End of an Era: Is it Time to Retire the Paul Chryst 4th Down Watch?

"DC Dan" emailed the show with a detailed analysis of Paul Chryst's 4th down decision making. Last year Dan was less than impressed with Chryst in this regard as he thought he was too conservative in this regard, opting for the punt or field goal at times when attempting the 1st down conversion seemed like the more appropriate decision. 

However, Dan seems to think Chryst views things differently this season. Since Dan's email was look long to fully integrate into the show, we present it in it's entirety here. He also throws a little quarterback discussion in at the end to boot!

 

As I mentioned in my tweet, it may be time to retire the Paul Chryst Fourth Down Watch if we have more games like this one.  Below is my assessment of the fourth down decisions made against MSU:

The "Hell Yes" section:

  • 4th-and-1 from the MSU 41 (4:47 1st): Ingold rush for 6 yards.
  • 4th-and-1 from the MSU 3 (1:28 1st): Ingold rush for 2 yards.

These were big, and both came in the first quarter "statement drive" -- the Badgers' second drive of the game -- that resulted in the touchdown from which they would not look back.  I know they didn't have Gaglianone, but I don't think that was much of a factor in either decision.  Chryst probably isn't going to kick a field goal from the 41 even with Rafa's leg available, and I'm sure Chryst would have sent out Endicott to put the ball in from 3 yards out had he wanted it.  The bottom line is that Chryst trusted his offensive line to get the one yard in both cases, which was absolutely the correct call, and that "set the tone" (I hate that cliché) for the rest of the game.

 

The "Would Have Been Gutsy" section:

  • 4th-and-2 from the WIS 28 (11:21 2nd): Lotti punt for 47 yd.
  • 4th-and-3 from the MSU 23 (4:58 3rd): Endicott made 41 yd. field goal.

There's an argument to be made that you should almost always go for it if it's fourth-and-2 or less no matter where you are on the field, especially if you a) have a relatively high expected conversion rate on short yardage (which I believe the Badgers do), or b) need to employ high-variance strategies since you're an underdog.  In this game, 'A' applies, but 'B' does not, as I think the Badgers and Spartans were basically evenly matched going in, so punting from your own 28 is probably the smarter move.  Chryst also decided to go for the points to put the Badgers up by three scores in the third quarter, which shows that he at least had some faith in Endicott's leg, and he probably would have gone for it on those first quarter fourth downs even had Gaglianone been available.

 

The "I Would Have Gone" section:

  • 4th-and-6 from the MSU 35 (9:54 4th): Lotti punt for 27 yd.

Here's the only spot where not having Gaglianone maybe made a difference, as a long field goal try probably makes more sense than a short punt.  This is right in the heart of no-man's land, where I would probably go for it on almost any distance if I didn't have a great kicker available.  The game was basically over at this point, though, so who really cared?

 

The "No Brainer" section:

  • 4th-and-9 from the WIS 12 (14:11 3rd): Lotti punt for 38 yd.
  • 4th-and-4 from the MSU 44 (12:32 4th): MSU penalty for 5 yd.
  • 4th-and-5 from the MSU 49 (4:46 4th): Lotti punt for 44 yd.
  • 4th-and-2 from the WIS 26 (1:36 4th): Lotti punt for 48 yd.

These are pretty self-explanatory.  One of them worked out anyway thanks to a penalty, and the final fourth down Wisconsin faced in this game was with so little time left on the clock that it wouldn't have been worth the risk to potentially set MSU up for a garbage TD.

 

 

Quarterbacks Analysis:

Finally, I figured we had enough information on both QBs to do a quick numbers check on how they stack up so far.  Further, both players have seen time against the same opponents, aside from LSU and MSU.  You could argue that LSU has a tougher defense than MSU, but without any advanced team stats at my fingertips, I'm inclined to call it even.

  • Hornibrook:  29 / 43, 8.8 YD/ATT, 13.0 YD/COM
  • Houston:  44 / 71, 7.4 YD/ATT, 12.0 YD/COM

On a per-attempt basis, Hornibrook is outpacing Houston by over a yard, and he's also better than Houston on his completed passes by exactly a yard on average.  I find that second point (yards per completion) somewhat interesting, because Houston is supposed to be the one with the bigger arm, so you might expect that he would complete fewer short passes and more passes downfield, but that's not the case. 

Finally, my favorite passing stat (adjusted net yards per pass attempt, which factors in sacks, picks, and touchdowns) shows a clear lead for Hornibrook:

  • Hornibrook:  7.5 ANY/A
  • Houston:  6.0 ANY/A

Hornibrook's ANY/A was down a bit against MSU (5.6), but still not as low as Houston's was against LSU (3.1).  As much as some of their other numbers look similar, there's not much doubt in my mind that Hornibrook is the superior passer.  I'll look at the numbers again next week, when Hornibrook will have played against another very difficult opponent in Michigan, and his number of attempts will be closer to Houston's current total.

It's Here - the BuckAround 2015 Season Preview

BuckAround contributor Neal Olson (@olewr7) wraps up his preview series - how will it go for the Badgers this year?  Find out below . . .

The Paul Chryst regime will begin with a bang this Saturday in Dallas against Alabama. Depending on your proclivity for optimism, this is either the best or worst way to start a new coaching era. While most top 25 teams will be cashing big checks with home games against directional universities, the Badgers get a first-rate opportunity to test their mettle against one of the big boys of college football.

Without putting too much emphasis on a single game, the outcome in the opener is likely to skew Wisconsin football fans on the potential of the program under Chryst. A victory will skyrocket Chryst’s status in the state, with legitimate and well-earned playoff talk likely to follow. A loss probably won't  tell us much (it is favored Alabama after all), depending on the lopsidedness of the scoreboard; a loss will also do nothing to dissuade some from questioning whether Wisconsin can complete at the highest level of college football.

Chryst’s predecessors at Wisconsin had very different legacies when it came to individual games. Barry Alvarez was a master at preparing and winning (usually) games against higher-ranked teams, specifically bowl games played in Pasadena.  However, Barry’s teams had a penchant for losing games they were expected to comfortably win, most notably in 1993 at Minnesota, and in 1999 at Cincinnati; Rose Bowl champions both, that dropped road games against unranked opponents.

Bret Bielema, on the other hand, made hay destroying the bottom-feeding teams on the schedule. For three consecutive seasons from 2010-2012, the Badgers averaged 68 points with a 54 point margin of victory over Indiana for example. However, where Alvarez was at his best in the spotlight of big games, Bielema consistently fell short - he had a 2-7 bowl record at Wisconsin (and yes, he should take the lump for the third Rose Bowl loss, Barry’s still 3-0!) and beat Ohio State just once (even though the Buckeyes were #1 in 2010). And while the two Big Ten championship games were fun, a calming internet meme will never be Bielema’s forte. 

As far as Chryst is concerned in 2015, we are much more likely to see how he handles games against the bottom feeders. Aside from Alabama, the Badgers should be favored in nearly every other game this season. Dave Bartoo who, runs CFBMatrix (and recently broke down Chryst and the Badgers on the BuckAround podcast), identified the Badgers' schedule as the easiest of the Power 5 conferences after week 1.

In conference play, the Badgers face two road games on the road, at Nebraska and at Minnesota, which will be their biggest challenges (sorry Max, I just can’t include Iowa! [ed. note - it's ok, I understand]). Fortunately, Wisconsin has owned the Ax since the Clinton Administration and have had Nebraska’s number since the Huskers joined the Big Ten (2012 in Lincoln and Danny O'Brien notwithstanding). Winning is never guaranteed of course, but losing any of the games outside the Marquee Three ('Bama, Nebraska, Minnesota) will certainly ignite the Badger faithful - check the @JSComments Twitter feed with trepidation at that point.

The three home non-conference games against Miami (OH) (not the program that was subject of TWO 30 for 30s), Troy, and Hawaii are all leading candidates for oldsters to complain about the late-arriving student section. Wisconsin shouldn't have any problems winning all three games.

A good portion of the Big Ten West is in disarray. When a majority of the storylines are related to setting up a players union or firing your coach one week prior to the first game of the season, there just isn't a whole lot of fear garnered by games against those opponents. The two crossover games with the East division are Rutgers and Maryland, both expected to finish at the bottom of their division. Without completely jinxing the season, there's a good chance present day Bret Bielema could quarterback this Badger team to a winning record and a bowl game. In short, past the opener, the schedule is ideal for a new head coach hoping to win over fans.

The schedule has been a focal point thus far, and rightfully so, but that shouldn't detract from a talented roster. Barry Alvarez was a believer in Lou Holtz's five outstanding player theory. The theory holds that a team needs no less than five superstars, surrounded by solid role players, to be championship caliber. With Corey Clement, Michael Caputo, Vince Biegel, and Joe Schobert, the Badgers are close to knocking on the door of that magic formula.

Not only do the Badgers have playmakers on both sides of the ball, they are a relatively young team. On the initial depth chart released Monday, nine of the starting 22 players are seniors, and only 12 seniors appear in the two-deep in total. Whatever this season brings, the Badgers should be well-stocked for next season and beyond.

Paul Chryst’s tenure at Wisconsin will be an interesting barometer for Wisconsin football. The past two coaches left in surprising fashion to oversee programs that should be considered lateral moves at best. Wisconsin football has long been a model of consistency. A “B+” program with an occasional “A” season sprinkled in every four to five years.  Can Chryst be coach that vaults them into a bona fide playoff and national title contender?

Whether this season ends up as one for the record books, or merely paves the way for future success, the #QuestForFun starts Saturday in Dallas. So ready your hashtags, enjoy the screen game renaissance, and relax. Football on Saturdays is finally back.

Final Prediction: 10-2, Big Ten Title Game, New Year’s Day Bowl (probably against Bielema and Arkansas - #karma).

Lessons from 1997

BuckAround contributor Andy Schaaf (@akschaaf) compares the 2015 Badgers, especially along their reconstituted (reloading?) offensive line, to the Badgers of 1997 - the precursor squad to the Rose Bowl champs of 1998 and 1999.

It's been a rough month for your Wisconsin Badger offensive line. The departures of Kyle Costigan, Rob Havenstein, and Dallas Lewallen officially signaled the end of the Wisconsin O-Line dynasty that sprung up in 2009 and 2010. August of 2015 has been spent learning new names and hoping those new names can do enough to simply keep Joel Stave from getting killed in Dallas. The glory days of having future NFL’er Travis Frederick redshirt simply because there is no room for him on the depth chart these are not.

While redshirt freshman Michael Deiter spent 2014 impressing coaches and being groomed to be the next man up at right (or perhaps left?) guard, and fifth-year senior Tyler Marz and fourth-year junior Dan Voltz have left tackle and center, respectively, locked down, the other two spots have proven much more challenging. RS frosh Beau Benzschawel and RS sophomore Hayden Biegel were expected to compete for the RT position, but both have been injured for most of the past couple weeks. Many hoped Ray Ball would build on his experience last year and run away with the left guard position, but it has not happened (and he was recently added to the injury report). A week and a half until they meet Alabama's dominant front seven, Wisconsin is practicing with unknown RS freshmen Micah Kapoi at left guard and Jacob Maxwell at right tackle.

So there are some issues.

The issues are mostly the result of youth. There has been well-documented attrition, mostly injury-related, in the position group and it's hard to think of a time Wisconsin was this inexperienced in such a key program area. Of 13 scholarship offensive lineman, 9 are freshmen or sophomores. Of the 4 upper classmen, only Marz and Voltz have established themselves as reliable starters.

As a recent Buckyville poster mentioned, the last time a Wisconsin offensive line was inexperienced was 1997, deep in the heart of the Alvarez Era. It got me thinking about how that season came to be, how it played out, and what it meant going forward.  There are some interesting parallels to 2015.

The 1996 Badgers are known today almost exclusively for Ron Dayne bursting onto the scene, and that is fair, but that team featured a very experienced offensive line that helped get him started. Seniors Jerry Wunsch, Cayentano Castro, Derek Engler, and Jamie Vanderveldt anchored that line, with freshman Chris McIntosh learning on the job at LT.

The 1996 team was better than their 8-5 record, losing three in a row, to #3 Penn State, #2 Ohio State, and #14 Northwestern (JUST KNEE THE BALL!), by a combined 10 points. Dayne averaged 6.5 yards per carry and ran for 2,109 yards total. The senior-led line made things easy for him - and I don’t think we even hated Mike Samuel yet.

After the 1996 seniors left, things felt a little like they do today. The champions of 1993 were all but gone, and although the 1997 team featured some talent at the skill positions (Dayne, primarily), a new era had most certainly begun. Sixty-one of the 85 scholarship players were freshmen or sophomores, and when the 1997 fall training camp began, Alvarez was left in a similar situation to what Paul Chryst is facing this fall.

Chris McIntosh was already establishing himself as a mainstay at LT, and (large) project Aaron Gibson was ready to assume the RT position. Outside of them, there were a lot of unknowns. Casey Rabach, similar to Deiter this year, was the next young guy "ready to go," but Alvarez was forced to start freshmen unknowns Bill Ferrario and Dave Costa at the guard spots.

So, going into the 1997 season, Wisconsin had an established left tackle, a project right tackle and three mostly unknown freshmen on the interior. Sound slightly familiar?

Oh, and did I mention the 1997 team opened the season against a marquee opponent (#17 Syracuse was good at the time, I promise!) in a nationally- televised neutral-site game?

You probably recall that the 1997 opener didn’t go too well. Dayne, who ran wild a year earlier, finished with just 46 yards behind the new offensive line, and the 24th-ranked Badgers got smoked 34-0.  Throughout that year, the team showed the struggles that come with an inexperienced offensive line. After getting blown out in the opener, they eked out a 4-point win against (at the time) a lowly Boise State team at Camp Randall, and would go on to finish 8-5.

Unlike the 1996 team that was probably better than its record, the 1997 team probably wasn’t as good as its record, winning 3 games by a single point and losing 5 games by at least 10 points, including a depantsing in the Outback Bowl by Georgia.

The offense went from 36th nationally in ppg to 68th, with basically the same skill position players. Only Ahmad Merritt graduated after the 1996 season; Dayne, Samuel, Donald Hayes, and Tony Simmons all returned. Dayne saw his per carry average drop a full yard.

So does that mean the 2015 Wisconsin Badgers are doomed? Certainly not. It's foolish to put too much stock in a season 18 years ago when projecting 2015. It does, however, serve as a warning for expectations this year.

The thing about 1997 was that those growing pains all paid off. The freshmen that struggled then got a little better in 1998. The 1998 Big Ten Champs were built more on defense and special teams than on a dominant offensive attack, but still, the lasting memory of that season is the Badger offensive line and Ron Dayne steamrolling UCLA in Pasadena.

By 1999, the now upper classmen-filled offensive line dominated opponents and the Badgers sported one of the best offenses in the country. By 2001, the struggling freshmen of 1997 were all on NFL rosters. Will we be toasting Michah Kapoi’s NFL career in 10 years? One can hope the program and player trajectory follows a similar pattern.  

So even as we go through training camp angst this August, and pre-panic about the offensive line with the Alabama Crimson Tide on the horizon, 1997 serves as both an example of how a great offensive line at Wisconsin isn’t a given, and the potential that can be realized later with some patience and plenty of growing pains.

Who would have thought this would be a popular topic? Check out Jeff Potrykus' interviews with guys from the 1997 team for a first-hand account of the 1997 season.

Era of Good Feelings with Paul Chryst - How Long Will It Last?

"New" head coach Paul Chryst comes in this job welcomed as if he were an old friend, and it should provide him a wide berth from fans - but how wide will the berth eventually be in 2015?

When I was a kid in Racine, Wisconsin, I played sports like a lot of kids – in my neighborhood, at school, on organized teams.  Mostly, soccer, but some baseball and, as I got older, softball.  Softball was the best because I played in adult church leagues and got to play with older brothers, regular guys, and a few aging ex-jocks.  When I hear Paul Chryst talk in interviews – in any format – he reminds me not only of those older guys but also of nearly every single coach from whom I learned about technical aspects of sports.

Maybe, because like him, I grew up in Wisconsin; he sounds like those guys in tone and temper and looks a lot like them, too – right down to the tobacco he may or may not still chew.  I never knew or played with anyone like Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, or even a Tim Beckman – most likely because I wasn’t ever much better than an average player, but equally so because those kind of head coaches are special  personalities – it takes a little crazy to get to the top of college football coaching.  Those guys are variously extremely driven, high-intensity, and, in some cases, just plain weird.  Few “regular” people come across the type very often.

Chryst, on the other hand, doesn’t seem like any of those head coaches (obviously I, and just about anyone reading this, don’t know him personally).  In fact, he doesn’t even come off as particularly erudite, brainy, or intense.  When he talks to the media, he’s not high-minded, arrogant, or even football geeky; he’s even worked on his media approach with experts.  Most people call him “down to earth.” Even as he often reveals very little other than his obvious, but yet still subdued, enthusiasm for football in general and this job, and this team, in particular, he’s perceived by nearly everyone as “honest.”

Most fans know his mild-mannered exterior also merely lies on top of his considerable offensive football acumen.  He might be underestimated by opposing fans, but rarely by opposing coaches.  For Wisconsin, he showed it as an offensive coordinator; the offenses of 2009, 2010, and 2011 are your evidence.  That success, any maybe his familiarity to us, makes it easy to forget that we still have to wait and see how he applies all this as Wisconsin's head coach.

There is his well-known and well-documented background in Wisconsin Badger football; it’s as if he was born for this job.  But I suspect that many, if not most, Wisconsin fans grew up in a more or less similar, and Wisconsin(-y), milieu to the one I did and I also suspect that this kind of perceived familiarity, personality-wise, accounts just as much for the warm welcome he’s received from Badger football fandom at large.  We relate to him because he comes off like so many people we knew growing up and/or know now in our everyday lives; it’s a little preposterous really, but we feel like we “know” the guy.

The more senior members of the media covering Wisconsin have often treated Chryst as a prodigal son returned home, but who can blame them?  They DO actually know him personally and have for years.  There's certainly no dereliction of duty, but the media's handling of Chryst, especially when he was hired and introduced, has helped shape fans' reception of him as well.

By the same token, these widely held feelings on the part of fans that balance seems to have been restored to the Force, especially after the apparently ill-fitting Gary Andersen bolted for a something of a lesser position (two years after erstwhile Barry Alvarez acolyte Bret Bielema did roughly the same thing), have tended to gloss over at least some legitimate concerns as Chryst opens his tenure.  His 19-19 record at Pitt is underwhelming, even if that program was a basket case when he took it over.  Even though his first classes at Wisconsin came or are coming together well enough, he’s never been known or seen as an ace recruiter.  Then there’s what happened at Pitt on defense under his watch; the longer Dave Aranda stays, the better, but it can’t be forever for such a rising star.  Nevertheless, until on-field results start to be compiled, Chryst will be given the benefit of the doubt by most fans because of his deep ties to the program and, equally, his familiar, oh-so-“Wisconsin” personality.

Chryst does step into a situation where the team he takes over just won a conference division title and was, on the whole, fairly young.  Even after losing a Heisman runner-up, it’s the consensus opinion that this team has sufficient personnel to repeat as a division winner; put another way, Chryst is, and probably should be, expected to get the team back to yet another B1G title game.  It probably won’t happen, but what if the Badgers are 3-3 in conference and still have a potentially resurgent Northwestern and Ax-rival Minnesota left to deal with?  What if Nebraska wins the West?  What if Alabama wins 38-0?

When Chryst made the quite off-hand “Quest for Fun” comment during his season-opening press conference, it was revealing.  You may hear Beckman or maybe Harbaugh say something like that, but never Meyer.  It was reminder that while he brings a serious mind, commitment, and intelligence to this job, there’s an essential element of levity with Chryst, too.  This should help the players keep in mind that any pressure in Arlington will be on the Crimson Tide, not the Badgers.  On-field performance notwithstanding for now, the same levity should carry this team through the more important games on the schedule this season: at Nebraska, at Minnesota, and, where the lion’s share of any pressure is almost certain to be on the East Division winner, in a quite possible B1G title game.

The comment of course also harkened back to the local adult sports guys of my youth.  It’s something most, if not all, of them would have said, although maybe not in so many words.  And boy, did help me and my teammates to always give it our level best to win, toughly and usually smartly.  Didn’t always do it, but it was almost always fun – when we didn’t win, we usually felt like we didn’t lose, we just ran out of time.  For this season, under “new” coach Paul Chryst, the only question is in how many games will it feel, for players and fans both, like the Badgers just simply ran out of time?  Or in other words, how long will the honeymoon last?

Wisconsin 2015 Previews - Offense

New BuckAround contributor Neal Olson (@olewr7) offers his thoughts on the upcoming series in the first of a three-part series.  Here, he takes on the 2015 Wisconsin offense under new head coach Paul Chryst and four-year starting QB Joel Stave.

The 2015 season christens (too early for puns?) the new, but old school era of Wisconsin football. Whether your opinion of the Gary Andersen regime ranged from ‘tolerated’ to ‘pint of Spotted Cow through the TV,’ you can’t say it wasn’t interesting. Paul Chryst might be the farthest thing imaginable from the "rah-rah" of Gary Andersen, but that is not at all a bad thing. In fact, some may say Chryst is boring. Boring he may be, but he is also wildly effective, at least on offense.

Paul Chryst will probably never be known for intense pre-game speeches or as a snazzy dresser, but he is as a top-notch quarterback coach. Setting aside the work he did with Scott Tolzien and Russell Wilson when last at Wisconsin, Chryst did wonders with Tino Sunseri and Tom Savage in his first two seasons at Pittsburgh. A quick look at their season averages in completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, interceptions and quarterback rating BC (Before Chryst (no pun intended!) and under Chryst’s tutelage:

The numbers are pretty convincing. Two different journeymen players showed significant improvement under Chryst’s coaching and play-calling. Both QBs also improved by leaps and bounds during their last season of college eligibility. Perhaps their improvement was less Chryst and more just simply two upper classmen capitalizing on several years of college football. Maybe Chryst didn’t impact them much at all? Well, you know who else is entering his last season of college eligibility? That’s right, Joel Stave.

Stave has endured pretty much every imaginable hardship a college quarterback can face. Walk-on, season-ending injury, quarterback controversy, the yips, you name it, Stave has endured it. Yet here he is entering his senior season, with a realistic shot to finish the top three of every major passing category including yards, touchdowns and completions for his career at Wisconsin – plus a 21-7 record as a starter.

For the first time in his career at Wisconsin, Stave left spring camp as the unquestioned starter with the full confidence of the coaching staff, including Chryst, who first recruited him to Madison. For someone who has gone through the wringer like he has, the assurance from that feeling will be immeasurable. Factor in the improvement under QB guru Chryst and Stave should have his best season of his career.

Once again however, the passing game is looking for someone, anyone to step up and take pressure off the running game. Alex Erickson had a breakout season last year and will continue to prototypically fill the role of steady possession receiver. However, for the Badger offense to make the jump from ‘very good’ to ‘dangerous’ they will need a consistent downfield receiving threat.

Upperclassmen Jordan Frederick, Rob Wheelwright, Reggie Love, and Jazz Peavy have all dealt with injuries or inconsistencies that have hampered their development.  Youngsters George Rushing and Krenwrick Sanders definitely have the speed and athleticism to be difference makers but still lack consistency and polish. The X-factor for the receivers might just be Tanner McEvoy.

As Rich and Max noted in the “#QuestforFun” podcast, McEvoy will be the one-man barometer on the area of biggest need for the team. During spring practice McEvoy split time between safety and wide receiver. Thus far this fall he has spent all of his time with the receivers and has emerged as one of the annual camp stories. That should say enough about the state of Badgers receivers.

Even though he will be listed at wide receiver, McEvoy’s skill set might more closely align to how Chryst has used tight ends in the past. Travis Beckum and Lance Kendricks were both tall, athletic players that Chryst always had a handful of designed plays to get them the ball. In particular, Chryst loved the tight end screen, don’t be surprised to see that make a comeback. At 6’5”, McEvoy’s height could also be a major factor in the red zone.

The wide receivers will continue to be a talking point until someone emerges as a consistent threat. Wisconsin’s passing game has been disorganized and underdeveloped frankly since Chryst left. That is not to say we will see a dramatic improvement overnight, but the aforementioned quarterback improvement will trickle down to the receivers. As long as the trend starts – and stays – upward, fans will be happy.

A lot of pressure will be put on Stave to preform and rightfully so as the quarterback. But since a quarterback’s best friend is a dominant offensive line, the Badgers big men up front will be counted on to keep Stave upright. The good news is two lineman return with two plus seasons of starting experience. The bad news is typical offensive lines start five players.

Redshirt freshman Michael Deiter has established himself at right guard, joining the entrenched Tyler Marz at left tackle and Dan Voltz at center as projected starters. The remaining left guard and right tackle spots are still up for grabs. As an added complication, injuries are starting to mount for the competitors for the open spots.

Hayden Biegel (head) and Beau Benzschawel (knee), front runners for right tackle, are both out indefinitely. Those injuries have moved Walker Williams, who was also in competition for left guard, back out to right tackle. Early enrollee freshman Jon Dietzen is battling an ankle injury after making a push for the starting left guard spot.

All the jostling around on the line makes it difficult to establish any sort of rhythm and consistency, whether in pass protection or run blocking; offensive lines operate best when they are in sync.  Chryst’s offense calls for pre-snap shifts and adjustments that require everyone to be on the same page and in the proper blocking scheme. The sooner the offensive line can be established, the better. Opening with Alabama, no easy task for even the most experienced line, only makes this more difficult.

One position that has never been questioned at Wisconsin is running back. Corey Clement spent his first two seasons trying to steal carries from guys like James White and Melvin Gordon. A testament to Clement’s talent was earning playing time as an underclassman at a position with two NFL players. Now, he gets his chance to be the bell cow in the always formidable Wisconsin run game.  His experience should offset somewhat the lack thereof in the line blocking for him.

While Clement is more than worthy in carrying on the succession of Badgers ball carriers, the biggest question for this group will be who emerges as second in line – a necessity in order to spell Clement, especially during the Big Ten schedule. Converted cornerback and former walk-on Dare Ogunbowale has emerged as the likely candidate to back up Clement. However a pair of redshirt freshmen Taiwan Deal and Caleb Kinlaw will push for playing time as well. Deal, a former 4-star prospect out of Maryland powerhouse DeMatha Catholic, in particular is a more bruising runner, and provides a different look than the more elusive Ogunbowale.

Overall, the offensive outlook is nevertheless positive. Clement will be a force running the ball and Stave has shown he is capable of managing a Chryst-designed offense.  In addition, aside from the opener against Alabama, the schedule this year is also quite manageable. The Badgers could very well win the Big Ten West even without a consistent passing attack.

However, we have seen the run-heavy, slight-passing offense fairly consistently the past three seasons. Paul Chryst was dubbed the prodigal son on his return to Madison. If he can usher (back) in the balanced offense he oversaw during his most of his tenure as offensive coordinator, the Badgers will be a very dangerous offensive team.

Adjusting Expectations

A reasoned look at what the 2012 season can be with a little help from 80's movies.

Keys to the Season

​A look at what the Badgers need to do for 2012 to be a successful season.