We’re rolling out a new weekly feature here at the Red Zone. Each week we’ll be high-lighting who we think the key offensive and defensive players will be for the upcoming game. These players will either be men who need to stand out for the Badgers, or who we think will make some serious waves for the Badgers. Let’s get her cracking.
Offensive Player to Watch: Jacob Pederson (TE)
All eyes will be on the quarterback come Thursday night. Russell Wilson is the big unknown with the big upside who has been constantly in the media’s spotlight. While all indications from fellow players and coaches point to Wilson as a player who can handle the pressure of leading a nationally ranked football team. But let’s not kid ourselves; as much as Wilson says he’s not nervous, it’s only human for him to have some pre-Camp Randall butterflies.
The cure to those butterflies? A good, reliable tight end.
But, “wait,” you say, “We lost Lance Kendricks to the NFL. We don’t have any tight ends.” Oh, how wrong you are. Bielema has sung Pederson’s abilities this summer saying he possess the size, physical blocking tools, and play-making ability to make Pederson just as good, if not better, than Kendricks. Those are some pretty lofty expectations.
Either way, I expect Paul Chryst to get the tight end involved early and often to help Wilson find his groove before asking the quarterback to stretch the ball further down the field. Look for a healthy dose of short passes to Pederson to start the game and don’t be surprised when Pederson walks away from Thursday with some “Kendricks-esque” numbers.
If you’re JJ Watt, life is good. If you’re Louis Nzegwu, life is good, too. Coming into last season fans were concerned about filling the void that O’Brien Schofield left. After all, there was no sure-fire DE to come in and dominate the way Schofield had: enter JJ Watt. Currently the Badgers once again asking themselves who will be the next defensive end to step up and contribute to the Badger defense. If you ask me, that player will be Louis Nzegwu. Nzegwu is a worker, like JJ. And while he may not have the “motor” that JJ possessed (OK, to be fair, nobody in the country has a motor that matches JJ’s) Nzegwu has the physical abilities to dominate and be the “next guy” in the line of great Badger defensive ends. He finished second on the team in quarterback sacks and hurries last year and will be the guy who helps make up the lost production of JJ Watt.
With plenty of experience, the Platteville WI native should come into this season as one of the leaders on the defensive side of the ball. Look for Nzegwu to apply plenty of pressure to UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring (who is making his first career start). I expect the Badgers to dial up plenty of pressure from the start and challenge Herring to prove himself against the secondary. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised to Nzegwu come up big with consistent pressure on the Rebel quarterback and be a big disruptive force in Wisconsin’s defensive scheme this week.