A guess as to which position sophomore Tanner McEvoy would make his quickest impact on the University of Wisconsin football team probably would have went like this:
1, Quarterback; 2, wide receiver; 3, safety.
McEvoy, a junior-college transfer in his first year with the Badgers, arrived as a quarterback. During preseason camp, he added receiver to his repertoire. Then, after the regular season started, safety was part of the mix, too.
And it appears safety will provide McEvoy his first big opportunity as he prepares for a significant role Saturday night at Ohio State.
The UW coaches want to use sophomore free safety Michael Caputo near the line of scrimmage. Although it looks like a nickel back, his role will be closer to another outside linebacker. In that role, Caputo can help against the Buckeyes’ potent rushing attack, which is averaging 311 yards per game and 6.7 yards per carry.
“(Caputo) is very interested, or I should say invested, in tackling,” safeties coach Bill Busch said after practice on Wednesday. “Some people will do it. He enjoys it.
“He does a great job, understands the run game, understands the run fits. His body type is built for it. He’s a long-armed guy, that helps him in the tackling phase. Tackling still comes down to a lot of want-to. He’s got a lot of that.”
That means the defense needs another deep safety to line up next to senior Dezmen Southward, and McEvoy appears to be the choice. McEvoy, who was slowed by a left wrist injury that prevented him from playing offense, is getting healthy after apparently undergoing surgery.
“He looks pretty good back there for a guy who has only been playing for a couple weeks and fresh out of surgery, basically,” Southward said. “He’s catching on, doing things the right way. I’m excited to see what that first tackle is going to look like.”
McEvoy, 6-foot-6, 223 pounds, played around five to eight snaps at safety last week against Purdue in third-and-long situations.
“I think I did all right,” he said. “I didn’t have much of an opportunity to do something great or do something wrong. I didn’t make a play, but I didn’t mess up, so I count it as a good game.”
His role this week should be much more extensive. The coaches like him at safety — a position he had not played since high school — because he’s fast, athletic and smart.
“He has a high, high I.Q., football intelligence, and he’s got great ball skills,” Busch said. “He’s a big body, too, a different kind of body that we have (at safety), so that should be a plus for us, too.”
McEvoy admitted he was frustrated by the wrist injury, but hopes he’ll be cleared to start taking practice reps at receiver in a couple weeks.
“It has healed up pretty nicely,” said McEvoy, who expected to wear a lighter cast this week.
Southward has been trying to help bring McEvoy around as quickly as possible, saying, “He can definitely move around. That’s why the coaches felt a need to bring him over (from offense). If he can help, come help.”
No tests for Buckeyes
Not only has No. 4 Ohio State never trailed in its first four games this season, the Buckeyes have hardly been challenged.
Ohio State has outscored opponents 102-14 in the first quarter, which UW coach Gary Andersen referred to as “an unbelievable stat.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a stat like that in all of my years of coaching,” Andersen said on the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference.
Getting opponents down early has allowed the Buckeyes to coast to the finish line in every game. A member of the Ohio media corps figured that in the 240 minutes of playing time, Ohio State has been ahead by two touchdowns or more for 206 of those minutes.
That leads to the question of how Ohio State will respond in a close game, or when it falls behind for the first time — which could happen as soon as the game Saturday night against the Badgers in Columbus, Ohio.
Naturally, the Buckeyes coaches believe their players will handle that situation when it inevitably comes because they train for it year-round.
“That’s kind of what our program is built around,” wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. “Our program is not built to perform when you’re up by 20. … It’s that competitive moment where you’ve got to either win the game or you lose the game, and that’s what we’ve worked on for 12 months is, who is going to perform when the pressure is on.”
UW has been in only one tight game, losing 32-30 at Arizona State.
Ohio State’s closest game was a 52-34 win at California.
Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said the way his team competes at practices during the week prepares it for competitive situations in a game.
“I’ve been told Tuesdays are every bit as hard or harder than some game days,” Meyer said. “So that’s kind of the way we do our business around here.
“That is a concern, though, when you get to the fourth quarter. …The way we treated the Cal game was that kind of (fast-paced) offense we were facing, we were in a four-minute mode (eating up the clock), slowed it down and our kids learned how to play the entire game that day.”
The Badgers went back to Everett (Mass.) High School to land an oral commitment from cornerback Lubern Figaro, who was a prep teammate last season of UW freshman cornerback Jakarrie Washington.
Figaro, 6-1, 180 pounds, is rated as a three-star recruit by Scout.com and the No. 49-ranked prospect at his position. His primary recruiter was safeties coach Bill Busch.
Figaro told BadgerNation.com the plan is for him to compete for the strong safety position that will open up next season following the departure of Southward.
“I am physical, can blitz anytime and can do whatever (Busch) tells me to do,” Figaro said.
His other two favorite schools were Michigan State and Syracuse.
UW now has 14 commitments for the 2014 class.
Meyer is 16-0 at Ohio State and hasn’t lost a game since he was the head coach at Florida, dropping a 31-7 decision to Florida State on Nov. 27, 2010.
After so much winning, have Meyer and the Buckeyes forgotten what it’s like to lose?
Actually, Meyer does worry about some of the young players, who don’t know what it is like to have to struggle to get to this point.
“That’s always a concern,” Meyer said. “I try and make it as hard as possible in practice, so they get the feel — to win that many games in a row, that’s not normal. That’s a lot of commitment by a bunch of young players that are buying into what we ask them to do.
“Sometimes, that’s a curse when you have a freshman or a young player comes in and just thinks this is the way it is. It’s not the way it is. It’s something you have to earn. I make sure I remind them of that once in a while.”