Needing A Passing Grade

With the passing offense not up to par over the last third of the season, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen was blunt in saying that the Badgers will struggle against No.8 South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl if the Badgers can't regain their big-play ability through the air.

MADISON - Using the mentality of having a chance at a victory stolen away from them in the third week of the college football season, the Badgers – using that chip on their shoulder – won six straight games to get them on the precipice of making a BCS bowl game for the fourth straight season.

Almost two weeks after Wisconsin's uncharacteristic loss to Penn State on senior day, playing with a chip is same principle Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen is re-injecting into his players.

"You can move on from a loss, but never forget it," said Andersen Tuesday. "We've got a lot to learn as a football team. We've got one more opportunity to compete … They deserve to go out a winner, but you only win if you prepare the right way and then you go put it out on the field."

Andersen has already watched two full game films of South Carolina –No.17 Wisconsin's opponent in the Capital One Bowl Jan.1 in Orlando, FL – and says the Gamecocks are what he would expect out of a 10-win team. It's one of the reasons why he calls himself fired up for the opportunity.

"The kids are excited to be at this bowl. It's a special experience to play in a bowl on Jan.1," he said. "It's a very meaningful full. That doesn't lessen the sting of the loss. We've moved past it, just got to get better. We have to look at our weaknesses as players and coaches and get better."

One of the areas Andersen pointed out as needing to improve is the passing game, an attack that failed to eclipse 200 yards in four of the final five games of the season. Out of 132 teams, Wisconsin ranks 88th in the country in passing yards (203.8 per game), and in a tie for 64th in interceptions thrown (12).

Andersen said the Badgers have been "had" a little bit the last two games with Minnesota and Penn State loading the box and forcing quarterback Joel Stave to beat the defenses with his arm, something he hasn't consistently done.

"We've got to consistently throw the football," said Andersen. "That's not just Joel. That starts with protection, it starts with the wide receiver routes, catching the football, there's a lot of things that go into that. We need to throw and catch the football better as an offensive unit if we want to have success on offense."

Andersen mentioned that Wisconsin hasn't been finishing big-play opportunities that have presented itself over the final stretch of the season, which could explain the dip in offense.

In the first seven games of the season, Wisconsin had 44 plays that gained at least 20 yards, or 6.3 plays per game. In the final five weeks of the season, Wisconsin has only 25 plays (5.0 per game). In the last two weeks of the season, Wisconsin has eight such plays, and only one was a run (the first offensive play at Minnesota).

In the first seven games, Wisconsin scored an average of 39.9 points per game and over 40 points four times. Down the stretch, the Badgers averaged 30.0 points per game, a number skewed by the 51 points it put up against Indiana.

"We've got to be able to throw the ball, catch it and give kids a chance," said Andersen. "If we do that, we're a very good offense. If we can't do that, if we just completely run against teams that are matched up evenly with us from a talented standpoint, it gets very difficult."

Wisconsin has one of the premier wide receivers in the country in Jared Abbrederis – a first-team all-conference selection after finishing the year with 73 catches, 1,051 yards and seven touchdowns. The problem for the Badgers is they haven't been able to develop a receiver beyond that.

Add up all the other true receivers on Wisconsin's roster, that group has 36 catches for 459 yards and one touchdown.

"I hope there's some other receivers that are going to go up and make some plays as we go through this next phase, basically a month of practice," said Andersen. "I want to have the opportunity to get the ball in their hands and have them make some plays for us.

"The passing game needs to take a step forward if we're going to have a chance to win this next football game. It'll have to. If not, we won't win."

Extra Points: Andersen GA says Tanner McEvoy will work at QB during some bowl practices, but will finish the year as the starting safety ... Melvin Gordon is the only underclassmen that he aware of who has submitted paperwork to the NFL draft advisory committee. Gordon will make a decision after the Rose Bowl ... Following minor wrist surgery, Dezmen Southward is expected to be back 100 percent by Dec.26.

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