Wisconsin concluded its spring slate on Friday night with drills and a spring game.
Here were the five things that stood out.
1. Alex Hornibrook’s job is very safe
Last year, Hornibrook impressed in Wisconsin’s spring game. He had to. He was battling for a starting job. This year, he was designated to headset duty. And it’s a small sample size, but no Wisconsin quarterback is on Hornibrook’s level yet.
Jack Coan and Kare Lyles looked like freshmen. They struggled to feel pressure, they didn’t look comfortable in the pocket and they weren’t all that accurate. Simply put, the game looked too fast for them.
Coan eventually got into a better rhythm down the stretch, but not before making some unnecessary throws. He also saw the Wisconsin secondary make some nice plays in coverage:
It’s worth noting, of course, that Wisconsin was without basically its starting offensive line, not to mention its top two targets in Troy Fumagalli and Jazz Peavy. That was by no means the unit any of Wisconsin’s backup quarterbacks would be playing if Hornibrook were to go down.
But there’s definitely room for improvement.
2. A.J. Taylor can turn up field in a hurry
One of the big questions in Madison heading into 2017 is which wideout is best going to complement Peavy with the loss of Rob Wheelwright.
Taylor flashed his ability to step into that role. He made a nice early grab over the middle and had a second burst to get upfield and turn it into a long gain. That was a good sign from the second-year wideout, who had three catches as a true freshman.
Keep in mind that Taylor was a high school running back. He’s still transitioning to being a full-time route-runner, but if he can master that craft, he showed that he can make things happen in space.
3. Garrett Rand is going to be a force
Rand was a rare four-star defensive lineman recruit for Wisconsin a year ago. After watching him on Friday night, it wasn’t hard to see why.
He started off his night by tossing Bradrick Shaw in the backfield. A few plays later, he made a similar play and got credit for the sack.
The most impressive thing Rand did actually wasn’t a tackle for loss or a sack. The mobile Coan scrambled outside of the pocket and he couldn’t turn the corner past the line of scrimmage because Rand chased him out of bounds. Those are the types of plays you love to see out of a guy in a spring game.
After playing a reserve role as a true freshman, Rand looks ready to become that force up front that the Badgers need.
4. Rafael Gaglianone is BACK…but not perfect yet
Wisconsin’s beloved kicker was back in action after back surgery ended his 2016 season in non-conference play. It was good to see the veteran feeling good again. He booted two 42-yarders with ease and shanked a 35-yard kick.
The good news is that Gaglianone’s big leg didn’t go anywhere. His miss had plenty of distance, but it hooked badly.
Wisconsin needs Gaglianone to be back and at 100 percent, which he looked on Friday night. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Badgers found themselves in a couple nail-biters in 2017. Having Gaglianone in full force would be a nice boost.
5. Paul Chryst was cautious, but Wisconsin wasn’t 100 percent injury-free
We knew that Wisconsin’s spring game was going to have a whole lot of new faces. Here’s a list of the notable Badgers that didn’t play on Friday night:
Oh, and that list didn’t include Fumagalli, Peavy or Hornibrook. In other words, it was a game for the reserves. The last thing anyone wanted was a Lee Evans situation. Fortunately, no superstars went down.
Unfortunately, redshirt freshman tailback Sam Brodner looked like he got his knee twisted up and he had to be helped off the field. The former Chicago Tribune Player of the Year was getting some good run in spring camp, and barring anything serious, he’ll have a chance to earn some reps in his second year in Madison.
But other than that, the Badgers appeared to avoid any more injuries in their final live action before the opener. If there was a victory on Friday night, that was it.