UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Up close, DiNardo likes what he sees with Badgers

FB_110809_DiNardo_Gerry.jpegBefore embarking on the Big Ten Network's bus tour -- the first stop was Monday in Madison -- BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo watched one of Russell Wilson's games from last season at NC State.

DiNardo viewed Wilson's least productive game of 2010, a 28-21 victory over Central Florida in Orlando. Wilson completed just 10 of 30 passes for 105 yards. He had 13 rushes for a net 35 yards.

"It was early in the season (Sept. 11) and I thought that he looked OK,'' said DiNardo, the former head coach at Vanderbilt (1991-94), LSU (1995-99) and Indiana (2002-2004).

"Today was more important and I think he looks much better than he did against UCF.''

BTN taped Monday's practice at Camp Randall Stadium, and the crew interviewed players and coaches afterward for its Aug. 14 preview show on the Badgers.

The on-air crew included DiNardo, analyst Howard Griffith and studio host Dave Revsine.

"Here's a quarterback that's going to have many more weapons at Wisconsin than he had at North Carolina State,'' said DiNardo, who studied Wilson's "body language" during the practice.

He cited "one exchange problem'' and how Wilson "doesn't stop at the line of scrimmage and turn around and look at Paul to see what the play is so he's obviously learned'' the offense.

Paul is UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who also doubles as the quarterback coach.

"If you looked at him right now,'' DiNardo said of Wilson, who's had just three practices with the Badgers, "you wouldn't think he's been on campus since July 4th. That's obviously a very good sign.''

DiNardo has his own book on UW quarterbacks.

"I don't know that he's going to be much different than the best quarterbacks they've had here in the past,'' he said. "The quarterback in this offense has to be able to throw it on first-and-10.

"And he's got to be able to throw it deep on play-action because they (opposing defenses) are going to support the secondary to stop the run game. That's what (Wilson) can do.

"His numbers aren't going to be great. But your numbers don't have to be great. He just has to make sure that he doesn't turn it over. At NC State, he looked like he was trying to force the ball.

"A veteran quarterback has to know that an incompletion is OK.''

What was DiNardo's first impression from what he saw during Monday's practice?

"Good assistant coaches are worth their weight in gold,'' he said. "I think this is a great staff.''

That's important, DiNardo said, because if these UW players are not as hungry as last season's Rose Bowl team, or if there are any signs of complacency, these assistants will deal with it the right way.

"They're just fabulous,'' he said.

From his perspective as a former Big Ten coach, how did DiNardo assess the Badgers overall?

"You see the basics are still there,'' he said. "They can still run the ball and stop the run. Watching their 9-on-7 drill, they lost some great players but it doesn't look that way.

"The foundation is laid. Now they'll need help on the flank (wide receiver), the quarterback has to come through, and they'll need a little more depth at linebacker.''

Referencing that returning core of players, or foundation, he concluded, "You know it's going to be good; you just don't know how good it's going to be until they find those missing pieces.''

Despite the loss of All-American defensive end J.J. Watt, DiNardo said, "I don't think they're going to have anybody as good as J.J., but the defensive line is going to be better and certainly deeper.''

DiNardo has been high on the Badgers since he was on campus last spring.

"I had them winning the Leaders Division before they had Russell,'' he said. "After they got Russell, it supported my argument even more. The big picture?

"There's a great window of opportunity here for Wisconsin to be the dominant team in their division. It's a critical year to take over the division and, from what I've seen here today, I think they can.''

There is a caveat. DiNardo wants to see Ohio State and Penn State on the tour -- up close and personal -- before making direct comparisons between the Badgers, the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions.

"In the spring, when I picked Wisconsin over Ohio State,'' he recalled, "I still said Ohio State was the most talented team. And I'll be surprised if I don't say that after the fall tour.''

The BTN crew will be at Minnesota on Tuesday and Nebraska on Thursday.

"I say this all the time,'' DiNardo reiterated, "I've competed against Nebraska 10 times; once as a player and nine times as a coach. It's one of the giants in college football.''

DiNardo, who has family in the Madison area, wasn't surprised when he walked into Bucky's Locker Room and found T-shirts heralding the Oct. 1 matchup between the Big Red and the Big Red.

Knowing this was the first leg on the BTN bus journey, DiNardo couldn't resist the temptation.

"Wisconsin is the best team I've seen so far,'' he cracked.

Check back on Aug. 21 for the final tally.