Dienhart: Joel Stave, Badgers looked impressive

Wisconsin took its next big step in the new Gary Andersen regime today in the spring game. Many key players sat out the game, but the Badgers debuted their new 3-4 defensive scheme. And the offense came out throwing for a unit that needs to find a quarterback and some playmaking receivers. Here are some observations.

[ RELATED: Watch today's spring game highlights, interviews | Read Dienhart's tweets ]

1. The offense came out flinging it. Made sense, considering this was the worst passing attack in the Big Ten last season. The results were mostly good behind a stripped down roster that was missing some key linemen, receivers and running backs. Look for the tight ends and backs to play big roles in the passing game, based on today. Think quick passes to the boundary.

2. Joel Stave looked like he was in midseason form, showing some touch and accuracy, hitting 15-of-20 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. No doubt, he was the top quarterback today after entering the day in a battle with Curt Phillips to be the starter. Phillips had his moments and brings more athletic ability to the table; and that’s a trait the new staff likes in its quarterbacks. He completed 8-of-13 passes for 82 yards. But it’s difficult to not be impressed with Stave, a former walk-on. Danny O’Brien? Bart Houston? They weren’t really factors.

3. We had heard a lot about the new defense of coordinator Dave Aranda. And we saw some glimpses of what it can do. The Badgers now work out of a base 3-4 that features the ability to morph pre-snap, while disguising where pressure is coming from. It’s a work in progress—but the potential to force turnovers and negative plays is there.

4. A key spot in the 3-4 will be outside linebacker. Players in that spot need to be playmakers off the edge and in space to make the scheme work. Joe Schobert showed he had some potential with a big day today in posting a game-high seven tackles with a sack and TFL. Jesse Hayes and Vince Biegel also had some nice moments for a defense that was missing a lot of key personnel. He had two sacks and two TFLs.

5. While the passing of Stave et al. was inspiring, it may be a cause for alarm for a secondary that’s re-tooling. The lone returning starter—safety Dezmen Southward—sat out. New projected starting corners Peniel Jean and Darius Hillary took some lumps. But, this is the time to learn.

6. With James White and Jeff Lewis out with injury, running back Melvin Gordon was asked to carry a big load today. And, he didn’t disappoint. Gordon has speed, vision and toughness, running for a game-high 74 yards and a score. He and White will form a nice tandem, buffeting the loss of NCAA touchdown king Montee Ball. Oh, and Derek Watt is just fine at fullback. Thank you.

Check out this praise for Gordon:

7. Everyone around the program knows big-play makers are needed at receiver. With Jared Abbrederis out, many had a chance to impress today. The best was diminutive Kenzel Doe. The staff likes to get him on the edge in space and let him use his speed and quickness. He had a game-best eight grabs for 93 yards. Jeff Duckworth had some moments along with Jordan Fredrick. A group of talented tight ends will help, led by Jacob Pedersen and Brain Wozniak.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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