Big Ten: Ken DeBauche

Three questions for Wisconsin

August, 11, 2008
8/11/08
9:40
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'll be taking a look at Wisconsin throughout the day. Here are three key questions facing the Badgers this fall:

Can fifth-year senior quarterback Allan Evridge effectively lead the offense?

Evridge is distancing himself in the quarterback competition and will likely start the opener Aug. 30 against Akron. He's not a first-timer at this, having started six games as a redshirt freshman at Kansas State in 2005. He'll have help, thanks to a veteran offensive line, three capable running backs and an All-American tight end in Travis Beckum. Evridge looked good on rollouts in Saturday's scrimmage but occasionally forced throws, which he can't do this fall. Wisconsin doesn't need a hero under center, but rather a game manager with the ability to periodically punish defenses cheating up to the line. Evridge seems to have the right makeup, but it has been three seasons since he last received meaningful playing time.

How will the Badgers' special teams fare without All-Big Ten performers Taylor Mehlhaff and Ken DeBauche?

The kicking game has been a huge part of Wisconsin's success, as the Badgers tied for the Big Ten lead in field goals with 21 last season and DeBauche ranked third in the league in punting average [41.6 ypp). The offense likely won't surge right away, so field goals and field position will loom large. Freshman punter Brad Nortman has performed well in preseason practice, but his age is a mini concern. The bigger questions are at kicker, where coach Bret Bielema hopes to see some separation soon. Matt Fischer has a slight edge over Philip Welch coming out of the first week, but the junior has yet to attempt a kick in a game.

How will the secondary fare against some of the Big Ten's spread offenses?

This unit worries me a bit. The Badgers lost their top cover corner in Jack Ikegwuonu, and two potential starters at cornerback, Allen Langford and Aaron Henry, are coming off ACL surgeries. Free safety Shane Carter led the Big Ten in interceptions last season, but he'll have to improve his tackling this fall. Like many Big Ten secondaries, the Badgers struggled against spread teams last fall, allowing 501 yards against Minnesota and 410 yards to Illinois. Young defensive backs Mario Goins and Jay Valai look promising, and the Badgers will look for help from junior Chris Maragos, who should contribute at nickelback.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin will be featured on the blog throughout Monday, but before I hit the road, here are some final thoughts and tidbits from Badger land.

I came away from Saturday's practice/scrimmage with some mixed feelings about this team. Until the scrimmage got going at the end of practice, the offense really didn't look good. Some questionable throws from the quarterbacks, a lot of dropped passes from the receivers. The performance in the scrimmage made some of those issues go away a bit, but Wisconsin will have some obstacles on offense, especially early in the season.

Allan Evridge seems like a really grounded guy who can lead the offense and manage the game, which is all Wisconsin asks its quarterbacks to do, but he'll face a huge test in Week 3 at Fresno State. If the Badgers survive at Bulldog Stadium and beat Michigan in their Big Ten opener Sept. 27, they'll be in excellent shape for a BCS push. But this team has some issues, particularly in the secondary and on special teams after losing All-Big Ten performers Taylor Mehlhaff and Ken DeBauche. The wide receivers might seem a bit shaky, but David Gilreath is big-time playmaker and Kyle Jefferson, Isaac Anderson and Maurice Moore all are capable.

The good news is every Big Ten team but Ohio State has some flaws, and Wisconsin's home schedule sets up well. The more I look at Penn State, the more I like what they have coming back. Wisconsin remains my No. 2, but things might change between today and Aug. 30.

A couple of quick-hitters from coach Bret Bielema's news conference:

  • Wisconsin is perfect at home under Bielema and has lost only one home contest [Iowa in 2005] since the 2003 season. The good news is the Badgers host Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium this fall.
"It's a very intimidating atmosphere," Bielema said. "I remember coming here as a competitor. ... Just the simple thing that we all love and kind of joke around. The fourth quarter, you're in a tight ballgame and you're trying to tell somebody how to line up against a certain formation or make an adjustment in the kicking game and all of a sudden, you've got 80,000 people jumpin' around to 'House of Pain,' from 60-year-olds down to 16-year-olds. It's hard to stop those people from kind of looking around and taking it all in."
  • Bielema anticipates playing 6-8 true freshmen this year and listed several possibilities: defensive end Brendan Kelly, defensive backs Kevin Claxton, Antonio Fenelus and Shelton Johnson, offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler, running back Bradie Ewing and punter Brad Nortman. Dan Moore, a junior-college transfer, also will see action at defensive end.
  • Special teams is a top priority in training camp as Wisconsin tries to replace Mehlhaff and DeBauche. Brad Nortman has stepped forward at punter, while Matt Fischer and Philip Welch continue to compete at place-kicker.
"Those guys are getting charted on every kick, on every opportunity that they have," Bielema said, "not only when the bullets are flying and we're out there together, but also during their pre-practice. Fish, right now, has probably got a little bit of an advantage, but we're going to put the heat on 'em this week. We'll do some scrimmage situations that involve the kicking game in the red zone. That will hopefully bring the best guy out."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Dust off those depth charts, people. Practice is finally here. Every Big Ten team --except Purdue -- lifts the curtain on preseason practice Monday. I'll be at Michigan's first workout at 2:30 p.m. ET, wearing a West Virginia shirt, of course. Relax, I'm joking.

Check back later today for interviews with Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee and defensive coordinator Scott Shafer, as well as other maize and blue-related items. For now, here's a look around the league:

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