MADISON - The annual Wisconsin football spring game is just one week away, but Saturday's scrimmage may have proved more have proven to be more essential.
With both the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense squaring off with one another throughout the 97-play scrimmage, the UW coaching staff had a glimpse of what those two units have potential to do against another quality opponent.
"This will be the last day that we really go good vs. good competition wise in a scrimmage situation with ones versus ones," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "I really liked the way they competed."
However, everything didn't go as smoothly as it could have. Senior quarterback Scott Tolzien threw an interception on a ball Kyle Jefferson seemed to give up on as the ball approached the sideline.
Freshman quarterback Jon Budmayr, who was harassed throughout the day by the second string defense, threw three interceptions. Both seemed to be forced passes without much hope of reaching the intended target.
"That's not what we're trying to do," UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said following practice. "But they happen and you've got to learn from them and go forward. A pick in April, if you can learn from it, is better than a pick in the fall."
Along with the interceptions, the Badgers had a couple of penalties that hampered a couple of drives. Up front, the offensive line had a false start and later the defense had a facemask penalty that was luckily offset by an offensive holding call on the same play.
Additionally, Montee Ball fumbled on a third and short run and Jacob Pedersen fumbled on a broken play that was headed nowhere fast. The defense recovered each of the fumbles.
"I thought we turned the ball over a little too much and had some stupid penalties," Bielema said. "So we'll clean that stuff up and make a move for next week."
Cromartie makes impact felt:
It seemed as though Marcus Cromartie had Budmayr's number throughout Saturday's scrimmage portion of practice. The sophomore cornerback accounted for two of Budmayr's three interceptions and seemed to have a solid read on the young quarterback.
On one play, Budmayr stepped up in the pocket and tried to lob a ball into a tight window in the direction of Isaac Anderson. However, seeing he had help on the front side of the play, Cromartie was able to jump the route and step in front of Anderson at the last minute to complete the interception.
Later in practice, as the team was participating in 'move the chain' drills, Cromartie was in the right place at the right time when it seemed like Budmayr's arm was hit as he was releasing a pass.
Cromartie reeled in the errant throw and sprinted to the far sideline and finished the play with a solid return.
Slow start for the defense:
To start the scrimmage the No. 1 offense had two plays to get a first down on a typical first and 10 set against the No. 1 defense. And much to the dismay of the defensive coaches, the offense was able to record a first down each time they repped the drill.
Montee Ball started the day with back-to-back runs of six and seven yards for a first down. Later in the same set Ball had rushes of four and 10 yards respectively that helped move the chains.
The wide receivers made their impact as well when Nick Toon reeled in a ridiculous 32-yard catch over Devin Smith and David Gilreath busted a 30-plus yard run on an end around play.
The second time the No. 1 offense came out to play against the No. 1 defense, much of the same occurred. This time, Ball continued to punish the defense, Gilreath broke another end around run and Lance Kendricks rumbled 42 yards when Tolzien found him wide open across the middle.
"I thought our defense came out a little sluggish," Bielema said. "Our offense was moving the ball really, really well. From an offensive standpoint we always want to gain four or more yards on first down or hold them to three or less on defense. That's the way we try to teach football.
"In the third down sets it kind of changed momentum. The defense really caught fire throughout."
In that set, the defense was much improved. On the first play, a third and one situation, the defense forced a Ball fumble when Blake Sorensen put a helmet on the ball. Of the six plays the No. 1 offense had, only one picked up a first down and that was on a perfectly thrown ball on third and 29 from Tolzien.
The offense faired a bit better the second time the No. 1 units squared off. In that six play set, the offense was able to move the chains three times, once on a Ball run, once on a Toon reception and once on a Jared Abbrederis reception.
Tolzien only threw one interception on the day, but it definitely left a few unanswered questions. On the play, Tolzien was trying to escape the pocket. Once he got outside, he tried to throw the ball out of bounds but with a stiff breeze inside Camp Randall, the ball hung in the air and didn't quite reach the sideline.
Kyle Jefferson was the intended target on the play, but as the ball approached him it seemed as though the senior wide receiver gave up on the ball and ducked out of the way.
As a result, Antonio Fenelus was able to reel in the interception.
"I think he stopped and thought it was out of bounds," Bielema said of Jefferson. "I'll be able to see that on film. Obviously that's a detail that can easily be cleaned up."
Though he hasn't had an opportunity to kick many field goals during scrimmage situations this spring, Philip Welch looked decent during Saturday's practice. He had a chance to hit a field goal from 50 yards out to cap a drive late in practice, but came up just short. It seemed as though the ball hung up in the wind and lost steam as it got closer to the crossbar.
However, after the next series stalled out, Welch blasted a 47-yarder straight through the uprights. That kick probably would have been good from 50-plus yards.
Play of the day:
Early in the scrimmage, Toon made a beautiful catch over Smith. The ball was thrown deep down the near sideline, but hung in the air a little longer than Tolzien wanted it to. However, Toon, who seems to have great concentration skills, gathered himself and hauled in a very contested pass.
Eventually, the ball wound up somewhere around his helmet when Smith made contact with the receiver, but Toon was able to hold on to the pass and complete the big play.
-Fortunately for UW's sake, there were no injury's to report following Saturday's scrimmage.
-John Moffitt returned to practice, as did Brendan Kelly, Tyler Dippell and Eriks Briedis.
The Badgers will have a couple of days off before returning Tuesday evening 12th of 15 practices.
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