MADISON - Considering most teams in power five conferences have played teams outside of its brethren or a FCS opponent, it’s unlikely that many college teams have faced much adversity through the first two weeks of this early football season.
The same can’t be said about Wisconsin. Through the first two weeks, No.18 Wisconsin has blown a 17-point lead to LSU, mishandled injury information surrounding Joel Stave and Melvin Gordon and struggled in the first half against Western Illinois.
Throw in the fact the Badgers have lost two significant pieces to their starting lineups – nose tackle Warren Herring and fullback Derek Watt – for significant lengths of time, the Badgers have dealt with more than their share of issues.
“Two weeks in a row now we've had some substantial adversity hit us right in the face,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. “A lot of teams at this time of the year have faced zero adversity. We've faced it twice. In my opinion, we've looked at it right in the eye (and) we've dealt with it. There were no kids pointing fingers, there was nobody placing blame. They just kept on fighting.”
Some kind of adversity inevitably hits every team throughout the course of a season. Last year it hit Wisconsin in its third game at Arizona State with the Badgers getting a game-winning field goal attempt taken away from them by an inept Pac-12 officiating crew.
That game united Wisconsin’s players, and it could be argued the way the Badgers finished their opener created the same kind of chip on their shoulder.
“Nothing will be able to faze us,” Gordon said. “Anything that comes at us you know we’ve probably already seen and been through, so we know how to work through it. It’s good that it’s happening now so later when adversity strikes again, because it will, we’ll be ready to go.”
The best medicine after a tumultuous two weeks to begin the season was to get a win - the Badgers’ first since November. A win helps people forget the negatives and begin to talk about the positives.
“It's always good winning,” Gordon said. “It's always good winning and that clears the air some. I'm glad we came out here and won and overcame all that adversity with Stave and me, you know all the stuff like that and losing, so it's good to come out here and get the win."
Gordon said it was “circus-like” in the week leading into the home opener with all the off-the-field attention. The situation surrounding Stave still is unclear, but the junior said the mystery surrounding his absence in the second half in Wisconsin’s week-one meltdown was made a bigger deal then it needed to be.
“It’s probably blown out of proportion but the players really don’t look into the media,” Gordon said. “Some things come across us but we really don’t focus on that, probably not as much as some people outside of our locker room. We focus on the game ahead. That’s our main focus.”
Even though Andersen received the brunt of the criticism with his handling of the injuries, junior quarterback Tanner McEvoy was heavily critiqued after his lackluster performance against LSU where he went 8-for-24 for 50 yards and threw two costly interceptions.
While it looked like it was going to be another shaky performance by McEvoy against Western Illinois, he finished 23-for-28 for 283 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. At one point McEvoy went completed 20-for-21 for 240 yards.
“He showed me that he could be the guy,” said Gordon. “You know there was a lot of adversity. I watch Big Ten Network. I’ve seen the tweets just bashing Tanner and saying this and that. I really think he showed the doubters that he’s the guy and he can do whatever it takes to win the ball game for us.”
With Wisconsin securing its first win, it is unlikely that any more controversy can come over these next two weeks as Gordon and the Badgers prepare for Bowling Green. For a program with a lot of its goal still in front of them, that’s a welcomed relief.
“It felt good to get everything out of the way,” Gordon said. “Now we’re on this bye week, extra preparation for Bowling Green, who’s also a great team, I think, but it felt good to get that win. It was tough last week. It was tough and to get that win under our belt, we can keep moving forward and our heads held high.”