Game Day Grades: Oregon State

MADISON – It was well worth the nine-day wait for Badgers fans. After opening the season with an impressive offensive performance, No.8 Wisconsin's defense stole the show in an impressive 35-0 shutout over Oregon State Saturday. Badger Nation publisher Benjamin Worgull was there and gives his grades.

Quarterbacks

In two games, Russell Wilson has seven incompletions ... just seven.

"We better bench him," UW head coach Bret Bielema deadpanned.

A fifth-year senior quarterback that is efficient and a perfectionist, Wilson was incredibly efficient in the win over Oregon State, completing 17 of 21 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns. He completed a pass to four different receivers but unlike last week, all of his passes went to receivers.

"It all starts with the offensive line," said the ever humble Wilson. "They gave me enough time to make some decisions and make some big plays today."

Wilson was the key ingredient for Wisconsin's offense when its running game was locked up in the first half, as he completed 12 of 14 passes for 124 yards and all three of his scores. In two games at Wisconsin, Wilson has a pass efficiency rating of 237.6, has had a hand in six of Wisconsin's 12 scores and has earned the respect of his teammates.

"He's such a good kid that he probably doesn't want to come in and be that guy to go in the huddle (to be aggressive)," Bielema said. "As he has gained the respect of his players, he's definitely taken that role."

Luckily for Bielema, Joe Brennan didn't complete his deep pass attempt over the middle to Jeff Duckworth in mop-up duty, as the head coach had awful flashbacks to the media storm he had to deal with after Jon Budmayr connected with Jared Abbrederis for a 70-yard catch against Indiana to make the score 76-13.

"I said, ‘Paul, that's your buddy over there,'" Bielema said. "He was like, ‘I'll call him.' After the whole thing last year with the (two-point) card and all that jazz, I had flashbacks … Thankfully, it was incomplete … I think Mike knows that Paul wants to get a No.2 quarterback going."

Grade: A

Running Backs

After a week of being heavily involved in the passing game, Wisconsin's running backs simply got their yards the old fashioned way: grinding them out.

Finishing with only three first-quarter rushing yards, Wisconsin finished with a respectable 208 yards on the ground, most of which came off the legs of Montee Ball. Ball went over the 100-yard mark for the sixth time in the last seven games with his 118-yard performance and scored two rushing touchdowns, his 26th and 27th career scores in just 23 career games.

"The interior held up pretty well for a long time," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "They're eventually going to get you. We just need to respond better if you want to beat them."

The run game helped Wisconsin got 8-for-10 on third downs in the first half and 8-for-15 overall, helping the offense to get in short-yardage third downs and thus, putting the offense in position to have success by moving the chains.

"We probably scrimmage first down and second down as much as anybody in the country," Bielema said. "Everybody wants to go to third down, red zone or goal line but the way we play football here, you have to have success on first down to make second and third down more manageable. Today was a great example of that."

James White grinded for his yards, finishing with 53 yards, and Jeff Lewis rushed for 26 yards on four carries in mop-up duty.

Grade: B-

Receivers

One of the big questions entering the fall was whether Wisconsin had a capable replacement, or the next NFL talent, at the tight end position, Redshirt sophomore Jacob Pedersen showed that he's trending in that direction. Pedersen finished with career high in receptions (6), yards (80) and touchdowns (2) and was again solid with his blocking in the run game.

Of his 16 career receptions, five of them have been for touchdowns.

"We've had a lot of good tight ends here, but he might be the most complete player we've had at that position when it's all said and done," Bielema said of Pedersen.

The same goes for Abbrederis, who Bielema confirmed will be on scholarship no later than this January. Abbrederis was productive in the passing game (3 catches, 26 yards), but was proactive in the blocking game, registering two key blocks on Ball's two touchdown runs that put even more points on the board for Wisconsin.

"To me, something just happened this week with Abby," Bielema said. "He's been good all along, but I was watching him this week and I am just like, ‘My goodness, No.4 is exceptional.' He made a couple tremendous catches this week in practice."

After missing 10 days of fall camp, Nick Toon has played himself into shape and has increased his weight to 220 pounds. More importantly, he is making plays, tying a career-high with seven catches for 69 yards and a score.

"I think when he goes, we go," Bielema said of Toon.

Senior tight end Jake Byrne rounded out the production with a 14-yard reception.

Grade: A

Offensive Line

Sitting in the last row of the press box, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson must have been drooling over the sight of Peter Konz kicking out. One floor above him, Urban Meyer was doing virtually the same thing, wondering where he can find a guy like the junior from Neenah when he jumps back into coaching. Watching Konz work on run sweeps is a thing of beauty, like his movements on James White's 12-yard run that got UW down to the 12 in the second quarter.

Snapping the ball from the right hash, Konz avoids a nicely executed cut block by Ryan Groy and Jake Byrne tossing his assignment down like a rag doll to get out in space three yards ahead of White. From there, he pancakes the free safety, who has a 'oh crap' moment and simply goes down instead of making a tackle attempt. There's no question Konz is playing at a high level early in the season.

Speaking of Groy, he performed well in his first start and was able to get more push off the line as the game progressed. After rushing for just three yards in the first quarter, Wisconsin's offensive line opened the gaps to allow the backs to rush for 175 yards in the two middle quarters.

The only sack Wisconsin gave up was when Josh Oglesby was badly beat on a club move where the defender dipped his shoulder and got little resistance on the inside. It shows that Oglesby still isn't 100 percent, but he's getting close.

Grade: B

Defensive Line

Every once in awhile, Bielema likes to issue a challenge to a player or position group, hoping to light a fire under that group's pads as they prepare for the weekend's opponent. After being frustrated with the amount of rushing yards given up the previous week, Bielema issued a challenge to his entire defense, the line in particular, to button down the hatches.

"As long as I have been coaching defensive football, if people can run the football, you aren't going to be a very good football team," Bielema said.

As a result, Wisconsin held an Oregon State team that ran for 266 yards in its season opener, averaging 6.2 yards per carry, to just 23 yards on 24 carries, an average of .96 yards per game. In fact, the Badgers recorded more negative yardage (26) than actual yardage allowed (23). Oregon State's longest run was seven yards.

The pressure off the end was constant all game long. David Gilbert registered a 10-yard sack, three tackles and two quarterback hurries and Brendan Kelly had six tackles and a pass breakup.

A week after the interior defensive line was held in check by UNLV, the Badgers got a sack from Beau Allen, a fumble recovery from Jordan Kohout and pass breakups from Patrick Butrym and Ethan Hemer.

"We want to show a quarterback that we will hit you," Bielema said. "I think that's good. You can apply physical and mental pressure."

Grade: A

Linebackers

A week after he gave himself a ‘C' grade and linebackers coach Dave Huxtable gave him a ‘D,' Chris Borland said he earned a ‘B' on Saturday.

More importantly, Borland continues to learn the middle linebacker position, recognizing the need to slow down and play a little more in tempo, something that's not easy for the never tentative football player.

"I think the first game, you are excited and everything, but (today) I felt better," said Borland, who finished with nine tackles and two pass breakups.

Mike Taylor was right there with Borland step for step, finishing with nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble. Ethan Armstrong, making his first career start in place of Kevin Claxton (wrist), finished with two tackles.

Wisconsin was also able to rotate other bodies in and got there solo tackles from true freshman Derek Landisch.

Grade: B

Secondary

Running a lot of 4-2-5 protection, Wisconsin got the results it needed early in the passing game. Once Devin Smith (ankle) went down, the Badgers went to their two nickel look, and didn't seem to miss a beat.

"That shows me we have a pretty good football team," Bielema said.

The instinctiveness of his safeties also is a pretty good indication. On a fourth-and-2 late in the third quarter, Henry sniffed out a toss to the right and coming up in run coverage to force Brandin Cooks to change directions in the backfield. As a result, Shelton Johnson came up quickly corralled Cooks for a 1-yard loss and a turnover on downs.

"I think they have developed a really nice relationship," Bielema said of Henry and Johnson. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out. If you know what you're doing you play faster. Today they were just very confident with what their calls were, their alignments and their reactions."

Johnson had one of his best games, finishing with six tackles, a team-best three tackles for loss and one forced fumble.

Just as strong as the safeties were the starting cornerbacks. Entering today's game with seven career tackles, junior Marcus Cromartie equaled that total with a career-high seven stops, filling in when Devin Smith went down with an ankle injury. Combine that with the continued high-level play of senior Antonio Fenelus (four tackles, two pass breakups), UW's cornerbacks look as good as ever.

"All the corners push each other to be the best players we can," said Cromartie. "I feel like when we went into fall camp nobody knew was going to be the No. 1 and No. 2 so we all competed like we were the backup. We always try to compete against each other and try to make each other better. At the end of the day it's really not about me and how good I am, it's about the team."

Grade: A

Special Teams

During Wisconsin's special teams walk through, Bielema said he put senior Andrew Lukasko on one side of Oregon State's overshift punt and put him on the rush position because ‘I knew he would go 100 miles an hour up the field, set the edge and flash in the punter's face.' As a result, OSU had a minus-4 yard punt, setting up Wisconsin's first touchdown.

"It's fun to see Lukasko have success," Bielema said. "I just wanted someone that was going to hum up that field. Lukasko is a great kid … one of the toughest kids on our football team, a walk-on that's been an absolute joy to coach."

With Philip Welch out another week, Kyle French made all five of his extra points (he didn't attempt a field goal), but Alec Lerner averaged only 59.0 yards/kickoff, although he did get his first touchback. He's now 1-for-14 in that department.

Senior punter Brad Nortman averaged 45.8 yards per punt, put three inside the 20 and continues to show phenomenal hang time. In six punts, he has yet to have one returned.

It was an easy day for White, who returned the opening kickoff of the second half 20 yards as the kickoff return unit's only play and Abbrederis didn't bobble a punt.

Grade: B


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