Probably the only non bright spot of the game came from the quarterback position, as redshirt freshman Joel Stave had the worst game of his young career. Late on his throws and struggling with his accuracy, Stave only completed seven of his 15 pass attempts, barely scratching over 100 passing yards and not throwing a touchdown pass.
Although he didn't throw an interception, Stave made some throws that put Wisconsin in harm's way.
In addition to struggling to move the ball down field, Stave struggled with his pocket awareness, and cost Wisconsin at least six points because of it. On one series, Wisconsin was at the Minnesota 26 on first down, but hung on too long and took two sacks, by D.L. Wilhite and Ra'shede Hageman for a total loss of 20 yards, to push the Badgers out of field-goal range and forced their third of four first-half punts.
Instead of trying to make a play happen, Stave has to learn to get rid of the football, especially on the opponent's end of the field.
"Joel's just learning how to be a quarterback," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "Some of those things he's got to get rid of the football. But you coach well on Sundays for a guy like that. And we'll point those things out for him. We don't want him to mishandle the game because he obviously played really good for the rest of the game. But it's part of a learning process. "
Somebody pointed out to me that Jared Abbrederis dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone. While he did, Stave held on to the ball too late, missing Abbrederis when he was open, and didn't deliver the pass on target. If he does one of those two things, it's a touchdown.
I may be in the minority on this one, but I still think Danny O'Brien is the best quarterback to lead Wisconsin. After the last two games, I believe that more than ever.
For just the third time in Wisconsin history, the Badgers had two players with at least 150 rushing yards in same game. It shouldn't be a surprise that Montee Ball and James White had already accomplished it (2010). Going over the 100-yard rushing mark for the second-straight game and the seventh time in his career, White was active in the beginning when Ball was struggling.
As a result, White's 175 yards were 10th most by a UW tailback against Minnesota and ran for an average of 11.7 yards per carry. White has averaged 6.1 yards per carry for his career, well ahead of Ron Dayne's UW career record of 5.8 yards per attempt.
"It's definitely a confidence booster," said White. "You never know when your next carry is going to come. So when you see that little crease that you know you can run through, you've got to run through it."
When White eventually relented in the fourth quarter, Ball took over. He rushed for two touchdowns and finished with 166 rushing yards. Ball now has 74 career touchdowns, trailing only Ricky Williams of Texas (75) and Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio) (78) on the all-time NCAA list.
"Just the way we have been winning is a great feeling," said Ball. "We always felt that we were letting our defense down because we weren't putting up the numbers at the beginning of the season. Now we feel like everybody is clicking as a unit, and that's a great feeling."
But the big story of the game was the debut of the ‘barge' formation; a new wrinkle with seven linemen, two tight ends and two tailbacks – a group with over 3,000 pounds of body weight moving forward.
"At Wisconsin we have a lot of big people," said Bielema. "And that got quite a few of them out there."
With White having done a variation of that formation in high school, it was another unique way of getting the ball in his hands. After the success it yielded, Wisconsin may want to think about using it again.
With only seven completions, it's hard to really evaluate what the receivers did or didn't do well. Abbrederis led the team in catches (two) and yards (68), including a long of 42 yards. It could have gone for longer has Stave not underthrown him, causing Abbrederis to stop and the defender to catch up.
What usually gets lost in the play of the receivers is how well the group blocks downfield. Watching the tape, Saturday may have been UW's best receiver blocking game of the season, especially when Jordan Fredrick knocked down and pushed around a couple Minnesota defensive backs.
Wisconsin has rushed for 804 yards in two straight games, a sign that the offensive line is starting to gel. Even though Wisconsin had Ryan Groy make his first start at left tackle and rotated in Robby Burge and Zac Matthias at left guard, Wisconsin still was moving forward.
The ‘barge' formation was a cool trick, and it was nice to see Minnesota native Tyler Marz show the Gophers what they are missing. Wisconsin did give him six tackles for loss and two sacks, but those two sacks fall directly on Stave for not getting rid of the ball. Even though there were a few breakdowns that caused UW to play behind the chains a little bit in the first half, there were a lot more successes in the running game.
"Before the game we knew it was going to happen, but finally we got a chance to see it today and see it work," said junior center Travis Frederick of the barge. "I'm glad it was able to be a little bit successful."
"The reason Montee and James are having success, they're doing a lot of great things individually, but the people in front of them are playing well," said Bielema. "Our offensive line is getting a hat on a hat. We're not quite there yet … To have Ricky Wagner, probably our best offensive lineman, out of there; to be able to do those things, we knew it wasn't going to be easy. We wore them down."
With Wisconsin having a new quarterback thrown at them, the Badgers had to do a lot of adjusting on the fly against Philip Nelson and the Gophers attack. Wisconsin's defensive line didn't register a sack (partly because of a lot of quick passes), but UW put a couple quarterback hurries on Nelson and held the rushing attack to only 96 yards and no touchdowns.
Take out Nelson's numbers, Minnesota only had 29 rushing yards. There weren't a lot of plays to be made up front for the defensive line, but Wisconsin's front four – a unit that gets healthier every week – is playing well.
Bryce Gilbert and Warren Herring are young, but are getting a lot of reps at defensive tackle since UW is thin at the position and UW can't play Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer every series. Even so, Minnesota's second touchdown drive occurred with them on the field, so getting pressure on the quarterback next week will be vital.
Senior Mike Taylor finished with a game-high 12 tackles, his fifth double-digit tackle performance of the season. Taylor is averaging 10.5 stops per game this season and is fourth in the country with 84 tackles.
The underappreciated Ethan Armstrong finished with five and made his first career interception in the fourth quarter based off a sideline adjustment.
Chris Borland finished with six tackles and a half tackle for loss, but got flagged for a 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer. The penalty really didn't hurt Wisconsin, as Nelson threw for a touchdown pass on the play. Kicking off at the 50-yard line, Minnesota attempted an onside kick that fullback Derek Watt recovered on the 40-yard line.
"I let him have it pretty good," Bielema said of his Borland conversation. "The one thing he said to me; he said: Coach, when I launched, when I left my feet the ball was in his hands. But obviously I think in that situation they're really trying to protect the quarterback. I've been emphasizing that. So definitely told him one more of those and he might be sitting next to me for a while."
Devin Smith is playing at a really high level, which is obvious after the interception he made in the third quarter when he broke up the pass by throwing his body into the receiver and showed enough awareness to catch the deflected pass. After missing most of last year with his foot injury, Smith has a lock on ‘comeback player of the year.'
"To come back to his senior year and play as aggressive as he is and what he's doing, he's setting himself up for an NFL opportunity," Bielema said of Smith. "He's a guy that's got a lot of speed. A lot of ability. Things are very important to him and he's restructured his life I think in a positive way that hopefully we truly benefit from it now, and he can see the dividends down the road."
Wisconsin contained one of the best returners in the history of the NCAA, as Troy Stoudermire only returned two kickoffs for 55 yards. Of course, one reason Soudermire didn't return a kickoff is Jack Russell booted a kickoff out of bounds, a reoccurring theme this season.
"I think he just kind of overthought himself a little bit," said Bielema.
Kyle French continues to hit the ball well, hitting a 33-yard field goal and averaging 63.6 yards on his five kickoffs, including three touchbacks.
Drew Meyer should be an All-American, as he hit four of his five punts inside the 20-yard line.