Tanner McEvoy showed he brought a dual-threat dimension to the field. He rushed six times for 40 yards, including an impressive 22-yard scramble that involved dancing around several tackle attempts and accelerating up field.
Few people remember that because his passing was horrid and should have come with a government warning. Sailing balls over the heads of receivers, making erratic throws and never looking comfortable, McEvoy was lucky to finish 8-for-24, but threw for a paltry 50 yards and no touchdowns. He also threw two fourth-quarter interceptions and was 3-for-11 for 17 yards in the second half with the game on the line.
His passing rating was 34.16, which was the worst for a UW quarterback in his starting debit since Mike Kalasmicki had a 5.20 rating in 1977, according to the State Journal’s Andy Baggot.
“I don’t think I did very well,” said McEvoy, stating the obvious. “I’m going to be my hardest critic, but like I said it’s a team game. I made a few mental mistakes and that happens, but that can be the difference in winning and losing a game.”
It wasn’t just the passing game that was a problem. McEvoy fumbled a snap, didn’t sell play fakes and UW never unleashed play-action passes, which Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said was priority number two after running the football.
McEvoy did some good things in the no-huddle and had a good pitch on an option play, but in reality there’s no other way to describe the quarterback play in the opener other than one word: bad.
Imagine what could have happened had Melvin Gordon’s hip not flexed in the wrong direction.
Gordon dazzled against LSU, going for 139 yards on his first 14 carries through the first two quarters and one play. He scored a 14-yard touchdown, putting UW up 17-7 at halftime, and averaged 8.8 yards per carry. But somewhere in there he suffered a hip flexor, and he was never the same after that.
Gordon carried the ball only three more times after his 63-yard run to start the third quarter, and the Badgers running game took a hit. Without Gordon in the lineup, Wisconsin’s running game was grounded to a halt. The Badgers rushed for 236 team yards after Gordon’s 63-yard burst to start the second half on 26 carries. In the final 13 carries of the game, the Badgers had only 32 yards.
Corey Clement finished with 45 yards, 19 in the second half, and scored Wisconsin final touchdown on a two-yard run to put UW up 24-7. Another bright spot was Reggie Love’s 45-yard touchdown on the end around, his first career score on his second-career touch on the Badgers’ opening drive.
“It was a great feeling,” said Love, who attributed the play to great outside blocking before his speed took over. “It’s great to contribute to the offense. It’s good to be in that spot.”
For as dominant as Wisconsin’s offense was in the first half, the Badgers had multiple chances to put the game away but just couldn’t deliver.
As was the worry since the end of last season, Wisconsin’s wide receivers didn’t make a significant impact and caused LSU to start loading the box with upwards of nine players in the second half.
Alex Erickson led the unit with three catches for 33 yards, including the Badgers’ longest pass of 14 yards. One of the best catches came on the game’s first drive, catching a contested pass on a slant route for six yards on third-and-four.
What can be seen is the Badgers struggled getting off blocks from LSU’s man-to-man coverage, which might be the best the Badgers see all season.
Wisconsin’s offensive line made a number of great blocks to open up wide running lanes, but seem to falter late when the Badgers became one dimensional. Andersen said after the game that UW couldn’t protect the passer, McEvoy said the protection was really good and Rob Havenstein said he’d have to evaluate the film.
When he flipped on the film, Havenstein sided more with Andersen.
“We didn’t give Tanner enough time or enough space to feel comfortable in the pocket,” said Havenstein. “That lands squarely on us as a line. We’re going to take every rep in practice and try to get better at it and shore those edges up.”
Wisconsin didn’t give any sacks, but the Tigers had four quarterback hurries. LSU’s stud defensive ends – Danielle Hunter (seven tackles, one tackle for loss) and Jermauria Rasco (five tackles, half TFL) – were active but didn’t dominate the game.
Truth be told, I don’t think the production was as bad, especially against a defense as an athletic as the Tigers are.
Imagine what could have been had Wisconsin not lost its two senior defensive linemen. The Badgers were dominant in the first half against LSU, who delivered very few quality blocks and missed quite a few assignments in the first half.
Making his first career start in his first career game, Chikwe Obasih registered six tackles and a half sack, but got neutralized as the game went on, allowing for some big runs to occur. While UW adjusted after Zagzebski’s injury, Herring’s injury was the big blow.
It was a good first step for the group, but they’ll need to do much better.
Initial results show that this linebacker corps has some potential despite missing some key pieces off last year’s group. Senior linebacker Marcus Trotter finished with 12 tackles, including a team-high 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Junior Joe Schobert wasn’t too far behind with eight tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack, but missed a critical tackle on John Diarso’s 36-yard catch-and-run early in the fourth quarter.
“I think young guys have to step up,” said Trotter. “This might be a beauty in the skies for younger guys to step up. When LSU came back, we could feel that momentum but we need guys to step up.”
Missing a solid week of camp with a hamstring issue, Derek Landisch played as expected: tough. He had five tackles, a quarterback hurry and a key pass breakup inside Wisconsin’s 20 that held LSU off the board on that drive.
He was listed with a game-high 15 tackles, but Andersen said the coaching staff had junior safety Michael Caputo marked down for 20. That also includes a pass breakup and a fumble recovery in what was an outstanding performance.
Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary had their moments of good and bad, but the latter sticks out more. Shelton and true freshman Lubern Figaro miscommunicated on LSU’s lone first-half touchdown – an 80-yard touchdown by Travin Dural, who beat Shelton off the line.
One play after LSU successfully converted its fake punt attempt, Tigers quarterback Anthony Jennings hit Dural, who this time got a step on Hillary, for 44 yards down the sideline, eventually leading to a field goal and more momentum for the “home” team.
”We need to face adversity better,” said Hillary. “There are going to be times of adversity and we just have to handle ourselves in the right way and stay positive.”
Figaro had a rough starting night. Not only did he not provide coverage over the top on the 80-yard touchdown, Figaro also whiffed on the third-and-21 reception by Diarse that turned into a 36-ayrd touchdown. Figaro was benched in favor of senior Peniel Jean, who didn’t manage much better.
It appears Wisconsin has found itself a kicker, as true freshman Rafael Gaglianone drilled a 51-yard field goal with 5:07 remaining in the first quarter. It was his only field goal attempt.
“It definitely felt good,” said Gaglianone, who was also 3-for-3 on extra points.. “I came in and was a little nervous, but I have a good holder, a good snapper and good protection. That gives me that security. It’s definitely good to get the first kick out of the way and just become a college kicker.”
Wisconsin’s coverage units did its job, limiting LSU to only 16 yards on three punt returns and 117 yards on five kickoff returns, the longest being 33 yards.
Kenzel Doe will be the team’s main return weapon, but he can’t continuously give up yards. Drew Meyer hit two bad punts after suffering from what was diagnosed as a crap, but managed to boom a 57-yard kick – his longest of the game – in the fourth quarter.
Dave Aranda and his defensive coaches put together a tremendous scheme and got a bunch of young players playing aggressive in the passing game, stingy against the run and provided constant pressure. Losing two seniors on the defensive line due to injury, however, ruined that effort, as the Badgers wore down in the fourth quarter.
However, the big focus on the game is the decisions made by the head coach and the offensive coordinator. The turning point of the game likely came right after LSU cashed in the fake punt with the field goal to make it 24-10. With momentum shifting, Wisconsin needed a sustain drive to take the crowd out of the game.
Instead the Badgers threw deep on first down (questionable considering the ineffectiveness of the passing game), Clement was stuffed on the middle run on second down and McEvoy scampered for six yards on third down. To make matters worse, Meyer hit only a 25-yard punt. Possessing the ball for only 90 seconds, LSU got the ball in great territory, scored on another field goal and continued the momentum.
Wisconsin had opportunities to go for the jugular in the first half but failed to achieve it. That ended up costing UW and part of the blame should be placed on the play calling.