Young players seize opportunities in blowout games

Running back Bradrick Shaw will have an increased role on UW's offense this season. 

Image By: Gage Meyer

Unless chaos abounds, the Badgers should handily defeat the Georgia State Panthers this Saturday. Just like in the game against Akron, UW will be ahead by a lot in the second half, and again they’ll give a number of second- and third-stringers some playing time.

The reasoning is twofold: it protects starters from getting injured, and allows younger guys to get experience in case a starter goes down, or, more long term, graduates.

Against Akron, a number of freshmen got their first playtime with the Badgers, and even more had their first standout performances. Many of the more intense Wisconsin fans remember the names from past recruiting seasons, but for the casual fan, it’s a first glimpse at who they will be seeing for years to come.

For example, take quarterback Alex Hornibrook and running back Bradrick Shaw. Both were high-profile recruits who redshirted last year, and will be the faces of the Wisconsin offense sometime soon. They didn’t see the field in UW’s win over LSU; however, neither could complain about getting on the field against the Zips rather than the Tigers.

“It was just good to finally get in the game,” Hornibrook said. “Obviously it wasn’t a high-pressure tie game or anything like that when I went in, but it’s still playing football against a different team.”

Hornibrook went 5-for-5 for 61 yards and a touchdown, while Shaw ran for 74 yards and a score, so obviously the young offensive duo was clicking. Neither of them is totally content with what they did, though.

“I’m still not satisfied, I think there’s room to improve … but I was happy with my performance Saturday,” Shaw said.

Both Hornibrook and Shaw scored their first career touchdowns in their first games. That is something not many players are able to do, but neither seemed like they were particularly fixated on finding the end zone.

“I went out and tried to complete every single pass, I wasn’t trying to do too much. If you’re completing passes, sometime one’s gonna end up in the end zone,” Hornibrook said. “I wasn’t really focused on that when I went in.”

While receiver Quintez Cephus didn’t light up the stat sheet the way Hornibrook and Shaw did, he was able to snag his first career reception, which he thinks is an important step in his development.

“It takes some off your plate for sure,” Cephus said. “Now, you move onto catching the ball and running to get extra yardage … you move on from not just catching the ball, but doing stuff with it.”

No matter the position, getting into the game to get experience is necessary for a backup, even if the player doesn’t get a single number on the stat sheet. Especially for players who have redshirted for a year and haven’t really played in a game for some time, having a few plays under your belt and knowing what the speed and atmosphere of the next level is like is invaluable.

With all the nerves and inexperience, it’s inevitable that freshmen will make mistakes on the field (even the 5-for-5 Hornibrook wouldn’t call his game perfect). Thankfully for them, they’re surrounded by players with vast amounts of knowledge who have already made those same mistakes, and can help them move past it.

“T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel, they help me with my game; they watch me just as much as I watch them. They’re always helping me and critiquing my game as well,” freshman linebacker Zack Baun said.

No matter if they’re making mistakes or scoring touchdowns early on, these freshmen backups have plenty of time left to develop their skills and get their heads straight before the spotlight is truly on them. By then, Shaw assures they’ll be ready.

“I was a little nervous at first. I still get nervous every time I go in right now, but I think as the time goes by I’ll get over it. It don’t affect me none.”

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