MADISON - That was more like it Monday for the University of Wisconsin football team’s offense and especially the top two quarterbacks.
In the last major scrimmage of preseason camp, sophomore Joel Stave and senior Curt Phillips both made plays in the passing game, although the identity of the starter is no closer to being revealed as the Badgers begin game planning the rest of the way in preparation for the opener against UMass on Aug. 31.
The takeaway from this day was both quarterbacks looked capable of functioning and playing well, when pitted with the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense -- especially when the defense was minus some of its top weapons.
Nose tackle Beau Allen and inside linebacker Chris Borland were held out as a precaution against possible injuries and strong safety Dezmen Southward was limited to a few snaps as the nickel back, for the same reason.
“The ones pretty much dominated on both sides, which was good to see,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “It’s kind of what you’d expect in a scrimmage like this.”
Given the much-discussed dominance by the defense early in camp, this video will be much more enjoyable for the offensive players and coaches to watch.
“It was good for us to kind of get things clicking,” Andersen said. “If you’ve been at practices, (the offense has) done some really good things in practices. But practice is not games. It was just good to see us make some plays down the field.”
It started on the opening drive, when Stave smartly marched the No. 1 offense 75 yards in nine plays, with Melvin Gordon crashing over right guard for a 1-yard touchdown run.
The drive was set up by a strong running game, with James White gaining 25 yards around left end on the first play. Stave completed his only two throws on the drive, a 16-yarder to Jared Abbrederis and a 17-yard completion to White out of the backfield.
Not to be outdone, Phillips’ best drive, with the first offense, covered 65 yards in just two plays. It included a nice throw on a 48-yard completion to Abbrederis, against safety Nate Hammon, followed by a 17-yard touchdown pass to Alex Erickson off play-action.
Redshirt freshman Bart Houston also came up with a big play, tossing a 31-yard touchdown to Connor Cummins.
The offense had a chance for two more explosive plays, but Erickson dropped a well-thrown ball from Stave, which would have been a 40-yard completion, and Gordon had an impressive 83-yard run down to the 12-yard line called back by a holding penalty.
“We dropped a big one, got to make that one,” Andersen said. “It just felt better, watching (the offense) … they got in a groove. If they didn’t get behind the chains, they were pretty successful.”
Gordon ran through tackle attempts by cornerback Jakarrie Washington and Hammon, before being run down by outside linebacker Leon Jacobs.
“I expect that out of Melvin,” Andersen said. “That’s what he wants to be is a big-play kid. I hope there’s a lot more where that came from.”
Sophomore Tanner McEvoy, the third entry in the quarterback derby, did not look good when given a chance with the No. 1 offense. His first series was a three-and-out and the second included a deflected pass that should have been intercepted.
McEvoy also dropped the ball on a bootleg with nobody around him, although he managed to pick it up and throw a short completion. He also threw an interception on an athletic play by outside linebacker Joe Schobert, who tipped a pass and caught the ball while McEvoy was trying to throw on a rollout.
During red-zone sessions, McEvoy bounced back and threw two touchdown passes to fullback Derek Watt, who beat safety Jerry Ponio on a 25-yard wheel route, and a 4-yarder off play-action.
While there was a problem again with too many procedure penalties, the first offensive line asserted itself, even with two potential starters out with nagging injuries, center Dan Voltz (hamstring) and guard Kyle Costigan (knee).
“It was nice to see us being able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides with the first group,” Andersen said.
Now, it’s time to pick a quarterback, although Andersen said previously, fans may not know the identity before the opener.
Given all of the decisions Andersen must make by then, he was asked where quarterback ranks in terms of difficulty and importance.
“The quarterback position is important because the young man has his hands on the ball every snap,” he said. “It’s important who plays left guard and nose guard, too.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure, it’s an important decision we’re making -- just like a like a lot of them are. I just think the timing of it now is becoming crucial, to get the right reps for the two young men who are really going to be one and two as we get ready, and if three has to go in the game, you better have a game manager to give you an opportunity.”