The answer many people have been clamoring for over the last six weeks – Joel Stave – was finally delivered on the final drive of the first half after Tanner McEvoy continued to be his ineffective self against above-average defenses. Problem was the backup wasn’t much better.
As a result, Wisconsin completed only 41 percent of its throws (12-for-29) and again showed no real pop or ability to change the game.
McEvoy - the dual-threat quarterback UW coach Gary Andersen wants - finished 4-for-10 for 27 yards, no touchdowns, an interception and was nowhere close to being effective in the pass or run game.
Stave was no doubt rusty after being on the sidelines for 10 months and being out of the loop the last five weeks while dealing with his mental block throwing the football. He finished 8-for-19 for 114 yards and threw a nice touchdown pass to Kenzel Doe late in the fourth quarter that gave UW hope.
He also looked more comfortable in the pocket and showed good touch on some deep balls that weren’t completed, but his red zone interception was ghastly and can’t happen under any circumstances. It was one of two passes that Northwestern picked off in the end zone.
So where does Wisconsin go from here? UW should start Stave – the better passer – and bring in McEvoy when UW wants a change-of-pace quarterback, something Andersen and the offensive staff should have been doing from the beginning. McEvoy is exactly what UW wants in terms of a running quarterback, but his throwing abilities isn’t up to par.
And if that fails, let’s see what Bart Houston can do, right?
One has to feel bad for junior Melvin Gordon, who delivered a tremendous rushing performance but got little else from all the other pieces around him. Gordon finished with 259 yards on 27 carries (9.6 yards per carry) and a score.
But Wisconsin’s success running the ball was limited to Gordon. Clement had only six carries for 22 yards and McEvoy had only one carry for eight (more on that at the end). After saying before the season that Gordon getting upwards of 30 carries a game wouldn’t be smart for the program, Gordon has had at least 27 carries in back-to-back weeks.
That’s a sign that nobody else has stepped up to the plate and willing to carry the load.
Senior Kenzel Doe’s four catches for 34 yards were career highs and his 19-yard touchdown was the first receiving touchdown of his career. Hopefully that will spark Doe to be more productive over the final stretch.
Alex Erickson continues to play a big role in the offense (team-high 45 yards) and the Badgers got some big catches from their tight ends on limited targets (Sam Arneson had a 24-yard catch on third and Troy Fumagalli had an 11-yard catch on third-and-10). The entire group also had some good down-field blocks that sprung Gordon for some hefty runs.
George Rushing had a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown but failed to attack a deep throw from Stave at its highest point, resulting in the pass being broken up. No.4 last season likely would have made that play.
UW needs to get the tailbacks and tight ends more involved going forward because frankly the talent at receiver is not there.
“I don’t think anyone would argue anything different — we have not been able to find the second wide receiver,” Andersen said. “Our second wide receiver right now, it’s very simple — it’s Sam (Arneson). That is why I sit back and say, ‘Where are we as an offense and what can we do to continually be effective?’
“They’re not always going to be wide open running down the middle of the field. You’ve got to catch contested balls … We’ve got to get more play out of the wide receiver. Kids are trying, but we have to help them get there as coaches, also.”
Rob Havenstein didn’t need to search for the word to describe his job in pass protection. He knew it “sucked.”
A week after calling out his offensive teammates for not playing up to the level expected at Wisconsin, Havenstein was dominated at times by defensive end Dean Lowry and Godwin Odenigbo, both of whom pushed the senior five yards into the pocket and altered passes.
“My pass pro was less than impressive, terrible at times, and that’s something I need to work on,” said Havenstein. “Everyone needs to work on something a little bit different.”
After UW cut the lead to 10-7, Odenigbo’s bull rush on Havenstein got him into the backfield and caused an interception, which resulted in a quick seven points for Northwestern.
“It doesn’t matter who is back there throwing the ball if he’s getting hit or not getting time,” said Havenstein.
Wisconsin allowed one sack and helped clear the way for 259 yards on the ground, but gave up four quarterback hurries, were whistled for three holding penalties and again isn’t doing enough to make the Badgers’ offense functional.
For the first time this season, the Badgers’ front appeared to miss the presence of senior Warren Herring. Wisconsin had no answer for freshman Justin Jackson. Entering the day averaging 58.5 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry, Jackson punished the Badgers’ defense for 162 yards on 33 carries.
UW came in third in the Big Ten against the run at 86.2 yards per game and 2.8 yards per carry.
Finishing with four tackles, Konrad Zagzebski was knocked from the game with an apparent ankle injury. He returned later, but who knows at what capacity.
Joe Schobert led the linebackers with seven tackles but made a couple of critical missteps. He was blocked in the backfield by Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian on the Wildcats’ 16-yard touchdown off a reverse. That play came one play after a UW interception. He was also beaten on a 16-yard pass play late with the Wildcats facing third-and-3 from their 41. Instead of UW getting the ball back, Northwestern was able to run three more plays and milk the clock down to 40 seconds.
UW’s linebackers had been turnover-creating machines through the nonconference season, but didn’t register one against the Wildcats that could have generated some momentum.
The inability to stop Northwestern led to Wisconsin having an average starting field position on its own 21.
“That was a good offensive performance by Northwestern and a bad defensive performance by the University of Wisconsin,” said Andersen.
SecondaryNorthwestern’s depth and talent at wide receiver picked a part UW’s secondary, as eight different Wildcats caught passes led by Kyle Prater’s five catches for 55 yards.
Dropped interceptions by Devin Gaulden and Sojourn Shelton need to be made moving forward. Through five games, Shelton has yet to record an interception, which is an indication of his struggles. The sophomore hasn’t provided consistent coverage, looking good on one play and then getting beat on a double move the next, and teams are starting to pick on his side of the field.
Lubern Figaro and Austin Hudson made tackles that saved the Badgers from a big play, but the unit, like the linebackers, missed too many tackles that resulted in big plays.
Drew Meyer averaged 39.5 yards on four punts in touch kicking conditions, putting one inside the 20 and mistakenly booted one into the end zone for a touchbacks instead of putting loft under the ball. That chance to pin Northwestern deep hurt since the Wildcats drove 80 yards for a touchdown.
Doe has a quiet day returning kicks, returning one of his two punts for 19 yards and one of his four kicks for 24. He could have had a 25-yard return but reserve wide receiver Lance Baretz was flagged for a block in the back penalty. The infraction happened away from the play, was blatant and was a turning point. UW started on its own six and threw an interception three plays later.
Rafael Gaglianone was put in an impossible situation of kicking a 50-yard field goal on wet grass into a crosswind. Probably would have been best for UW to punt.
Andrew Endicott failed to deliver a touchdown on any of his three kicks.
I don’t like bashing play calling since there are many things that go into calling a game, but the play selection by offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was befuddling. Wisconsin ran very few zone-read option plays in the first half, which is the strength of the quarterback they are using. Why not call plays that take advantage of that? Instead Northwestern started loading the box.
Gordon and Clement are probably UW’s two best athletes on offense. Why not use them both on the field at the same time and why not target them more in the passing game? Gordon is over 250 yards rushing and a pass play is called on first-and-goal from the three with a quarterback who had the yips the last month? It’s no secret that UW hasn’t looked great in short-yardage situations this season, but the play doesn’t look smart if it doesn’t work and it didn’t.
It would be interesting to see how Wisconsin’s 3-3-5 defense would have worked had UW tackled better. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda went long stretch of the game with only two down linemen, but had outside linebacker Vince Biegel lined up as an end to put a little more athleticism on the field.