Badgers looking for new team leaders

Frederic Hewitt, Sports Editor

Gary Andersen
Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen yells at officials during a game against Penn State on Nov. 30.

The end of summer is rapidly approaching and it’s only a matter of time before the University of Wisconsin’s football team takes the field for the first time of the 2014 and 2015 regular season under second year head coach, Gary Andersen.

The Badgers will kick off the season against the 13th-ranked LSU Tigers in a prime time, nationally televised game hosted at NRG Stadium, in Houston, home of the NFL’s Texans.

Last year the Badgers went 9-4 under Andersen in his first year with the team.  Nationally they ranked 96th in passing yards, 8th in rushing yards, 28th in points for, and 6th in points against.  With the loss of some key seniors on both sides of the ball from last year, some new leaders are going to have to emerge to give this team an opportunity to have the same success they’ve experienced over 4 of the past 5 years with at least 9 wins.

Solidifying the quarterback position will be crucial for this teams success. Showing no improvement in the passing game from last year will not bode well for hopes of a berth in the newly added College Football Playoffs.  Last week at a press conference, Andersen alluded to the neck and neck race among junior Quarterbacks Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy.  Since the interview, however, many sources have suggested that McEvoy will be named the starter.  In his only season, McEvoy played safety in ten games for the badgers and started three.  Prior to transferring to Wisconsin, McEvoy played quarterback at Arizona Western College and South Carolina.

Other big shoes to fill on the offensive side of the ball will be wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, tight end Jacob Pederson, and running back James White.  Abbrederis caught 78 passes for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns, while Pederson caught 39 passes for 551 yards and three touchdowns.  Abbrederis and Pederson were first and second in receiving yards for the badgers last year.  White rushed for 1,444 yards and led the badgers with 13 rushing touchdowns.  The running back position will be less of a worry with Melvin Gordon returning for his junior year.  Gordon led the team in rushing yards and was only one touchdown shy of White with 12.  Alongside Gordon, returning sophomore running back Cory Clement will presumably get his fair share of carries.  Last year the freshman had over 500 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.  Of the wide receivers, Kenzel Doe will be the only returning senior, naturally making him the leader.  Andersen had this to say about Doe at the press conference:

“You get one senior year. That’s all you get. There’s no next time. I’ve asked him to be a tremendous leader. He’s done that.”

Defensively, the Badgers lost a lot of upperclassmen, but most notably their relentless captain linebacker, Chris Borland.  Borland led the badgers in total tackles, solo tackles, tackles for a loss, and was second in sacks.  Replacing Borland will no doubt be a difficult task.  junior safety Michael Caputo was second on the team in tackles and likely a strong candidate for defensive captain.  Also returning, Sophomore cornerback, Sojourn Shelton, who led the team in interceptions last season with 4, should be a nice asset to have retained from last year.

This is what Andersen had to say regarding the amount of defense that the Badgers have lost from last season:

“Yeah, there’s a lot of kids that started Big Ten football games on the roster and you cut it down, say how many returners, it’s a small number. Smallest in the league.

But we do have some people that have started games. … I think that will continue to help us as we move forward when we have years where we have a lot of kids graduate… It’s not just starting 11 on both sides that are playing every single snap. It’s really part of the plan… to get kids experience. So we do have some kids, although not starters… with experience, but that does kind of ease your mind.”

With all the holes left from the players who are gone, young and inexperienced players are going to have to exceed typical expectations and overcome great adversity. Luckily for the Badgers, they’ll be mostly familiar upfront on their offensive line. So as long as the Badgers can have some improvement in their passing game, and the run game is as dominant as it has been in the past, we should be in for another succesful season. For a second year head coach, that would show a lot of promise for the future of UW-football.