Wisconsin football: Meet the offense

The Wisconsin Badgers released their initial depth chart for the 2014 football season on Monday and the top of the list reads, “Joel Stave OR Tanner McEvoy.” Head coach Gary Andersen admitted he has made the decision, but has refused to announce a starter. Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that McEvoy will be under center for the Aug. 30 opener against LSU and on Monday, running back Melvin Gordon accidentally let it slip that McEvoy has beaten out the incumbent Stave for the position.

Assuming he is the starter, McEvoy will have to find someone to throw to. The Badgers lost its top four pass catchers to graduation, so there will be new faces at the wide receiver and tight end positions. Andersen will rely on the running game that broke NCAA records in 2013. Running backs Gordon and Corey Clement combined with an experienced offensive line, running the football should take some of the pressure off the rest of the offense. Here is a position-by-position preview of the 2014 Wisconsin Badger’s offense.

Quarterback

Wisconsin has dealt with inconsistent quarterback play since Russell Wilson was drafted into the NFL after the 2011 season. Since the start of 2012, Danny O’Brien, Curt Phillips and Stave have combined to complete 60.2 percent of their passes and thrown 36 touchdowns. Those are not terrible numbers, but the issue has been turnovers. The trio turned the ball over 24 times during that stretch, including 13 interceptions for Stave in 2013, which was tied for the Big Ten lead.

McEvoy hopes to provide some stability at the quarterback spot. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig installed the option during camp, which is much more suitable for McEvoy as a running threat.

After redshirting at South Carolina in 2011, McEvoy transferred to Arizona Western College where he completed 65.4 percent of his passes, threw for 2,301 yards, 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also rushed for 472 yards and six touchdowns.

McEvoy transferred to Wisconsin in the summer of last season, but was not ready to compete for the starting job. He was moved to wide receiver, but a broken bone in his left wrist forced him to switch to safety where he appeared in 10 games, including three starts.

Another notable quarterback to monitor is D.J. Gillins. Anderson said all along that the battle was between McEvoy and Stave but has been hesitant to make a decision whether to redshirt the speedy freshman from Jacksonville, Fla. The fact that Anderson might use a year of Gillins’ eligibility certainly is interesting, as it leaves the door open for him to contribute in 2014.

Running back

While James White is putting together an impressive camp with the New England Patriots, Heisman Trophy candidate Melvin Gordon and sophomore Corey Clement will shoulder the load in Madison.

The combination of White and Gordon rushed for 3,053 yards last season, an FBS single-season record for rushing yards between teammates.

Wisconsin should expect similar results with the Gordon and Clement combo.

wisconsin football

Melvin Gordon

Gordon has led the NCAA in yards per carry for two consecutive seasons and finished 10th with 1,609 rushing yards in 2013, splitting time with White. Clement worked as the third-string running back last season and ran for 547 yards on 67 carries, an 8.2 yards per carry clip, and seven touchdowns.

Gordon flirted with the idea of entering the NFL Draft after last season but ultimately decided to return to Wisconsin even though he would have been among the top running backs selected. He needs to prove to NFL scouts that he can pass block and catch the ball out of the backfield. He has just three career receptions.

Behind Gordon and Clement, Taiwan Deal beat out fellow freshman Caleb Kinlaw for the third-string running back spot. Derek Watt returns as the starting fullback but will line up at H-back and tight end on occasion.

Wide receiver

Wisconsin’s biggest question mark on offense is wide receiver. The Badgers will have to find a way to replace Jared Abbrederis, who led the team with 78 receptions for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago.

Wide receivers Jordan Fredrick, Alex Erickson, Kenzel Doe and Rob Wheelwright all saw action in 2013 and combined for 28 catches for 299 yards and zero receiving touchdowns.

The sophomore Wheelwright has breakout potential with his 6-foot-2 and 198-pound frame. A highly-touted recruit, he caught two passes for nine yards as a freshman and has looked good in camp. Another option is sophomore Reggie Love, who redshirted last season.

Love, Erickson and Doe are listed as the three starting receivers on the depth chart.

The Badgers took a hit when a pair of freshmen wideouts left the team. Chris Jones failed to meet Wisconsin’s academic standards and is now enrolled at Toledo. Four-star recruit Dareian Watkins left the team over the summer due to homesickness.

Wisconsin is going to need some of the other freshmen to step up. The first-year wide receivers include Jazz Peavy, Krenwick Sanders, Natrell Jameson and George Rushing.

Tight end

Sam Arneson will be Wisconsin’s starting tight end. His senior season will be his first in which he will be asked to do more than just block. In his first three seasons, Arneson has caught 10 balls for 76 yards and four touchdowns.

Behind Arneson, the Badgers lack experience with Austin Traylor, Troy Fumagalli, T.J. Watt, Sam Eckert, Austin Maly and Eric Steffes. Arneson is the only tight end on the roster with a reception in his career.

The coaches want to get Derek Watt on the field as much as possible, so the starting fullback will also get some time at tight end.

Offensive line

Wisconsin football always boasts a big offensive line. This year’s unit has experience with three fifth-year seniors, but depth could be an issue. Senior Rob Havenstein will start at right tackle, where he has started 27 consecutive games. The 6-foot-8, 333-pounder has been the unquestioned leader on offense during camp.

Senior Kyle Costigan will play right guard after starting 12 games in 2013. Dan Voltz started six games last season and returns as the starting center as a redshirt sophomore.

Senior Dallas Lewallen started seven games at center last season, but will be asked to start as the team’s left guard. Left tackle will be occupied by fourth-year junior Tyler Marz, who started all 13 games for the Badgers at the position in 2013.

Behind the starting five is a lot of unknowns. Andersen is high on true-freshman backup center Michael Deiter. Other players that may be counted on in case of injuries include 6-foot-7, 320-pound redshirt sophomore Walker Williams, redshirt sophomore Trent Denlinger and 6-foot-7, 324-pound fourth-year junior Ray Ball and redshirt freshman Hayden Biegel.

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