QUARTERBACKSThe gap between the passing game and the running game closed slightly in Saturday’s victory, but it’s evident that the passing game is still ahead. The reason for that is senior quarterback Joel Stave, who again was on point directing UW’s offense.
Delivering his third straight 200-yard game to open the 2015 season, Stave went 13-for-17 for 202 yards and a late touchdown pass to Austin Traylor. While a lot of his throws were to the first and second level of the defense, Stave and the Badgers were able to open up the playbook and notch pass completions of 30, 38 and 45 yards – the longest pass plays of the season.More importantly, they all led to scores. Stave’s 30-yard completion to Rob Wheelwright on the second series was the only pass of a 6-play, 81-yard touchdown drive; a 45-yard completion to Alex Erickson through the middle of the defense set up a score just before halftime and a 38-yard pass to Traylor came right before his 1-yard throw to the tight end. Stave's pass efficiency of 195.7 yesterday was the 2nd-best of his career (198.1 last year vs. Minnesota), but head coach Paul Chryst said his quarterback can become a lot more efficient. The offense weren’t perfect. Wisconsin went 3 of 10 on third down and struggled at times. He did deliver on a 4-yard touchdown scramble on third down right before halftime, capping a 7-play, 90-yard drive that gave UW a 14-3 lead at halftime. “You never want to be satisfied where you are at, especially after week three,” said Stave. “There are still a lot of room for improvement. There is still a lot of ground to be gained for us as an offense, for us as a team. We’re happy with the win, but we’re not satisfied.” Those will be things Stave will have to clean up before Big Ten play starts in two weeks against the currently undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes. On a positive note, Stave played turnover free for the first time this season.
RUNNING BACKSWith Corey Clement out for the second straight game, Wisconsin employed a dual-tailback tandem that delivered decent results. Getting a team-high 16 carries, Taiwan Deal rean for a career-high 84 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. More of a bruiser back between the tackles, Deal’s longest run was 13 yards but he did not lose any yardage on his carries. “Through practice, coach just said relax, come out confident, just build on every week,” said Deal. I Felt like I got better. I can continue to get better, but I’m looking forward to building on what I did.” Getting the start for the second straight week, Dare Ogunbowale had 14 carries for 75 yards, including an impressive 17-yard touchdown that included a stutter-step juke around the 10-yard line. Still learning the position, Ogunbowale is progressing but is starting to be challenged by Deal again for the backup job. Senior Tanner McEvoy’s name wasn’t called in the passing game but maximized his two carries on consecutive plays. After gaining 9 yards on a jet sweep to the left, McEvoy took the direct snap around the right edge for a 32-yard touchdown. The play was well blocked but McEvoy deserves credit for his athleticism, keeping his footing after getting tripped up at the 5. “He’s very good with the ball in his hands,” said Stave. “He’s natural. He’s really patient letting his blocks set up.”
RECEIVERSSophomore receiver Jazz Peavy continues to get more and more attention from Stave, setting a new career high with three catches. Despite a drop, Wheelwright continues adding to his total with two more reception for 50 yards. Traylor’s touchdown was one of perseverance, fighting through traffic across the field to open himself up for an easy 1-yard touchdown. He’s scored on consecutive weeks. Wisconsin’s downfield blocking was also noticed, as Erickson and Derek Watt – both split out – had critical seal blocks to open up an alley for McEvoy’s touchdown. Solid effort from the group, which welcomed back a healthy Troy Fumagalli (one catch for one yard) after he missed last week’s game.
Wisconsin rushing for 199 yards – a season high – is a step in the right direction, even though Troy had been giving up over 250 yards per game on the ground through two games. The Badgers created some solid running lanes for the backs and had good pass protection, evident by no sacks or QB hurries out on Stave.With Walker Williams (ankle) out, Micah Kapoi got his first start and Jacob Maxwell worked into the rotation with Hayden Biegel. After originally being uncomfortable at right tackle, Maxwell’s confidence as evidently grown, as he appeared to settle in as the game wore on. Wanting to establish the run early, Wisconsin ran 12 times in the first quarter (out of 15 plays) and gained 68 yards and a touchdown. “That was great coming out and running our gap scheme,” said Maxwell, who found out he’d be getting substantial time on Tuesday. “That was the foundation that we built all week. It was great to come out and see some gains in the running game.” Again referring to McEvoy’s touchdown, Dan Voltz delivered on a one-on-one block after a pull and Maxwell sealed his edge. Despite Deal missing the mark on his diving cut block, Wisconsin can play that in the film room over and over to show how to deliver.
DEFENSIVE LINEHe’s not Derrick Henry, but Troy tailback Brandon Burks was going to be a legitimate challenge for Wisconsin’s defensive line. The unit handled its business, as Burks was limited to 3.3 yards per carry and didn’t have a carry over 11 yards (19 for 66). As a team, Troy managed only 81 yards on 33 carries (2.5 ypc). Troy’s quick passing attack limited the amount of time the Badgers had to get to quarterback Brandon Silvers, but UW’s persistence started to pay off in the second half with more hits and pressures. Conor Sheehy registered his first full sack of his career and has played much better over the last two weeks. Chikwe Obasih made five tackles (four solo) in one of the better games he’s played. Alec James also had two tackles – a new career high – in what could be a jumping off point for him.
LINEBACKERSLosing Leon Jacobs to a questionable targeting call early could have thrown a major wrench into Wisconsin’s scheme if it wasn’t for true freshman Chris Orr. Having stepped in for Jacobs in fall camp, Orr was a solid contributor throughout the three-plus quarters he was on the field. Even though he had a few coverage busts, Orr finished with a game high 14 tackles (11 solo), a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. Of Orr’s 14 tackles, six resulted in a 1-yard gain or less. “I envisioned myself being a core special teams guy in all phases,” Orr said of his preseason expectation. “I wasn’t expecting to play this much at linebacker, but I’m glad it worked out the way it did. I am just happy to play football.” Joe Schobert (six tackles, game-high 2.5 tackle for loss) delivered the defensive play of the game when his speed beat out Troy’s starting left tackle and he caused a fumble on Silvers, giving Wisconsin a first down on its own 33. Wisconsin scored a touchdown off the turnover to make the score 21-3, a huge momentum shift in the game. Vince Biegel stayed Mr. Consistent with four tackles (1.5 for loss) and a sack. Through three games, Biegel is averaging 4.3 tackles and 1.7 tackles for loss. Throw in the fact that sophomore OLB Jack Cichy registered a career-high five tackles, it was a solid day for the group.
DEFENSIVE BACKSWith more one-on-one coverages likely, this was going to be a test for Wisconsin’s secondary. The end result was more than acceptable with the Badgers holding the Trojans to 174 passing yards, no completions over 25 and no scores. “No doubt it’s tough to defense but there’s no excuses,” said cornerback Sojourn Shelton. “So far we’ve done a pretty good job. We’ve got to keep building off this, look at the film, see some things that we can correct and get back to the drawing board come Monday.” Before getting ejected for targeting in the third quarter, Derrick Tindal was putting together one of his finer games with eight tackles, a pass breakup and a half tackle for loss. He’ll have to miss the first half of the Hawaii game but this performance was good for his confidence moving forward, especially after being disappointed with his game against Miami University. “He did show up in the run game,” said Chryst. “I do think he made a concerted effort to get better, and I think all of us need to do that each week. There's another guy that I don't think's played a lot of football. So each time you get to play, those are learning experiences, and we can all grow from those.” Shelton finished with seven tackles and Darius Hillary finished with five. For the most part, they both played as one would expect a couple three-year starters to play in solo coverage. Safeties Michael Caputo and McEvoy were solid.
Silvers hasn’t thrown an interception in 33 quarters, so the opportunities were going to be minimal for Wisconsin’s secondary.
Drew Meyer punted five times for an average of 41.8 yards per punt, his best average in over a year. He also put three inside the 20, a sign that Meyer is starting to regain his form from his redshirt freshman season.
Rafael Gaglianone narrowly missed his 52-yard field goal attempt and Alex Erickson muffed his first punt attempt of the game. UW was fortunate that Reggie Love jumped on it, settling for a 13-yard loss instead of a turnover. Andrew Endicott didn’t register a touchdown on any of his five kicks but UW’s coverage units continue to allow any big gains.