Likely going against the best defense it will see all season, the fifth-year senior executed a smart, patient game plan to the tune of 149 yards on 14 of 16 completions and a 6-yard touchdown in the opening 30 minutes of the Badgers’ 35-17 loss Saturday night at AT&T Stadium.
Granted, a talented Alabama front wore down an inexperienced Wisconsin offensive line and the Badgers got no production from its running game, causing the Badgers to be one dimensional and predictable. But the early returns on Stave are what UW fans had been hearing all offseason; he’s confident in his abilities.
"He got the ball out of his hand quick; we knew we had to do that with their front guys," said senior receiver Alex Erickson, who led UW with 73 receiving on six catches, including a 6-yard touchdown. "He knew where he wanted to go every single play, just pre-snap reads. He looked comfortable out there."
In catch-up mode throughout the second half, Stave went 12-for-23 with a touchdown and an interception after halftime, having precious seconds to work with Alabama dialing up the pressure. Going 7-for-15 for 34 passing yards in third quarter, 15 minutes in which the Crimson Tide outscored Wisconsin, 14-0, Stave acknowledged the offense was put in some poor spots, leading to three straight drives to start the second half that gained less than 10 yards.
“When you get yourselves in those third-and-10, third-and-11 situations, the defense can really open up the playbook a little more, bring different pressures, show more coverage,” said Stave. “We just have to try and stay ahead of the chain.”
Because of the consistent pressure being delivered by Alabama’s front, Wisconsin was unable to connect on many deep passes or go play action and had to rely on throws to the flat to get one-on-one matchups with linebackers. The longest completion was a 23-yard pass to Erickson at the end of the first half (one of three 20+ yard receptions in the game). Only four of Wisconsin’s 12 completions in the second half went at least 10 yards.
“They have really good players in the back end and they have some very good speed,” said Stave. “We really didn’t have many deep shots dialed up in the game plan, so I thought we did a good job of taking what they gave us. I feel like we had a pretty good feel for what they were doing on defense. It is just unfortunate with how it came out.”
Even through the inconsistencies in the second half, Stave took solace in the fact that the Badgers still were able to land some punches, despite having its dominant arm tied behind their back.
“I thought we did a good job in the passing game, being able to get some things going on offense when the running game wasn’t working the way we would like it to,” said Stave. “It hurts losing Corey, but they have some good players up front.”
A lot was made of how senior Tanner McEvoy and his 6-6 frame would be able to impact the game in multiple ways this season as his frame. There was no impact in game one, as McEvoy was only targeted twice in the passing game with no completions. The first attempt in McEvoy’s direction didn’t come until the third play of the third quarter, resulting in defensive pass interference.
McEvoy also wasn’t used at the safety spot, despite the early injury to senior Michael Caputo, suggesting that McEvoy was not fully recovered from the injury he suffered the prior week.
“I was a little bit concerned about how long we could hold up in the protection,” Chryst said. “He ended up playing in the game and going; he was a little banged up coming into it … We need to get him more involved, clearly. I think some of the things that they did were tough. Had a couple other ones and tried to dial up some things for him, and it just didn’t work real well.”
Ogunbowale Called on
With junior Corey Clement hobbled with a groin injury suffered in Tuesday’s practice, limiting him to only eight carries, the coaches were forced to turn to junior Dare Ogunbowale. Although Ogunbowale managed only nine rushing yards on three carries, his biggest contribution came in the passing game with six receptions, tied for the team lead with Erickson, for 39 yards.
Of his six catches, five came on third down and four resulted in a fresh set of downs for Wisconsin.
“I knew coming into the game that we would have some opportunities for running backs to catch the football out of the backfield,” said Ogunbowale, who turned out to be one of UW’s best options in the flat. “I wouldn’t necessary say by design but we knew going into the game there would be opportunities for us there.”
One of eight players to record a reception, Ogunbowale realized quickly how fast Alabama’s defense was, sometimes beating him to the spot on the field he was trying to get to first.
“They’ve got good athletes and they did well beating us to where we wanted to go,” Ogunbowale said. “I say that for myself Corey and Taiwan (Deal), it was definitely tough sledding out there running the ball, and we tried to take advantage of the opportunities we had catching the football out of the backfield.”
After playing the mop-up back last season and not being asked to factor into the passing game, Ogunbowale’s performance gives the Badgers another option with reliable hands in the passing game.
“Whatever Coach Chryst or Coach (John) Settle want and see me being able to do to help the team win, that is all I’m really worried about,” said Ogunbowale. “I got some carries and some catches but I’m more worried about the offense, as there are still things as a whole the offense could do better.”
Extra Points: Redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal received his first collegiate carry on Wisconsin’s third drive of the game resulting in a 2-yard gain. Deal finished his collegiate debut with six carries for 14 yards...Stave now has 39 career touchdown passes, passing Randy Wright and Brooks Bollinger for third most in Wisconsin history. Stave is also just the sixth quarterback in school history to pass for more than 5,000 yards in a career. His career total of 5,176 ranks fifth in school history...Chris Orr and Olive Sagapolu both made their Wisconsin debuts. Orr primarily played on special teams but received reps late in the game at inside linebacker...Redshirt sophomore Jazz Peavy recorded his first career reception for 14 yards.