an offensive side, a defensive side and special teams side.”
Outside of seeing the team work on punt and punt return, and the third-stringers go at it for a drive, the takeaways from the final open session of fall camp came from Andersen.
“We got the work done we wanted to get done,” said Andersen, though he lamented the number of penalties on the offense, their three turnovers and an abnormal number of drops by his wide receivers.
That impacted the evaluation of the two quarterbacks fighting for the starting job – Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy.
“Without watching the tape I’d say that they both did some good things,” Andersen said. “(They) got put behind the sticks a few times. (They) made a couple plays in the air (but) had some drops, which we hadn’t had … So both of those kids are still right there.”
But a decision on a starter hasn’t been made and won’t be announced when it is. As he did a year ago, Andersen has no intention of letting the media, or their upcoming opponent, know who will be under center on Aug. 30 in Houston.
“Like I said a long time ago, we may know who the starter is but we’re not going to say who the starter is until we jog out on the field for the LSU game,” Andersen said. "So there’s no big announcement. (We) don’t make a big announcement for the right tackle, don’t make a big announcement for the starting nose guard, so we’re not going to do that for the quarterback either.”
Andersen and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig will sit down and discuss what the plan is going forward. While a decision hasn’t been made yet, judging by their play in practice it appears Stave has the lead in the competition. With the game now just 12 days away, they know a decision needs to be finalized soon.
“That’s the key now. To get the best guys on the field and build the offense, and the defense, and the special teams around it,” Andersen said. “But I expect good quarterback play whichever one of those young men plays. And the same thing is expected from a defensive linemen, offensive linemen or wherever you want to take it.
“We’ll put a good quarterback out there that will absolutely give us a chance to win.”
Feeling better about the injuries
Andersen was feeling much better about the nagging injuries that have hit the Badgers in the first two weeks of camp. Though six or seven starters on defense were held out of the scrimmage, most would have played if there was a game.
“We gained a lot of momentum in the last 48 hours on injuries,” Andersen said. “There was a number of guys who could have gone today if they needed to. Defensively, we held out some guys for precautionary purposes, but we’re going to be real close to on firing on all cylinders as long as we stay healthy for the rest of the way through.”
Of the guys held out, Andersen felt defensive ends Chikwe Obasih and Alec James, inside linebackers Marcus and Michael Trotter, and outside linebackers Vince Biegel and Jesse Hayes would have been able to play. Inside linebacker Derek Landisch likely would have missed a game but he is making progress.
“We want those kids to practice because they need the reps,” Andersen said. “But we want to make sure we don’t bring them back too soon. It’s a delicate juggling act and that would be my biggest concern.”
Also missing the scrimmage were wide receivers Rob Wheelwright and Jazz Peavy, along with safety Leo Musso.
Gillins to play?
It’s been largely thought that true freshman D.J. Gillins would redshirt this fall, and if Andersen has his way, he will. The Jacksonville, Florida, native came in early and had an opportunity to take part in spring ball. While he possesses a strong arm and the ability to make people miss when he takes off running, he’s still a young kid and would benefit from a year watching. But something could lead to the 6-foot-3, 200-pound, Gillins getting on the field.
“How effective we are on offense,” Andersen said of what might change his mind on a redshirt. “The direction the offensive is truly heading as we go through the season. What we can absolutely do best. We’re going to be able to run the football. We know we have to run the football, but what is the direction of the throw game. What is the direction with the athleticism at the quarterback spot? That’s where we would make that complete judgment from.”
Gillins hasn’t been overly impressive in fall camp but did look good in the lone drive of the scrimmage the media got to see. He led the third-team offense on an 8-play, 70-yard scoring drive that was capped off with a 6-yard touchdown run by freshman Taiwan Deal.
On the drive, Gillins threw a dart to George Rushing for a first down. And then on third-and-17, he got loose for a 39-yard gain on the ground that included him stopping on a dime to make safety A.J. Jordan miss, and later putting a move on Austin Hudson that nearly made the safety fall to the ground.
“That’s the best he’s looked,” Andersen said. “He did some nice things today. Got rid of the ball when he needed to. Made a nice play with his legs. He’s got a bunch of young players surrounding him there, and he made a couple plays.”
Kinlaw pushing for No. 3?
Caleb Kinlaw had spent much of the first two weeks of camp as a bystander during live drills as the running back recovered from offseason surgery. On Monday, he was let loose and left an impression.
The freshman carried the ball twice during the scoring drive to end the scrimmage. He had a 9-yard gain on his first carry and followed that up with six on his next.
“He’s a different back as we all know,” Andersen said. “He’s kind of a scat back. If he can continue to move forward with that injury, (and) If he does some of the things he did today, he’ll definitely get a look and be in the mix for the third tailback spot.”
With UW having only four scholarship tailbacks, Taiwan Deal has held the third spot essentially by default. His most notable moment in camp was throwing up in between drills one minute and flattening his opponent in a drill the next. But Andersen thinks the Maryland product is coming around.
“I think Taiwan is just getting used to division one football and being a running back,” Andersen said. “It’s a hard position. It’s a physical offense. There’s a lot that goes to it.”
Corey Clement was the exception last year. He came in as a true freshman, had former running backs coach Thomas Hammock in his ear constantly, had veterans knocking him to the ground every play and he just kept coming.
“The toughness factor to walk in and contribute as an offensive linemen and a defensive linemen, we all know that. From a fullback we know that,” Andersen said. “To walk in here, in this offense, and deal with a physicality day in and day out for a young true freshman, it’s hard. And he’s adjusting to that.”
Wide receivers hitting a wall?
Throughout fall camp Andersen has praised the wide receivers, especially the young guys. But he was not happy with their performance in the scrimmage. He said there were several drops, which haven’t been a problem of late.
“I’ve kind of stamped those guys throughout camp as really growing up, and I would say right now we’ve kind of stabilized. We’ve hit a little bit of wall,” Andersen said. “We dropped some balls today that we had not dropped in the past. We made a couple plays, but we dropped a couple big ones. We’ll continue to evaluate them.”
That the wide receivers didn’t live up to what Andersen has come to expect of them is a positive thing. Most thought the unit would be a major question mark, and though they haven’t played a game yet, it’s clear they are farther along than expected.
“I expect more out of them,” Andersen said. “I would say that after today’s scrimmage. And I think we’ll get it out of them.”
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin