McEvoy settles in on defense for Badgers

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By Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Friday, November 29, 2013

MADISON--Is Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda clairvoyant? You be the judge.

Three days before UW faced Big Ten rival Minnesota, Aranda shared why he enjoys seeing 6-foot-6, 223-pound Tanner McEvoy at safety.

“For teams that are going to throw the ball down the field, his range, No.1, and his length, No.2, such an asset,” Aranda said. “That’s such a weapon for us.

“That really kind of shone through last week, and we’re looking for more of the same this week.”

McEvoy transferred to UW from Arizona Western College to play quarterback but got his first action at wide receiver and then switched to safety. He finished with a team-high three passes broken up in UW’s 20-7 victory over Minnesota.

One was a clean drop after McEvoy read a pass in the flat and broke in front of the receiver and could have had a touchdown if he had held onto the ball.

But on the other two breakups McEvoy displayed the range and length Aranda described.

In the opening quarter, Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson threw deep down the left sideline to Drew Wolitarsky.

Cornerback Sojourn Shelton had tight coverage but was unable to get his left arm on the ball. McEvoy ranged over from his safety spot, extended his right arm and tipped the ball away at the UW 33, without bumping into Shelton or Wolitarsky.

In the fourth quarter, the Gophers had a first down at the UW 18. Nelson rolled to his right and threw back to the left. Isaac Fruechte ran a corner route to that side of the field and had a step on McEvoy.

McEvoy closed on Fruechte and, extending his right arm again, batted the ball away in the end zone.

Minnesota eventually turned the ball over on downs.

“The one he made on the throwback was a tremendous play,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “Thank goodness he was 6-5 and got his hand on that football.

“That was a big-time play.”

McEvoy will be expected to contribute again when UW (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) hosts Penn State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN). His development into a playmaker at a position he didn’t play until this season has been remarkable.

“It is comforting to know that you’ve got a guy that can see things as well as he sees things,” Aranda said, “and has the length and range to do something about it when the ball is in the air.

“That is an asset to us.”

McEvoy has been honest when asked about his contributions on defense this season. He is a quarterback at heart who is filling in where the staff needs him this season.

“Just having a defensive mindset now,” he said. “Being at this level playing defense, you kind of pick up on little things now. And now since I’m playing safety, there are little things that I will be able to carry over to help me out on the offensive end.”

McEvoy has one interception — against BYU — four other passes broken up and 12 tackles in nine games. He recorded five tackles against BYU and five against Indiana and in both games showed he was diagnosing plays more quickly.

“He has been very invested and very into it,” safeties coach Bill Busch said. “That part has been a huge plus for him.

“He has stuff you can’t coach. He has natural ball skills. He has the ability to track the ball in the air, which a lot of people don’t have. It is hard. People don’t understand that.”

Linebacker Chris Borland marvels at McEvoy’s progress.

“It is a hard game even if you are enthusiastic about playing it and working to get better,” he said. “He has wrapped his arms around it and is doing a great job.

“He’s a graceful and natural athlete. So he’s made it look easy, but it’s not. It’s been a great tool for us to have more depth back there…. It’s amazing that just a few months ago he wasn’t playing the position.”

Andersen has been asked whether McEvoy will stay at safety or move back to offense in 2014. His standard answer: That evaluation will come after the season.

On Monday he offered a significant clue.

“As well as he has done and (if) he continues to progress,” Andersen said, “pretty good opportunity for him to come in as a starter in that position.

“You going to turn around and get yourself into a quarterback battle? Again we’ll address it, see where it is.”

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