Nov. 23, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Braggin’ rights. Wisconsin linebacker Derek Landisch had them after his alma mater, Arrowhead High School, won the 2012 WIAA Division 1 state championship with a convincing 35-14 victory over Sun Prairie.
It was Arrowhead’s fifth state crown since 1993.
“It’s something you can talk about in the (UW) locker room,’’ he said, smiling.
As a freshman, Landisch moved up to the varsity before the 2007 title game that Arrowhead won over Homestead. In 2008, he was a starting linebacker in a 13-11 loss to Homestead in the finals.
“We ran the split-back veer,’’ recalled Landisch who played under former Arrowhead coach Tom Taraska. “Back then, it was all run, run, run. Now, it’s all pass, pass, pass.’’
Second-year Arrowhead coach Greg Malling is a proponent of the spread offense.
“Coach (Malling) is playing to their strength -- a lot of fast guys,’’ said Landisch. “Even when I was I was there, that’s what we had on our team. Our line was big but we had a lot of small, skill guys.’’
Landisch was among the most skilled to play for Taraska, who ranked him favorably with some other players that he sent to Wisconsin: Tyler Donovan, Donny Eicher and Nick Hayden.
One of three true freshmen to letter in 2011, Landisch is still waiting for his turn in a linebacker rotation which features three productive starters: Mike Taylor, Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong.
They rarely leave the field -- meaning few game reps for the backups.
Still, the 5-foot-11, 226-pound Landisch has made the most out of his apprenticeship by learning all three positions: Will linebacker (Taylor), Mike linebacker (Borland) and Sam linebacker (Armstrong).
He can sub at any spot.
“I’d say Sam is like a big nickel in a way. You have to play a lot more in space,’’ explained Landisch. “Mike, you’re the general of the defense. Will, you’re in the box a lot.
“Sam is the newest to me. Mike and Will, I’ve played and I feel pretty comfortable with both. I’m just trying to help the group out in any way I can by moving around and learning new positions.
“During meetings, you really have to lock yourself in, because whereas some guys can pay attention to one position, you have to have your ears open for all of them.
“The overall understanding of the whole scheme of the defense is really important.’’
Landisch feels like he has a much better grasp of what’s going on -- the big picture -- thanks to the education that he has been getting under first-year linebackers coach Andy Buh.
“He’s definitely taught me the game,’’ Landisch said. “He taught me that you just can’t learn your position, you have to learn the entire defense and that will help you in playing your position.
“He’s also taught me a lot of techniques -- using my hands, and, definitely, using my eyes. He’s really helped me with my eye progress in pass coverage.’’
Landisch has been an invaluable contributor on special teams. He leads the Badgers with 12 tackles. Derek Watt has 10. Connor O’Neill and Michael Caputo have eight each.
“I take a lot of pride in special teams,’’ Landisch said. “It takes a lot of effort. You have to know what you’re doing out there. You have to get in and watch film and study your opponent.
“Coach B (Bielema) always says every play matters, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams. Every guy has a responsibility. That’s why football is a team game.
“Everybody has to do their job for the whole unit to be successful.’’
That didn’t happen against Ohio State. Not only did the Badgers give up a 68-yard Corey Brown punt return for a touchdown, they missed a field goal and had two touchbacks on punts.
“That’s something we’re going to learn from,’’ Landisch promised, “and get better from.’’
After Wednesday’s practice, the UW wide receivers -- as a position group -- stayed on the field and caught footballs off a Jugs machine long after everyone else had headed to the locker room.
“Every ‘overtime’ thing helps you, no matter how little or big,’’ said Jordan Fredrick, a redshirt freshman. “If you’re doing extra and the competition isn’t, you can get an edge on people.’’
After 11 games, it can be more physically challenging to do all of the little things; especially for a young player who’s experiencing the grind of a college football season for the first time.
Fredrick agreed that it’s much different than an eight- or nine-game high school season.
“It’s a lot different,’’ said Fredrick, a receiver and linebacker at Madison Memorial. “At the same time, it’s better just because of the way you get ready for it; you train better than high school.
“Overall, you do wear down after so many weeks going this hard obviously. We’re kind of in ‘grind’ mode. They (the coaches) are doing everything they can for us.’’
UW coach Bret Bielema mentioned that he would have be smart about the way he managed his players -- what he asked of them this week -- because of his concerns over physical and mental fatigue.
As a result, he was planning on lessening the contact and the time on the field. After every practice, he stresses the importance of hydration and nutrition as part of the recovery phase.
“Our guys know we practice very, very hard and very, very physical,’’ Bielema said. “We maximize the time we have. We definitely work while we’re out there.’’
This type of regimen has fostered the growth in players like Fredrick.
“I feel like I’ve improved on everything,’’ he said.
Fredrick and sophomore Kenzel Doe each have 14 receptions. Fredrick has at least one catch in every game this season with the exception of Purdue, when the Badgers had 57 rushes in a rout.
“We were watching third-down conversions this week,’’ Fredrick said, “and you can tell a huge difference from the beginning of the year to now.
“Sometimes you cringe a little bit on how much better it’s gotten. It was just not where you wanted it to be at that time (September) with the routes and everything.
“The biggest thing for me is understanding the game and understanding how DBs react to certain things, blocking-wise. It’s easier now because I know how they’re going to respond.’’
The third down conversion numbers have been far better against the lesser defenses.
Last Saturday, the Badgers converted on just 5-of-19 against Ohio State.
“Penn State has some good DBs, especially in the run game,’’ Fredrick said. “I feel like they’re going to be the most physical that we’ve faced recently. They’re all good athletes.’’
The receivers will continue to take their lead from Jared Abbrederis.
“Throughout the season,’’ Fredrick said, “he has become an even bigger leader. His confidence gets us going. When he does big things, we have a big game. It’s more of a follow the leader type thing.’’
Fredrick also noted that quarterback Curt Phillips, who will be making his third career start Saturday, has put his own mark on the offense. “He’s such a calm, collected guy,’’ he said.
The uniqueness to this season for Fredrick has been the fact that he has caught passes from three different starting quarterbacks: Danny O’Brien, Joel Stave and Phillips.
“That doesn’t happen often,’’ he surmised. “Every quarterback has their own unique thing they bring to the game. We can give them a picture and help them out with our route-running.
“We have to do our job and they’re going to do theirs. Just having those two starts under his belt, especially an overtime game, is going to help Curt. He’s going to lead this offense to big things.’’
Wisconsin defensive tackle Ethan Hemer was marveling at the night-and- day difference in styles between Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin.
“Very opposite,’’ he said.
Miller was a threat to break a long run on any snap. “Taylor Martinez is a great athlete,’’ Hemer said of the Nebraska quarterback. “But Miller is at another level because of his speed and abilities.’’
Nonetheless, the Badgers held Miller to a net of 48 rushing yards on 23 carries.
That included three sacks and 27 negative yards.
“We put some faster guys on the field for third-down situations and we were able to corral him and make him uncomfortable,’’ Hemer said.
“With spread quarterbacks, especially one with that kind of ability, you have to keep him in front of you and make him move around. You have to get him antsy and uneasy in the pocket.’’
It worked to near perfection until the overtime.
McGloin, a former walk-on, poses a much different problem. After throwing for a career-best 395 yards last Saturday against Indiana, he leads the Big Ten in most passing categories.
Nobody has really slowed him down. He has passed for at least 200 yards in nine straight games. Overall, he has completed 61 percent of his passes for 23 TDs. He has been intercepted four times.
“It’s exciting for D-tackles,’’ Hemer said, “because we really haven’t faced a traditional style offense in a very long time and we can be an asset.
“McGloin is very talented. He throws the ball well, and he makes plays. It’s an offense that we’re not taking lightly.’’
In some ways, McGloin’s career has paralleled that of former UW quarterback Scott Tolzien’s in that he was an afterthought for many seasons until finally getting an opportunity to take the stage.
“I can see that, he’s very Scotty-esque,’’ Hemer said. “He looks like a very smart quarterback and he makes good decisions and he’s very competitive.’’
Of the 30 Penn State seniors that will be introduced during pregame ceremonies, eight have been starters for most of the season: three on offense, and five on defense.
Because of NCAA sanctions, the Nittany Lions’ season will end Saturday.
So this will be their Senior Bowl, if you will.
“When Coach B (Bielema) told us that, it kind of hit everyone,’’ Hemer said. “We really hadn’t thought about it that way -- that this is the last game they’re going to play this year.
“This is the last game for those seniors who have endured a lot.
“At the same time, we’re going out there to win a game.’’
Wisconsin will be making its first trip to Penn State since 2007. Tyler Donovan was the quarterback and P.J. Hill was the tailback in a 38-7 loss to the Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium.
UW assistant coach Ben Strickland played in that game on special teams.
Nobody else on the current roster has ever been to State College, Pa. -- outside of O’Brien, who took a recruiting trip there before signing with the Badgers after transferring from Maryland.
Right now, Hemer feels good about playing anywhere -- all things considered. “I don’t think there’s a player in the nation who’s at 100 percent at this point in the season,’’ he said.
Given the wear and tear, he’s grateful for the way he feels going into the 12th game.
Thanksgiving gave him pause to be thankful for a lot of things.
“I’m thankful for a family that loves me and cares about me,’’ said Hemer, a redshirt junior from Medford, Wis. “They’re making the trip to Penn State, and I’m very thankful for that.’’
He believes that the best way to offer his thanks in return is with a winning effort.
“It’s a team we feel confident against, and we feel that we match up well against,’’ said Hemer, who had three tackles in last year’s 45-7 win. “But, at the same time, it’s a team that we respect.’’