Three things to watch for in Wisconsin's spring game
When: Saturday, noon CT
TV: Big Ten Network
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
-Bart Houston vs. Alex Hornibrook
Another B1G team, another quarterback battle. For the first time in 15 years, Joel Stave won’t be part of it. There are plenty of Badger fans eager to see a new face under center in Madison. Houston and Hornibrook split snaps throughout spring and they’ll both get a fair crack at the job. Neither has run away with the opportunity yet, but a scrimmage could be a real separator. Both struggled in practice at times with interceptions, which is about the last thing the Badgers want to see from Stave’s replacement.
The dreaded “game manager” isn’t all that bad in Madison. Whoever can show that they are in control of the offense — and not the one holding it back — will get a significant leg up heading into the summer.
-Wisconsin’s running game looking like Wisconsin’s running game
The return of Corey Clement has already been well-documented. Getting one of the nation’s most talented backs healthy is obviously important.
But for Wisconsin to get back to its ground-and-pound ways, it starts with the offensive line. This group was starting redshirt freshmen last year instead of NFL-bound upperclassmen. It was the first time Wisconsin started three freshmen on the offensive line since 1997. On top of their youth, they started five different combinations in their first seven games. No wonder this group struggled more than it has in recent memory.
Saturday should be a different story. Dan Voltz is still working his way back from his mid-season anterior cruciate ligament tear, so Wisconsin won’t have one of the nation’s top linemen in the fold. But those inexperienced redshirt freshmen from 2015 are much more prepared to take on their proper roles. This group should have stability with Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel and Jacob Maxwell back.
They’re still young, but after finally getting comfortable this offseason, this group is ready to pave the way for Clement and the Badger backs.
-Badger D without Dave Aranda
One of the big questions heading into 2016 is how good the Badger defense can be without Dave Aranda. Was the nation’s top scoring defense a product of the system? Or is this unit capable of being just as stout with Justin Wilcox running the show?
We already know that despite losing an All-American in Joe Schobert, this linebacking core is the strength of the Badgers. Vince Biegel, Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards, Chris Orr and T.J. Watt — maybe the first position group ever with two players named T.J. — are going to be fun to watch in spring, summer or fall.
It’ll be interesting to see how much Wilcox plans on changing things. It’d be tough to imagine him blitzing like Aranda did — he definitely won’t in a spring game — and if he’s able to disguise coverages. There are questions surrounding a new-look secondary, and the defensive line is still a work in progress. Still, we should get a good idea of how the Badger D will be utilized under Wilcox in 2016.