Badger Nation publisher Benjamin Worgull -- If you would have asked me this question two weeks ago my answer would have been “messy.” After the bye week and a 52-7 victory over Maryland, my answer is “defined.” There’s little question that Joel Stave is the best quarterback option for this offense, as the Badgers struggled mightily to develop a passing attack under McEvoy. That’s not a complete knock on McEvoy because the Badgers’ wide receivers depth is virtually nonexistent, but McEvoy showed during his first five starts to be anything but a consistent passer.
Stave’s biggest strength is throwing the football, something we saw last weekend against the Terrapins when the Badgers finally showcased a passing attack. They only threw for 216 yards, but that number represented the most yards against a power-five conference opponent this year and Wisconsin completed its first two 40-yard passes this season. Considering how bad things have been with the passing game, I am surprised they didn’t shoot off fireworks.
While McEvoy has been relegated to backup duty, the junior will still pop up and run a couple series. He ran one against Illinois before the bye week and three against Maryland. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is adamant that the Badgers need to get McEvoy more involved because of his skill set. When McEvoy is in the game, his biggest asset is his ability to scramble and pick up yards with his legs (he had a 60-yard touchdown run against the Terps).
Ludwig reiterated that both quarterbacks can run the entire offense but it’s clear that Stave is in the game to pass and McEvoy is in the game to run, which worked effectively last weekend with the Badgers’ highest offensive output since September 20.
As far as McEvoy retuning to New Jersey, I am sure it’s on his mind, but the quarterback has been pretty much all business when he’s addressed us this season, focusing more on getting the team and offense moving in the right direction instead of making things about him.
Usually I would say Wisconsin’s offensive line deserves a lot of the credit and while the group upfront has done a lot of positive things this year creating holes for the tailbacks, especially Gordon, who is such a special tailback that he can make something out of almost nothing.
There are runs this season where his vision and strength are something to behold. Gordon scored four touchdowns against Illinois – two between the tackles by lowering his shoulders and running full speed ahead and another two by bouncing a run to the outside and racing by everybody. There was another run this season where he got tripped at the line of scrimmage, quickly regained his footing and accelerated down the sideline. A lot like Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, he’s a tailback that makes you go “wow.”
Now the Badgers haven’t faced a stiff running test since early in the season, part of the reason why Wisconsin’s rushing numbers have been so high over the last month and a half. However, UW has seen a lot of eight- and nine-man boxed and still been able to clear a path for the tailbacks. That credit goes to UW’s line, which this year is a blue-collared group without many stars next to their names.
3. What allowed Glassboro's own Corey Clement to experience success so quickly?
For starters, Clement got a chance to play as a true freshman last year, part of the reason he stuck with his commitment to Wisconsin during the coaching change. In most seasons, Wisconsin likes to utilize three tailbacks, something the Badgers didn’t have after James White and Gordon last season. Clement was able to step in, rush for a ton of second-half yards against some overmatched opponents and start building his confidence.
The second part of Clement’s success is patience. Standing behind Gordon, Clement hasn’t received as many carries as some other No.2 backs in the country. At times, this has caused him to press and try to do too much when he’s out on the field, something he admitted to doing a lot in Wisconsin’s loss to Northwestern in the Big Ten opener. With some help from Gordon, we’ve seen a more patient Clement these last two weeks, as he’s allowed his blockers to set up the play before he hits the gap. That resulted in him having two of his best games of the season the last two weeks.
It’s the same philosophy in a lot of ways, but Andersen has put a twist on things. On offense, Wisconsin will always be a power running school with a fullback and tight ends. That’s its M.O. and what the Badgers can best recruit to. Under Andersen, Wisconsin is trying to develop a dual-threat quarterback who can beat defenses with his arm and his legs to create more opening for the running game and more of a big play threat. That philosophy possibly led to the Badgers’ downfall in their two losses this year with McEvoy being the quarterback, as it’s evident right now that Wisconsin doesn’t quite have the personnel to run that type of offense just yet.
Defensively, Wisconsin went over a massive facelift and change from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, something that was needed to get more speed on the field and allow the Badgers to get over the hump against the conference’s top teams in bowl games. Too often under Bielema Wisconsin was the slower team, a fact that attributed to a handful of losses.
Under defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, Wisconsin has been mixing blitzes and disguising pressures, putting smaller, faster players on the field and turning from a bend-but-don’t-break defense into an aggressive defense. Unlike with the offense, the defense is producing results, leading the conference in scoring defense, total defense and pass defense.
5. What went wrong against Northwestern and is it something that Rutgers can attack?
Things went wrong on both sides of the football against Northwestern the Badgers think they have corrected. Wisconsin was already playing with senior nose tackle Warren Herring on defense and lost another valuable piece in senior inside linebacker Marcus Trotter after only two series. With that much inexperience on the field, Northwestern ran for 203 yards and Wisconsin had its worst tackling game of the season that led to big plays.
On offense the Badgers had McEvoy under center and pulled him before halftime when the offense was ineffective and needed a jolt. Stave, who hadn’t played in 10 months, wasn’t much better, as the four combined for four interceptions. Part of the problem on the interceptions was the pass rush, as Northwestern’s defensive line outmuscled Wisconsin’s line and was able to pressure both McEvoy and Stave, leading to rushed or altered throws that fell in the hands of the Wildcats.
Herring and Trotter returned last week and Wisconsin had its best defensive performance of the season. If Rutgers’ defensive front can generate the same kind of pressure Northwestern did across the board, it’ll be interesting to see how Stave – who has been prone to interceptions – handles it.
6. What is the perception of Rutgers as Big Ten members among Wisconsin fans?
I think the jury is still out simply because a lot of fans don’t know Rutgers football. There’s no history between the two schools and Wisconsin seldom played teams from the Big East or the AAC. I will say when the move to increase the league to 14 teams was first announced, people were more excited for Rutgers football than Maryland football. Rutgers football has been on the national radar more than the Terps have the last decade, which draws some interest. Of course, it’s the exact opposite for basketball, but I think fans are looking forward to this game for a variety of reasons with one being the opponent.
7. What is your one key for a victory on Wisconsin's end?
Normally I would say run the ball effectively, but the Badgers got 259 yards from Gordon against Northwestern and lost 20-14. Therefore I’m going to say convert on opportunities, especially inside the 20. Wisconsin was so effective last week in part because the Badgers went 6-for-6 (five touchdowns) in the red zone against one of the better red zone defenses in the Big Ten. If the Badgers can get a good balance of run and pass in those key situations and put points on the board, I think it’ll be hard for Rutgers to put up a big crooked number against Wisconsin’s defense.