Going three and out on Wisconsin’s first drive of the game and throwing an interception on the second, it looked like McEvoy was going to throw out a repeat performance from his 8-for-24, 50-yard disaster last weekend.
But after the miscue, McEvoy looked like a different quarterback and showed signs of being the impact player Wisconsin recruited him to be, finishing 23-for-28 for 283 yards, three touchdowns and that was one interception in No.18 Wisconsin’s 37-3 win over Western Illinois Saturday.
“There was nothing said, there was no magic fairy dust sprinkled on him, he just started to execute,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said of McEvoy, who also added 55 yards. “I’m sure he felt more comfortable. There’s a lot to say walking in playing in front of your home crowd, just as there is walking in to playing on the road for the first time in front of a hectic crowd and you come home and you get your home crowd. He just started to run the offense well and play the way we thought he could when we recruited him and it was great to see.”
McEvoy finished the half strong following his only turnover, going 9-for-12 for 117 yards while capping the Badgers’ first scoring with a seven-yard touchdown run. The completions on that drive carried over into the second half with McEvoy connecting on 17 straight passes at one point, which was needed considering the Badgers couldn’t run the football effectively.
“I thought Tanner came on,” Andersen said. “Obviously he caught some mojo there, 17 in a row. Felt at home. Kids in the offense made some plays for him when we were really unable to run the football effectively all day long.”
With the offense spurting in the first quarter, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig appeared to open up the playbook and get more aggressive in the passing game. The result was a 17-play, 90-yard drive that was engineering by McEvoy going 8-for-10 on the drive, including a drop by receiver Reggie Love that could have resulted in a 67-yard touchdown.
And while the drive stalled on a fourth-and-one at Western Illinois seven-yard line, McEvoy started his completion run that lasted until a third-down pass intended for Kenzel Doe in the corner of the endzone sailed long at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
“I don’t know,” said McEvoy when asked if he ever his 17 straight throws. “Maybe in practice.”
One area McEvoy struggled with in the opener was the inability to complete long passes consistently. That wasn’t the case Saturday with McEvoy, who completed five passes over 20 yards, four of which that came on scoring drives to help put the game out of reach.
“We completed some big balls, some deep ball, some checkdowns,” said McEvoy. “I was going through my read a lot better than last week. We’ve got to do that to be a great team.”
McEvoy didn’t lose his rhythm either once the second half started, connecting on all four of his passes to open the half. After only five receivers caught passes last week, McEvoy got the ball in the hands of seven different targets, including a career-high 10 catchers for Alex Erickson and a personal-best four catches for Sam Arneson.
“I think it’s huge,” Andersen said. “We’ll see as we move forward, but Tanner did what we thought he could do. He did some nice things with his legs. He had good command of the offense. He threw the ball very, very well. He seemed pretty poised. When something wasn’t there he got out of it, which was good to see he didn’t seem to be pressing.”
After a lot of outside concern was placed on the quarterback position in the past week, McEvoy showed that perhaps the best is yet to come.
“In football week one to week two is a big learning curve,” McEvoy said. “I learned a lot last week and it kind of slowed down a little bit and great to be in a home game and great to have some guys make some plays for me.”