Matt Fleming/BadgerNation

Wisconsin's offense badly falters against Iowa in the Big Ten opener

A great defensive performance was not enough to make it for a non-existent offense, costing Wisconsin dearly in its Big Ten opener against Iowa. BadgerNation hands out the grades.

Quarterbacks

There’s no other way to say it – Joel Stave was bad and it cost Wisconsin against Iowa .

The Badgers dominated in total yards (320-221) but didn’t score a touchdown at home for the first time since 2003 because Stave didn't hit open receivers and committed four turnovers – three of which can be directly pointed at him. His two interceptions were horrendous, both thrown off target and each to cornerback Desmond King. The first was thrown right into his chest, setting up the only touchdown of the game in the second quarter.

The fumble on Iowa’s 1-yard line was an absolute killer, as a touchdown there would have won the game for the Badgers with the way the defense was playing.

Wisconsin finished 4 of 13 on third down is now 8-for-40 this season on third-and-4 or longer. The Badgers were 2 of 7 in that situation in the second half when they needed a touchdown.

After showing marked improvement the first three weeks of the season, Stave was mediocre against Hawaii and delivered the worst performance of his career last week. We’ll find out in Lincoln Saturday which set of games is the norm.

Grade: F

Running Backs

Freshman Taiwan Deal said after the game that Iowa was “not really” difficult to run against, just that “they made more plays than us at the end of the day.” That’s called being in denial.

Wisconsin’s running game was porous and bottled up all afternoon long. UW finished with 86 rushing yards on 34 attempts (2.5 yards per carry). Take out lost yardage for sacks and UW finished with 72 yards on 30 attempts (2.4 ypc).

Deal led UW with 59 yards on 15 carries but nobody on the roster had a carry longer than 11 yards. Dare Ogunbowale finished with 28 yards on 11 carries.

“We’re getting in a rhythm here or there, but we missed a lot of opportunities,” Deal said.

Wisconsin got a spark, at times, from the two fullback set that worked so effectively against Hawaii last week but not enough to register any considerable spark.

“It was the kind of game it was,” said sophomore fullback Austin Ramesh. “Obviously we want to come out and run for more than 80 yards, but we did what we thought was working. We’ll come back next week and hopefully get our running game back and get it established again.”

Wisconsin is a running offense. With no running game, the Badgers don’t stand much of a chance.

Grade: F

Receivers

Wisconsin completed 21 passes, the most since week two, but the receivers on the roster didn’t generate much of an impact vertically. UW came out firing on the first drive, completing four passes that went at least 10 yards that set up an opening field goal. UW only has six to receivers the rest of the game.

Tight end Austin Traylor had two of those catches, which made his injury late in the fourth quarter hard for the offense to deal with. UW already played most of the second half without senior Alex Erickson, who was injured early in the third quarter with a head injury after being slammed to the turf.

Rob Wheelwright almost had as many drops (three) and catches (four) and wasn’t able to make a play down the field after Erickson went down with an injury. After the game, Wheelwright admitted the thing that bothered him the most was his inability to make big plays on catchable passes.

Since bursting on to the scene with his six-catch, 79-yard, two-touchdown performance against Miami University, Wheelwright has only six catches for 83 yards in the last three games.

It was good to see tight end Troy Fumagalli back on the field for UW. He finished with three catches for 22 yards, not to mention getting hosed out of an obvious targeting call.

The Tanner McEvoy experience at receiver appears to be in a coma, so UW needs other players to step. Reggie Love catching a 26-yard pass on the final drive is something the Badgers need more of moving forward, as his consistency has been his biggest issue.

Stave’s reliance on the backs, particularly Ogunbowale (team-high 43 yards) and Derek Watt (2 for 21) resulted in UW’s best pass plays.

Grade: D

Offensive Line

It’s believed the last time Wisconsin started three redshirt freshman on the offensive line was the 1998 Outback Bowl, a level UW got to because Jacob Maxwell got his first career start at right tackle in place of Hayden Biegel (unknown). There were issues with the front not generating enough push against Iowa’s front and right guard Micah Kapoi stepped on Stave’s foot coming out of center, resulting in the one of the worst turnovers in UW history. None of that is surprising considering the youth.

What’s the most surprising is the struggles of left tackle Tyler Marz, a three-year starter who admits that his technique is not where it needs to be. Marz was victimized by a simple rush by Drew Ott  on the outside rush. The result was a catastrophic forced fumble and Iowa recovery at the UW 15. The defense only held them to a field goal, but the damage was done.

“We need to see things as an OL, as a unit,” said Marz. “We need to communicate a little bit better. I think we were off on quite a bit of things as a unit … Definitely need to be better.”

It’s hard enough for a young line to build chemistry when they are learning on the fly. It’s even harder when the Badgers don’t know who their starting five linemen are going to be on a weekly basis.

Grade: F

Defensive Line

Jordan Canzeri ran for a ton of yards Saturday but he didn’t run wild. It took him 26 carries to reach 125 yards. That worked out to a 4.8 yards per carry, a respectable number. As an entire unit, UW limited Iowa to 3.6 yards per carry.

The Badgers’ front aren’t a group that fills up the stat sheet individually but the work the group is doing is evident by the play of the linebackers. Even so, Chikwe Obasih did some nice things (1.5 tackles for loss) and Conor Sheehy appears to be getting more comfortable in his nose tackle role.

Grade: B

Linebackers

From walk-on to All-American? It certainly is feasible after the start Joe Schobert is on. Following his 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, Schobert bumped his total through five games to 13 tackles for loss and nine sacks, both lead the nation. The Waukesha native also had eight tackles, forced two fumbles, including hitting the trifecta with the sack, force and recovery in the fourth quarter to give the offense with great field position. His four forced fumbles are tied for the nation lead.

For comparison, J.J. Watt had seven tackles for loss and a sack through five games in his huge 2010 season.

“For what Joe does, and I think the moments he does them in, it's really impressive,” said head coach Paul Chryst. “I'm not surprised because I think that he's earned the right where you expect it a little bit.”

Schobert is far from doing it alone. Junior Vince Biegel had a team-high nine tackles, true freshman Chris Orr – making his second career start – had eight tackles and T.J. Edwards added seven. He also has an incredibly athletic interception near the Iowa 40 that was wiped out because of a questionable illegal hands to the face penalty on Jesse Hayes - a penalty that his father, Jay Hayes (a N.F.L. defensive line coach) called bogus.

Iowa missed a field goal later on the drive but ended up getting a touchdown shortly after when Stave – deep in his territory – through his first interception.

Grade: A

Defensive Backs

A year ago in Iowa City, Wisconsin escaped with a 26-24 victory, a game the Badgers initially led 19-3. How did Iowa jump back in the game? Iowa stifled UW’s pass rush, limiting sacks and not allowing a quarterback hurry, and hitting seven pass plays of at least 20 yards in the second half.

Iowa hit only two such plays – a 20-yarder on third-and-4 and a 20-yarder on third-and-7 – in the first quarter. The Hawkeyes longest play after that was only 14 yards.

Darius Hillary was beaten on both of those plays by receiver  Matt VandeBerg, but the unit adjusted and limited him to only four catches for 20 yards the remainder of the game.

“I definitely think we did execute,” said Hillary. “We limited some of the big plays they thought they were going to get. That’s just who we are and what we do. We have a target, an assignment, and we have to make that target every week.”

C.J. Beathard – the most efficient quarterback in the conference entering the weekend – was held to a porous 9-for-21 for 77 yards. A lot of that has to do with the plays in the front seven but the other part of it was the secondary doing its job.

After going two games without a pick, safety Michael Caputo’s third-quarter pick was huge for the Badgers, giving UW good field position that it turned into a field goal.

Grade: A

Special Teams

It appears Rafael Gaglianone is starting to enter a sophomore slump, surprising considering is talent and how well he kicked the ball in fall camp. Gaglianone isn’t kicking the ball poorly but his accuracy has been spotty. He hit two kicks from 46 yards but certainly his missed 42-yard field goal – his third in the last three games - in the second quarter hurt.

I think he certainly gives us our best chance, and we've got to help him out,” said Chryst. “He'll have his moments, and he'll make some big kicks for us throughout the season. There's no doubt in my mind. But clearly it's not how he would want it and not what we do. But he'll be good, and he'll have his moments and he'll rise up to them.”

Drew Meyer’s average wasn’t the greatest on a windy day (long of 39) but he still dropped two inside the 20-yard line. Andrew Endicott didn’t handle kickoffs (no reason given) so senior kicker Jack Russell and redshirt freshman P.J. Rosowski handed the three kickoffs, averaging slightly over 60 yards.

While UW couldn’t stop King on defense, the Badgers’ special teams held him to 65 yards on three returns.

Grade: B- 


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