Wisconsin Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons
With opening day rapidly approaching in their marquee matchup against LSU, the Wisconsin football team is looking to build off last year's relatively disappointing 9-4 campaign.
Gone is Chris Borland, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a four year starter for the Badgers. Gone is James White, the steady hand in the passing game who also contributed 1,444 yards on the ground last season. Gone is Jared Abbrederis, seemingly the only threat in the passing game for the past two years other than the occasional Jeff Duckworth grab. Duckworth is also gone.
While it may seem as if the Badgers are totally decimated, they still have plenty of strengths and a piece or two that no one is talking about. Without further ado, let's look at the Badgers' strengths, weaknesses and secret weapons.
Strength: Running Backs
Last season, the duo of James White and Melvin Gordon combined for 3,053 yards—the most by a tandem of running backs in a single season in the FBS. While half of that duo is gone, the Badgers have a star in the making. Gordon is ready to take on the additional carries and let the team not skip a beat.
In his freshman season, as the third string back behind the record setting duo, Corey Clement did quite well. While he mostly played in garbage time, on just 67 carries he had 547 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
Clement's ability to run in-between the tackles will be important to keep Gordon fresh. While I don't think Gordon will be 1a or 1b again this season, I wouldn't be surprised if Clement got 200 or more carries and capitalized on his chances.
As for Gordon, what can be said that hasn't already? Arguably a first- or second-round pick, Gordon chose to return for his redshirt junior season, and now he has Heisman candidate written all over him. Last season's 1,609 yards seem perfectly attainable as an encore performance to go along with more work in the passing game.
Weakness: Defensive Line
Pat Muldoon, Ethan Hemer and Tyler Dippel all graduated, and those three held down the fort at the defensive end position last season. Konrad Zagzebski is the only returning defensive end with any experience, but calling the senior experienced is getting a little ahead of oneself.
This position may not end up being that great of a weakness, but for now, there is a dearth of experience that could pose a problem, particularly with the opening day matchup against LSU looming large.
Filling the other defensive end role will likely be Chikwe Obasih or Alec James, with most signs pointing to Obasih. Both are extremely talented, versatile and will be regular contributors going forward, but the biggest issue is the lack of snaps.
Beau Allen held down the role of nose guard last season, and he played in the most games in team history. Stepping in to replace him is Warren Herring, who has the makeup and moxie to be a leader on this team. With that being said, he hasn't had to take the majority of the snaps at any point during his career.
Secret Weapon: Joe Schobert
While he may not pop off the screen as the most electrifying player on the team, you probably won't see Joe Schobert miss a tackle. Schobert is strong in run support and as sure a tackler as there is in a post-Borland world for the Badgers.
Schobert also has a start to his name and some really solid statistics from last season, compiling 24 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, three pass deflections and a sack.
Schobert will need to be good as the Badgers front-seven doesn't return a lot of experience. They will need him to take on a leadership role if their defense is to be as strong as they need it to be.
Furthermore, with Gary Andersen taking over as the positional coach for the outside linebackers, look for Schobert and battery-mate Vince Biegel to get plenty of top-flight coaching.
Strength: Offensive Line
While one could nitpick and say that losing two-time All-Big Ten and third-team All-American Ryan Groy will cause a setback to the Badger offensive line, they can stake the claim that they have one of the best offensive lines in the country once again—if not the best.
Between their starting unit, the Badgers have 74 starts under their collective belt with the quintet of Tyler Marz, Dallas Lewallen, Dan Voltz, Kyle Costigan and Rob Havenstein set to crack the starting rotation.
Beyond that, the group includes talented freshman Michael Dieter, who impressed in the spring after enrolling early, and Ray Ball, who got extra reps in the spring due to injuries.
The Badgers have an offensive line featuring seven players that could start on almost any team and a shocking four Preseason All-Big Ten selections according to Phil Steele. Two of those four, Havenstein and Costigan, are listed on the first team, which is great news for Badger fans.
Weakness: Special Teams
Whenever there's a threat that the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year is going to take your field goals, you should probably be on notice if you're a kicker.
Kyle French is gone, but that's probably addition by subtraction. Coming in at kicker is Rafael Gaglianone, a player who very well could provide stability in the kicking game. However, at NRG (nee Reliant) Stadium, Jack Russell will likely be the one kicking field goals and extra points for the Badgers.
Russell is a career 9-15 on field goals with as many missed extra points (1) as 40-plus yard field goals made. He actually looked serviceable for a while, but he has a lack of range that could present serious problems for the Badgers.
On the punting front, Drew Meyer isn't bad, but he's also not that good. Meyer finished 11th out of the 12 Big Ten punters with a 38.6 yard average. Meyer rarely shanks kicks, but he doesn't have a ton of leg, which could also present problems.
Secret Weapon: Sam Arneson
With graduations decimating the receiving corps and a pair of running backs that thus far have only shown an aptitude toward carrying the ball, it will be imperative that the Badgers find someone to step up.
With Sam Arneson in the fold, they have that guy. A touchdown machine in the making, Arneson has four touchdowns on only 10 career receptions. While that is not to suggest Arneson will keep up his 40 percent conversion rate, Arneson clearly has already found a nose for the end zone.
Arneson should get plenty of looks on play-action throws in the red zone, particularly with defenses converging on Gordon and Clement inside the 20. His grabs against Minnesota and Ohio State show that Arneson certainly has the ability to keep doing big things when the field shortens.