Badgers' Davis better than ever

Originally Published: September 3, 2003
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine

We're probably late to get on the bandwagon, but we like Anthony Davis to make some noise in the Heisman race. Sure, the 5-foot-8 speedster has rushed for more yards in the past two seasons than any other back in the country, but we like the way Badger offensive coordinator Brian White is using him and spicing up the UW offense these days.

Gone is the vanilla Ron Dayne scheme of strictly zone running in Madison. Of course, the Badgers still are a zone team -- and that style does require a back with great patience and vision as Davis has, but now there is more. Against West Virginia last weekend, the Badgers unveiled a host of personnel groupings and formations that kept the Mountaineer defense guessing, which can be fatal when dealing with a quick short back like Davis.

White mixed in four-wide sets with QB Jim Sorgi in the shotgun, three-wide with two backs along with two-backs, double-tight ends and one wideout. Later in the game, White also brought in huge freshman OT Joe Thomas as a tight end. And the most challenging aspect for a defense of all the variations is that White has the talent to make the Badgers diverse. The passing game now is more than just Lee Evans, who, by the way, still looks dangerous. There is Brandon Williams (7 rec., 89 yards) and wideout/TE Owen Daniels (3 for 41) to go with WRs Jonathan Orr and Darrin Charles. Huge fullback Matt Bernstein adds soft hands and deceptive speed and is a devastating lead blocker for Davis.

One other factor we love about Davis' potential Heisman run: he should roll up yards against the Badgers' favorable schedule heading into their stiffest test -- home against Ohio State on Oct. 11. Leading into that primetime showdown with the Buckeyes, UW's toughest opponent probably is Penn State (Oct.4), and the Nittany Lions just surrendered a 100-yard rushing effort against Temple.

Random Notes

  • Pete Carroll disciple Bo Pelini already has made a big impact on the Nebraska defense. Credit the first-year Husker DC for containing a potent Oklahoma State offense. Pelini did so by keeping Josh Fields, a pretty good QB, off balance by starting out the game defending the deep pass via a two-deep zone, keeping his safeties 12 to 14 yards deep. OSU was unable to really take advantage by utilizing RB Tatum Bell. Then, later in the game, Pelini got more aggressive and started blitzing, which confused new OTs Matt Hardison and Kellen Davis.

    However, the big key in all this was the play of Husker OLB Demorrio Williams. An undersized 'backer who probably is the defense's best playmaker, Williams has been turned loose from his weakside linebacker spot, even lining up in a three-point stance and overmatched Hardison. Don't be surprised if Williams rockets his way into the Butkus race.

  • Yes, he is playing behind the best defensive line in the country, but you still have to be impressed with Trojan MLB Lofa Tatupu. The son of USC great Mosi Tatupu, Lofa is a transfer from I-AA Maine and had a great debut last weekend making two sacks, 12 tackles and batting down a pass against Auburn.

    Ironically, some had wondered how much USC would miss two-year starter Mike Pollard in the middle, but most inside the program felt Tatupu, a quicker player, probably would be an upgrade. As a true freshman at Maine in 2001, he had 67 tackles, three picks and 13 TFLs.

  • Time to give some props to a terrific coach working under the radar, UConn's Randy Edsall. The former Syracuse QB has led the Huskies to five straight wins, including a season-ending rout of bowl-bound Iowa State to end the 2002 season..

  • Miami got some great news last weekend. Reserve Brandon Sebald, the team's top blocking TE, who had returned to his home in upstate NY to undergo some medical tests, hopes to return to the team later this month. The 6-6, 245-pound sophomore was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which can be suppressed with medication, meaning he won't require surgery.

  • Of course, Louisville will miss QB Dave Ragone, but the Cards should be much improved this year. The big reason? FSU transfer running back Eric Shelton, who along with a maturing O-line, will boost a ground game that averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in 2002. Last Sunday the 250-pound former Parade All-American ran for 151 yards, including 71 on 11 carries in the fourth quarter.

    Credit new Cards coach Bobby Petrino for developing Shelton, who last year, ex-Cards coaches tell us, was a very upright runner. Petrino saw that and hammered the 6-3 Shelton about running with his pads lower and bulling his shoulders on impact.

  • Four years after plucking Antonio Bryant from a Miami prep program, where the wideout was the sixth-best prospect, Pittsburgh has found more hidden treasure in South Florida. LB Clint "Hit Man" Session, a 5-11, 230-pound true frosh, was overshadowed by a quartet of teammates at Pompano Beach's Ely High, all of whom signed with Miami. Now he takes a back seat to no one, having knocked out a couple of Panthers in practice and left coaches to think they've found an heir to departed hit machine Gerald Hayes.

    "And of the Miami guys, the guy I think turns out to be the best is (DT) Teraz McCray," says one Big East coach we spoke with. "He's short, but he's quick and has a gerat motor." McCray, incidentally, got Miami's last scholarship and almost ended up someplace else too.

  • We're big fans of the Vick brothers, but after watching Bryan Randall against a decent UCF squad go 22-of-28 for 278 yards and three TDs, we're convinced there isn't a more underrated QB in the country. Especially since it appears that he has learned to take better care of the ball.

  • Maybe Michigan jumped the gun awarding Braylon Edwards the No. 1 jersey. A terrific talent, Edwards still has trouble hanging on to the ball. Last week, he dropped two passes, including a sure touchdown.

  • Iowa wrecked the Heisman campaign of Miami (Ohio) QB Ben Roethlisberger, forced him into four picks thanks in part to working in a 3-4 package. The Hawkeyes used some "34" two years ago in the Alamo Bowl, although the big reason why they have brought it back is personnel, namely the development of sophomore LB Kevin Worthy.

  • Hundreds of recruits will be at the Orange Bowl for Saturday night's Florida-Miami game. The kid who probably will be the toughest battle between the two schools is Sarasota blue-chip OL Drew Miller, a prospect so coveted, he got a call at 12:01 on Sept. 1 from Gators O-line coach Joe Wickline. The call came at the earliest possible time a coach can contact recruits according to NCAA regulations. Later that day, Miller got a call from Miami coach Larry Coker.

    Bruce Feldman covers college football for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at bruce.feldman@espnmag.com.

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