Keys to Badgers’ football success

first_imgSpring is in the air. The brutal Wisconsin winter hassubsided, the ice on Lake Mendota has begun to melt, March Madness has come toan end, and outdoor football season is now underway.Yup, I said football. That wasn’t a typo.America’s pastime is now just over two weeks old as well,but here in Madison — where we have no baseball team to get excited about —it’s the gridiron gang that dominates the spring, post-basketball season.Saturday, the Badgers practiced on the Camp Randall field forthe first time since the 2007 campaign. It was loud, and the players wereexcited to be back in their holy place; there was energy in the stadium despitethe thousands of empty seats. And as I lay back on an empty bench behind me inthe stands, sunglasses on in 60-plus degrees of pure paradise, my mind began towander, and I began to ponder: What needs to happen for this football team tosucceed next season?Here’s what I came up with (in no particular order):?Evridge must minimize mistakesIt goes without saying that to win football games, allquarterbacks must take care of the ball and limit turnovers. But because theWisconsin offense has a run-first mentality (and rightfully so), a lack ofturnovers becomes even more crucial.In back-to-back road losses against Illinois and Penn Statelast season, quarterback Tyler Donovan threw for a combined four interceptions(two and two). That was no coincidence. Turnovers, especially on the road inthe Big Ten, will be lethal for this team because they don’t have enoughfirepower on offense to overcome such blunders.Evridge must take care of the football.?New kickers must step upThe kicking game is often an overlooked aspect of football.But a good punter (like Ken DeBauche) and a clutch kicker (like TaylorMehlhaff) are essential to success on the football field. Field position canprovide a huge advantage throughout the course of a game; a poor punter puts aton of pressure on a team’s defense. Kickoffs — Mehlhaff’s specialty — are alsopivotal in the field position game, and obviously late-game field goals canmake or break a season.After the loss of both Mehlhaff and DeBauche, the sense ofnostalgia can be subdued if the newcomers successfully fill their shoes. Eitherincoming freshman Bradley Nortman or Ken’s little brother Brad should take overthe punting duties. Freshman Phillip Welch, who is listed as a kicker, can alsodo some punting, which was evident Saturday when he booted a gorgeous55-yarder. Welch is also the top candidate to succeed Mehlhaff with the kickingduties.?Linebackers need to improveThe biggest disappointment on the defensive side of the balllast season may have been UW’s linebackers. Elijah Hodge and DeAndre Levylooked lost at times, especially against Illinois’ spread offense. As those twostruggled, Jonathan Casillas looked like he was trying to do too much, whichonly made matters worse. With Michigan implementing the spread this seasonunder new coach Rich Rodriguez, the Badgers will be forced to contain thetriple option, or they will be in serious trouble.Good thing they practice it on a regular basis now.?Secondary also must improveAt times, the UW secondary got torched for big plays andsome serious yard totals (i.e., Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota). WithEvridge at the helm, the Badgers do not want to get involved in Pac-10,shootout-type games, meaning they must be able to stop the pass.The loss of Jack Ikegwuonu to the NFL will hurt, but it maynot be fatal for Wisconsin, assuming corners Aaron Henry and Allen Langfordfully recover from their respective ACL tears from last season.Jay Valai is making a case to take over for Aubrey Pleasant— who looked like a deer in the headlights more often than not last season — atstrong safety and Shane Carter provides some experience at the free safetyspot.If this corps can force some turnovers and reduce opponents’big plays, it will take a ton of pressure off Evridge, and the Badgers will beable to compete with anyone in Big Ten play.?Paul Chryst needs to be consistentAt times last season, Paul Chryst’s playcalling seemedsuspect (a third-and-short end-around to Travis Beckum in Columbus and afourth-and-two Donovan bootleg in the Outback Bowl come to mind). With fourweapons in the backfield (P.J. Hill, Lance Smith, Zach Brown and John Clay),Wisconsin needs to run, run, and run some more. Cute, gimmicky plays areunnecessary when a team’s run game — thanks in large part to a massive,talented, experienced offensive line — is so strong.That said, a solid running attack will open up the playaction for Evridge to players like Beckum, Kyle Jefferson and David Gilreath(watch out for Gilreath in the fall; I saw a little of the Panthers’ SteveSmith in him Saturday).Chryst needs to utilize Beckum — UW’s best overall player onoffense — more, unlike in Tampa on New Year’s Day, when the Badger tight endwas MIA for the better part of four quarters. Also, Chryst needs to find waysto get Smith the ball (via screen passes, perhaps?) because he showed glimpsesof greatness last season and can only improve by playing in every game asopposed to just home games last fall.Also, don’t be surprised if you see a little spread offensefrom Evridge and Co. He has experience running it at Kansas State, and when Iasked him about it last week, he smiled and said, “We’ll see.”?The injury bug cannot hit too hardIn football, injuries are inevitable. Should Wisconsin beplagued with injuries (like they are currently) come fall, it will be tough forthem to compete for a conference title. Evridge must stay healthy, becauseafter him, there’s zero experience at the quarterback position.?Let-down games cannot happenFortunately, the Badgers’ schedule is a favorable one nextseason. They have Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois at home, and Michigan inSeptember — remember Michigan last September? Now imagine them with a newcoach.That said, if they want to compete for the Big Ten crown,they can’t lose the easy ones. If they take care of business against theMinnesotas and Akrons of the world, things could fall into placeever-so-nicely.?Derek is a sophomore majoring in economics. Have any keysto the Badgers’ upcoming season of your own? Shoot him an e-mail at

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