The real season begins Saturday. Despite some shaky stretches during the first two games, the University of Wisconsin football team finally faces a higher-level opponent in BYU fully capable of beating the Badgers.
UW will be forced to step up this week, and hopefully the readers stepped up their mailbag questions as well. Let’s get right to it.
Q: We didn’t see many communication issues in the secondary last year. Is (Jim) Leonhard’s time needed as DC hurting the development of the secondary?
— Trader 8 Ball (@trader8ball)
Q: It appears there have been instances where the D either receives the call late or maybe not at all. Any plans to have JL in the booth?
— Bill_Wof (@Slough_Creek)
There were clearly some communication issues on defense during the first two weeks, most notably when UW blew a coverage on Florida Atlantic’s first touchdown Saturday. It appears the main issue came from the tempo Utah State and FAU maintained offensively. Leonhard mentioned one instance this week where the Owls completed a deep pass and snapped the ball 12 seconds later. Of course, that’s no excuse. There will be Big Ten teams that take a similar approach this season, and it’s something UW needs to clean up. I really don’t think Leonhard being in the booth will fix that. It’s simply a matter of being better prepared and more in sync when relaying signals. As for Trader 8 Ball’s question, I’m sure it’s more difficult for Leonhard to be both the DBs coach and the DC, but I don’t necessarily think that relates to the communication issues. I am curious to see if the defensive backs can maintain the same level of play from last season, but we’ll need a bigger sample size than these two games to figure that out.
Q: Any update for (Bradick) Shaw or (Jon) Dietzen this week? Has (Alex) Hornibrook been working to improve leading the passer this week?
— Shaun Lingsweiler (@Lanzarus21)
This question was sent before Thursday’s injury report that showed Dietzen will be out this week and Shaw remains questionable. Beau Benzschawel also remains questionable heading into the weekend, and if he and Dietzen are both out at the guard position, the Badgers could have a lot of trouble moving the ball against this BYU defense. … As for Hornibrook, I think you mean leading the receiver? Either way, I wouldn’t panic on Hornibrook, despite his inaccuracy against FAU. We don’t get to see practice during the season, but I’m sure he’s working on everything that went wrong last week. I’d chalk up Saturday to just an off day, but he’s got to be better against the Cougars in UW’s first road game Saturday. The rushing yards likely won’t come as easy, and he’ll need to make some key throws for the Badgers to score some points.
Q: I don’t see this current team as a fast-starting team or a comeback team. What are your thoughts?
— PittsStop (@SonOfaPitts)
I think I half-agree with that. UW’s run-based offense could make it more difficult for this team to come from behind, and we don’t have much evidence yet of Hornibrook putting the team on his back when down two scores in the second half (not that he isn’t capable, we just haven’t seen it yet). I’m going to wait and see on the Badgers’ ability to start games fast. They actually did that against FAU last week, putting 14 points on the board early on, but we need to see what they do against better competition. That’s the thing about this season so far — it’s sort of impossible to know where this team stands when its only played games against Utah State and FAU (rather than LSU or Alabama). Our State Journal columnist, Tom Oates, will be writing about that in Saturday’s paper.
Q: In your opinion, will Cephus see more targets and generate more production than Peavy in B1G play?
— Hank (@moki33)
It wouldn’t surprise me. It really wouldn’t. I’ve been a huge Cephus fan since he arrived on campus last year, and I actually pondered with a colleague Saturday about whether or not he was UW’s best wide receiver. Certainly, though, don’t write Jazz Peavy off. He didn’t give the Badgers much receiving output during those first two games, but they’ll need him to come through at some point this season. I think he could still have a big year. … (This answer has turned into me procrastinating about having to decide who will see more targets) … To answer your question, I’ll go ahead and pick Cephus to have more targets and production during Big Ten play. I’ve expected a breakout all offseason, and I think he’s capable of being the Badgers’ best pass catcher since Jared Abbrederis before his career is over.
Q: Everyone is familiar with the success of the Badgers walk-on program. I would like to know the difference between a walk on and a preferred walk on.
— Badger Bill in San Miguel, Mexico
Our first international mailbag question (that I know of)! A preferred walk-on is a prospect that was recruited to the program as a walk-on. Basically, high school players that UW wanted on its team but didn’t have a scholarship available for. Walk-ons on the roster that aren’t preferred walk-ons likely tried out for the team after coming to UW. So, nearly all walk-on success stories you hear are going to come from that group of preferred walk-ons that the Badgers initially recruited.
Q: Have the #Badgers been experiencing more injuries than usual early in a season? Or is the injury bug just hitting players in impact positions?
— Chris Birke (@chris_burke)
The flurry of injuries during fall camp exceeded what we normally see, and that’s carried over into the season a bit. I wouldn’t consider the injury list astronomical in numbers, but I’m sure the Badgers don’t mind having an early bye next week before Big Ten play begins. The fact that so many are key players — Jack Cichy, Chikwe Obasih, Benzschawel, Dietzen, Shaw, etc. — does magnify the situation. UW at least needs to get those offensive guards healthy before the Northwestern game. They can survive without Obasih or Shaw or a number of others, but there’s not much depth on the offensive line. Badgers fans better hope Benzschawel’s healthy enough to play Saturday because UW may not be able to afford prolonged scoring droughts this week. The real competition has arrived.