Badger defense answers some questions

first_imgWhen receiver Jeff Duckworth hauled in a 19-yard pass on the first play from freshman quarterback Jon Budmayr, it looked as though the White team might give the Cardinal team’s defense a challenge.Instead, that was the longest play the White offense could muster in Wisconsin’s annual Cardinal vs. White spring scrimmage, as the Cardinal defense would hold its opponent to just a field goal for the game.The first-team defense looked stout throughout the game and was able to capitalize on the White team’s mistakes, coming away with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Linebacker Culmer St. Jean picked off Budmayr to end White’s first drive, snagging a low pass over the middle and returning it for 12 yards. Safety Jay Valai also had an impressive grab in the second quarter for the team’s other interception.St. Jean wasn’t at full speed much of the spring due to a balky ankle, and said his performance Saturday gave him confidence.“That ankle injury, I wasn’t playing as well as I wanted to play, and I wasn’t making plays that I could make,” he said. “So being able to get that interception, it was fun and it was a play I’m supposed to make, so I made it. It just helps me know that I’m getting better.”Defensive line provides some answersThe biggest question mark going into the game was how the defensive line would perform without last year’s standout end, O’Brien Schofield. The Badgers might not completely replace him, but there were signs the defensive line won’t be a weakness in the fall.Returning starter J.J. Watt finished with two tackles, including a sack. On the other side, junior Louis Nzegwu had a field day, with three sacks for 21 yards, including one for a safety in the fourth quarter. Nzegwu’s teammates and coaches alike raved throughout the spring how much he improved, and a popular word to describe him was “mature.”Nzegwu, a Platteville native, said the scrimmage was the culmination of a good spring for him.“I think it was very important for me, I haven’t played in a spring game like this since my freshman year,” he said. “It wasn’t my goal to be healthy, to stay healthy; it was my goal to be a starter. I think I’ve done a great job so far.”Defensive tackles Jordan Kohout and Patrick Butrym also turned in solid performances. Butrym finished with a sack and pass breakup, while Kohout, a redshirt freshman, had a sack for 12 yards while playing on the White team.“I think Patrick is probably playing as good as he’s played,” head coach Bret Bielema said. “I wish he’d continue to make some progress in the pass rush game. Jordan Kohout is very powerful, very explosive.”Defense shows off some depthRunning back John Clay and wide receiver Nick Toon may have been the bigger names to not play in the spring game, but there were key absences on the other side of the ball as well. Linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland did not play due to rehabbing knee and shoulder surgeries, respectively.As a result, redshirt freshmen Ethan Armstrong and Conor O’Neill got plenty of work for the second-unit defense. Armstrong finished with 14 total tackles, three solo, while O’Neill had 12 total tackles. Both had a pass breakup in the game as well.“Injuries, they hurt us, but they helped a lot of young guys get experience,” St. Jean said. “That was a good thing because you never know what’s going to happen in the season. Now we see what they can do, so they can step up (if needed).”With a somewhat unsettled mix at the cornerback position, both Niles Brinkley and Dezmen Southward had good days for the White squad.Southward had a tackle for loss and two pass breakups, while Brinkley contributed a pass breakup of his own on a second-quarter pass by Tolzien.Brinkley and Southward could find themselves in the cornerback discussion this fall, along with Devin Smith and Antonio Fenelus, who played with the first unit Saturday.“I think Antonio probably has been our most consistent performer all spring, but Devin really competed this week and Niles to me, stood out today on some of the PBUs,” Bielema said.last_img read more