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Today is Thursday, Sept. 15, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Living on the edge
Bart Houston will make the third start of his career on Saturday when Wisconsin takes on Georgia State. And if it’s anything like the other two, the Wisconsin quarterback likely will throw some passes that make you shake your head — both in a good way and a bad way.
That’s what Houston’s reputation has become in wins against LSU and Akron. He’s going to make some beautiful throws, as evidenced by his 34-yard touchdown pass to Jazz Peavy last week, and the fifth-year senior is going to make some brutal decisions, such as the two interceptions he threw in the opener.
It’s what comes with having the arm talent Houston does. He can’t help himself sometimes, thinking he can fit passes into areas he has no business throwing into. Sometimes it results in big plays, other times in crippling disappointment. And his teammates know it.
“We have to live with some of his mistakes,” Badgers wide receiver Rob Wheelwright said this week. “But if he continues to throw more touchdowns than bad passes, we’re fine with that, and we’ll be happy.”
And so will Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, who is still working desperately to try to limit Houston’s propensity to take chances where the outcome isn’t worth it. Though he had a pair of touchdowns against Akron, he also had two passes that probably should have been picked off.
Houston’s gunslinger mentality is not that different than the ultimate gunslinger, former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. He made more big plays with his rocket right arm than almost anyone in NFL history. But he also threw more interceptions than anyone who played the game. Still, people were willing to forgive the mistakes because of the good that came along with it.
Right now, that’s still the case with Houston. Will it be in a few weeks? That remains to be seen.
Jamerson’s replacement remains a mystery
With cornerback Natrell Jamerson out 4-to-6 weeks with a leg injury, Wisconsin needs to find a fifth defensive back to bring in when they go to their nickel package. There are several options, but defensive back coach Jim Leonhard was apparently not in a sharing mood when he met with the media on Wednesday.
#Badgers Jim Leonhard would not tip hand on third corner but said they are contemplating using frosh Caesar Williams.
— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) September 14, 2016
True freshman Caesar Williams is among the names mentioned as a possible replacement. Though he hasn’t stepped on the field yet, Williams turned heads during fall camp, impressing the wide receivers he faced on a daily basis.
“The first couple days you could tell it was that whole new guy going through the process,” Peavy said. “But over camp, as I kept going against him, he got better with his technique, was able to make more plays with the ball. He just got more comfortable with the defense.”
Williams has a unique body type — tall and rangy with long arms — that is missing from the players that make up Wisconsin’s secondary right now. That length created issues for offensive players in fall camp and could do the same to opposing teams if Leonhard deems Williams ready to step on the field.
If not Williams, the likely candidates remain junior Lubern Figaro and redshirt freshman Titus Booker. Or Wisconsin could play three safeties, with sophomore Arrington Farrar joining starters Leo Musso and D’Cota Dixon.
A punter is Wisconsin’s impact freshman?
ESPN loves to make lists. It eats up the offseason and makes for great debate topics during the season. One of their latest ideas is to name the impact true freshmen for each of the 25 teams that make up their power rankings.
For No. 9 Wisconsin, it was punter Anthony Lotti:
Lotti is the only true freshman listed as a starter on Wisconsin’s depth chart. He battled P.J. Rosowski for the spot and earned his first two punt attempts in Week 2 against Akron, averaging 37.5 yards. His second try didn’t have enough hang time and was returned for a touchdown. Still, the coaching staff thinks highly of Lotti, a specialist who earned a scholarship out of high school. — Jesse Temple
The reasoning makes sense on the surface. He’s listed as the starter at a position that gets singled out, especially if things don’t go right. But Lotti’s been on the field for all of two plays this season. How much of an impact can he truly have made?
And it’s not like other true freshmen haven’t seen the field. Wide receivers Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor each played significant snaps in the first two games, seeing time on offense and special teams. And though their stats wouldn’t necessarily show it, they’ve meant more to Wisconsin’s 2-0 start than Lotti. Same goes for nose tackle Garrett Rand, who played snaps on defense in a tight game against LSU, before then seeing the field even more against Akron.
All three guys would have been a better choice than a punter who is in a week-to-week battle to see if he’ll even step on the field.
You’ve got to like those odds
The first full year of the Greg Gard era won’t officially tip-off until Nov. 11 when Wisconsin hosts Central Arkansas. But when it does, expectations for the new coach are going to be extremely high.
As 247Sports.com writes, Bovada LV released an updated list of odds for the 2017 national champion, and the Badgers had the ninth-best odds at 18/1. Duke topped the list at 4/1, while the highest Big Ten team was Michigan State at 16/1.
For comparison sake, Wisconsin’s 2014-15 team — the one that ended up playing for the national title — entered the season at 12/1.
The expectations this year are deserved. When you bring back the entire starting five, and almost all of your bench production from a team that was 19 seconds away from going to the Elite Eight, all eyes will be on you to make another deep run and the potential for a third Final Four in four years is a possibility.
That said, there are still questions that need to be answered. Has forward Nigel Hayes found his outside shot after a prolonged cold streak in the postseason? How will point guard Bronson Koenig’s offseason work, where he added some quickness to his game, impact the offense? And how does Gard manage the personalities and egos on a team where 10 guys could make an argument for playing time?
Gard has been up to every challenge since getting the gig last December when former coach Bo Ryan stepped down. And it’s likely he has a plan in place to find answers to every question he has for his team. If that happens, then a trip to Phoenix in the first week of April is there for the taking.