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September 24, 2013

Senger trying to imitate Miller

MADISON, Wis. - Connor Senger isn't Braxton Miller. Nor is he Kenny Guiton. But for the next two days, he might as well be both of them.

Senger, a 5-foot-10 freshman quarterback from Pius XI High School in Milwaukee, has run Wisconsin's scout team offense since the start of the season. So far he's had to imitate opposing quarterbacks like Mike Wegzyn, Darian Stone, Taylor Kelly, and Rob Henry to give Wisconsin's defense an accurate doppelganger for practice.

But even though Senger said giving the first team defense a good look in practice is a priority every week, Senger will need to be particularly on top of his game this week. The No. 23 Badgers will travel to Columbus this weekend for a game against the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes, who have two dangerous quarterbacks in Miller and Guiton. But while other scout team players will imitate linemen or other skill position players, it's Senger's job to play like both Miller and Guiton during practice, capturing their unique blend of passing and scrambling.

Miller is expected to start against the Badgers if he has fully recovered from a knee injury that has cost him two and a half games so far this season, and Senger said the 6-foot-2 Miller is an interesting player to imitate.

"He's very good at extending the play, but also keeping his eyes downfield to find an open receiver," Senger said Monday after practice. "When he leaves the pocket he's pass-first, run second. That's kind of something you don't normally see from scrambling quarterbacks, but he's very good at that."

Miller and Guiton's dual-threat capabilities also make it hard to really capture what it's like to play against them. Teams can diagnose particular plays by looking at coaching tape, but it's harder to prepare for players who can turn broken plays into big gains with their legs. Senger said the coaching staff has really cut him loose over the last few days, in the hope that his natural athleticism will help them prepare for the real thing this Saturday.

"We go pretty hard, we when we do leave the pocket we try to keep it as live as possibly can," Senger said. "We're working on scrambles all the times. We're looking to take shots downfield, but if that's not there we'll tuck and run."

Miller's injury means Senger and the Badgers have had to go back and watch a lot of his film from last season, when he completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 2,039 yards and threw 15 touchdowns. And although the Badgers have just about a game and a half's worth of film on Miller from this season, Senger said he's seen some improvements from Ohio State's star quarterback.

"He's much better throwing from the pocket [this year]," Senger said. "He's worked on his feet a lot, he's getting the ball out a lot faster so he's getting better reads. He'll scramble if there's nothing there, but he goes through his progressions first."

One other hurdle for the Badgers is that even if Miller starts, there's no guarantee that he'll play the whole game. Guiton completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 664 yards in relief of Miller over the last three games, and could play against Wisconsin even if Miller starts the game. But Senger said he's watched tape of both quarterbacks, and he hasn't seen a lot of differences between the two.

"We watched both of them, because we've got to prepare for both," Senger said. "Kenny's doing just as good of a job as Braxton is- he's getting the job done moving the ball downfield. They both take shots down field- they both have great arms. It's almost like the same quarterback- he's not quite as shifty and explosive as [Miller] is, but he can still make plays with his legs or his arm."

But even though the Badgers will need to find a way to contain Miller (or Guiton), this isn't the first time this season where they've had to play against a talented dual-threat quarterback. Tennessee Tech's Stone drew many comparisons to Miller in the run-up to Wisconsin's 48-0 win over the Golden Eagles. The Badgers held Stone to just 8-of-19 passing for 69 yards, to go along with another 17 yards on the ground.

To be sure, Miller is on another level than Stone. But the Badgers at least have some experience against a team that has similar offensive goals, and that at least sounded like a good thing to Senger.

"This week kind of replicates Tennessee Tech, with a quarterback who can hurt you with his arms or his legs," Senger said. "This isn't our first time doing it this year."

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.

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