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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Football: Andersen to make spring game debut

The Badgers’ football team, under first-year head coach Gary Andersen, will sing “On Wisconsin” after every game. Win or lose, home or away, Andersen says he owes it to the fans to put on a show.

Yes, things are a little different with a new coach, but things are also very much the same for Wisconsin, which plays its annual inter-squad spring game Saturday.

Spring practice is traditionally a time for players to develop and learn new schemes, and it is also the time where the year’s storylines are introduced and begin to develop.

And there’s no shortage of those storylines this year for the Badgers.

There’s the quarterback battle—the Badgers return three signal callers with big-game experience: redshirt senior Danny O’Brien, the heralded Maryland transfer who fizzled out last year mid-season; redshirt sophomore Joel Stave, the hometown hero from Whitnall, Wis., who broke his collarbone a few games after replacing O’Brien as the starter; and redshirt senior Curt Phillips, whose multiple knee surgeries and subsequent comebacks endeared him to Wisconsin fans everywhere.

Andersen has already named Stave and Phillips as the forerunners, though four-star, junior-college transfer Tanner McEvoy is the man to watch as the season develops. With a promising run game to complement his arm, he has already drawn comparisons to Kansas State’s Collin Klein, a Heisman candidate last season.

So far, Andersen still hasn’t seen anyone perform well enough to garner the majority of practice snaps, though the spring game will be a chance for one candidate to separate himself from the pack.

“Our ball security was not good enough [in practice thus far] … balls weren’t thrown very well,” Andersen said. “We can learn from that on both sides of the football.”

The spring game will also be a test run for defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s new-look 3-4 defense, albeit with the absence of key redshirt senior linebackers Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong, who will join redshirt senior defensive back Dezmen Southward in sitting out the game.

The three players being held out on the offensive side of the ball are redshirt senior offensive lineman Ryan Groy, redshirt senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and senior running back James White.

“It’s a great opportunity for our young players to compete at a high level in front of the fans,” Andersen said.

With redshirt junior tailback Jeff Lewis out for the spring game as well, Andersen is worried about depth at the position going into next year.

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“I wish we had another tailback,” he said. “We’ll just have to get through it.”

While scoring in the spring game is always a little rocky, the offense can score six points with a touchdown, first down, run of 15-plus yards or passing play of 20-plus yards.

Similarly, the defense gets five points for turnovers, three points for three-and-outs or a blocked field goal and two points for stopped drives, tackles-for-loss or sacks.

The Badgers’ spring game starts at 4 p.m. Saturday and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

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