Wisconsin was without rhythm in the first half, in large part due to the flow of the game. UW went three-and-out on its first drive, stayed off the field following Natrell Jamerson’s 98-yard kickoff return and scored one play following Joe Schobert’s 57-yard run on the fake punt.
The final four drives of the first half lasted two, four, four, three and two plays, the latter of which ended the half.
“I thought the second half everyone kind of started to play off each other, and we did a bit of a better job than in the first half,” said head coach Paul Chryst. “It takes a whole team.”
Wisconsin biggest adjustments came on first and third down – choosing to throw the ball more to set shorter down and distances. After running on first down five of its nine times in the first half, Wisconsin passed on four of its 11 first-down situations in the third quarter. It may not seem like a lot but the defense began to open up.
Joel Stave got going with an 18-yard completion to Alex Erickson on third-and-12 at the Wisconsin 7 (the first third-down completion in the game) and kept moving from there. He completed his next nine passes and went 8 of 9 for 133 yards in the third quarter.
That made up for a first half where he went 3 of 8 for 20 yards and an interception where he simply didn’t see the linebacker.
“That is just the name of the game,” said Stave. “You have to make sure you’re moving on the next play. I think that is something that every coach I’ve been with has always preached. That is something Coach Chryst is huge on and that I take pride in. If things aren’t going well, they will.”
Stave finished with 188 yards on 15 of 24 passing, including the game-winning 7-yard pass to Dare Ogunbowale that capped a 71-yard drive. One drive earlier, Stave had a pair of 20-yard throws that helped Wisconsin cap a 69-yard drive with a score.
Stave was far from perfect (the offense was an ugly 3 of 13 after converting 52.2 percent the last three weeks), but he was competitive and confident in that the team would break its funk.
UW was delivered a blow late in the week when it was ruled that tailback Corey Clement would miss his eighth game of the season as he continues to overcome his sports hernias.
“I know it’s a disappointing thing for him because he wants to compete, but his health is what’s most important,” said Stave. “If he not 100 percent, he is not the player he needs to be competitive.”
Against a rush defense that was second worst in the Big Ten, Wisconsin managed only 117 yards. Take out Schobert’s run and the numbers look even worse, as the linebacker was the team’s leading rusher despite carrying the ball 18 times fewer than Ogunbowale (19 for 47, 2.5-yard average).
Ogunbowale did have a nice run following the Schobert fake, dancing his way for a 21-yard touchdown that was the longest of the day for a tailback, but his impatience often got him ahead of his blockers, resulting in minimal gains. He continues to be much more effective as a receiver, finishing with 16 yards on three catches and an easy 7-yard touchdown – the first of his career - in the fourth quarter.
Taiwan Deal returned to the offense for the first time since the first quarter against Nebraska and was productive with his nine second-half carries for 42 yards. Per usual, Alec Ingold did his thing with a 1-yard touchdown run. Even Derek Watt got involved with a pair of 16-yard catches.
“There’s a lot of areas where we can and need to get better,” said Chryst.
UW can start with getting Clement back on the field because the running game continues to go nowhere without him.
A rhythm-less first half did no favors for the Wisconsin passing game. Once that started changing in the second half, and UW had a chance to push the ball down the field, Stave relied on Erickson to gain separation in 1-on-1 coverage. As has been the case this season, the plays were there and they changed the offense, as Erickson led the team in catches (5) and yards (83).
Jazz Peavy had a 22-yard reception on third-and-8 (his first catch in three games) that was huge and kept an eventual touchdown drive alive. Later in that drive, Tanner McEvoy caught a 12-yard pass down to the Maryland 2, setting up that touchdown.
Wisconsin hit five pass plays for at least 16 yards in the third quarter. The Badgers had two the other three quarters combined.
With two defensive linemen having double-digit in sacks, Wisconsin’s youthful offensive line was going to be tested, a stark change from last week when Rutgers put very little pressure on the quarterbacks and the backfield.
The end result was not pretty. Maryland had 12 tackles for loss, the most for the program since Nov.30, 2013, and sacked Stave four times by overloading different sides of the line and creating communication errors.
There weren’t a lot of clean drives for Wisconsin outside the third quarter, where the line protected better. An example would be the blitz the Terps sent on third-and-8 that the line picked up that resulted in the 22-yard completion to Peavy. Maryland registered no sacks and only three negative plays in the quarter, allowing the offense sustained two long drives that resulted in touchdowns.
Other than that, it wasn’t very pretty and the group knows it.
Maryland never established the ground game against Wisconsin’s front, falling in a long line of teams that couldn’t generate much push up front. The Badgers allowed a 56-yard jet sweep to Will Likely and 56 yards to everyone else on those 31 carries. UW bottled up Wes Brown, limiting him to only 12 yards in the final three quarters.
Dual-threat Perry Hills – Maryland’s leading rusher in Big Ten play – did nothing, finishing with minus-14 yards on 11 runs. Granted that Hills lost a ton of yards via sacks, but he only gained 16 positive yards and registered no back-breaking runs.
Maryland was only 5 of 16 on third downs and only 2 of 5 when it was third-and-two or less.
Maryland rolled out some new plays that Wisconsin hadn’t prepped for and plays that caused some misdirection for the backers. That resulted in the Terps rolling up 178 yards in the first half. After defensive coordinator Dave Aranda spent halftime making adjustments, Maryland had 138 yards in the second half, 76 of which came on the final drive.
“We had a lot of three-and-outs,” said Schobert of the second-half performance. “The stuff at the end of the game, we obviously don’t want to let them come down and score the touchdown the way they did. They made some great plays on that drive. Overall I think we came out in the second half and played better.”
Making his second straight start in place of Chris Orr, Jack Cichy showed up often, competed hard and took advantage of the blitzes called. He led all players with 10 tackles and was active getting after the quarterback, finishing with three tackles for loss and the first two sacks of his career, both setting up long third downs. Not bad for a former walk-on.
“I take a lot of pride in (being a walk-on),” said Cichy. “My family are hardworking people, and I think my mom and dad instilled good values in us as kids. I take pride in being able to show them that their teaching wasn’t for nothing.”
Wisconsin’s defense tallied 8.0 tackles for loss on the day, the Badgers’ third-highest total of the season.
Wisconsin gave up its most points (24) since the 35-point debacle against Alabama in September. And while it wasn’t all on the last line of defense, they certainly deserve their fair share of blame.
Cornerback Derrick Tindal’s coverage on D.J. Moore was good to start out with, but he allowed too much separation and badly mistimed his jump that allowed the touchdown. Michael Caputo was easily beat on a deep corner that resulted in a 27-yard touchdown to give Maryland a chance to win.
But due to some spotty special teams, Maryland only had to go 32, 55 and 33 yards on its three first-half scoring drives.
“We kept getting pinned in bad situations,” said safety Tanner McEvoy. “They got the ball a few times in some good spots for them. We knew we had to come out and play our game. We definitely let up a few big plays.”
It was only a matter of time before interception opportunities would be presented to the defense. McEvoy took full advantage with two picks – returning the pair a combined 39 yards – to set up a pair of field goal opportunities. Sojourn Shelton did not, having a pass hit him right in the chest when it appeared he didn’t see it until the last second. The cornerback is snack bit, settling for PBUs and not INTs.
Wisconsin has high special teams goals – a new point of emphasis on the new coaching staff. Considering UW’s return unit ranked 124th in the nation in kickoff returns, averaging only 16.5 yards per game, the Badgers weren’t getting it done.
That changed with Jamerson’s return, which was sprung by solid lead blocks by fullbacks Derek Straus and Watt and another down field by Zander Neuville to get Jamerson to midfield. It was all speed from there.
“It was about locking in,” said Watt. “It’s buying in, saying, ‘Hey, my block is important. I’m doing my job on this play.’ We know it gave the offense a lift.”
The same could be said for the fake punt. With Schobert guaranteeing Chryst they would get the necessary yards to move the chains, Schobert more than lived up to his word, going 57 yards – the longest play of the game for either team – that set up the touchdown.
And while he would have got the first down without much help, D’Cota Dixon delivered the key block that sprung the play.
“We just wanted to get the first down so the offense had a chance to keep going down the field,” said Schobert. “We scored the next play, so that was a big momentum shift for us.”
Both of Maryland’s touchdowns were off short fields caused by poor punts by Drew Meyer, as the Terps only had to go 32 and 33 yards to find the end zone. Cautious of returner Will Likely, Meyer shanked a 24-yard punt after a poor drop and stutter stepped on another that resulted in a partial block and an advancement of only 11 yards.
“The block was all on me because it was a great snap and as I went to hold it I lost my grip,” said Meyer. “The operation took too long.”
To his credit, Meyer did bounce back in the second half. Kicking in almost zero wind conditions, the best UW has had in weeks, Meyer pooched a punt that went out of bounds at the 17 (he was hoping for inside the 10) and a 37-yard punt that hit inside the five and spun back to the seven.
Although the mishits took away some of the opportunities, Will Likely only had one punt return for minus-1 yard.
“I just wanted to continue to swing up and think about hang time,” said Meyer. “He (Likely) is a great returner and you have to honor that, but you can’t do too many things different. I trust our coverage guys. They do a great job in our protection.”
Rafael Gaglianone connected on a 28-yard field goal in the first half but missed a critical 47-yard kick wide left that would have made it a three-score game.
The group was very inconsistent but the grade gets an uptick because of the big momentum plays of Jamerson and Schobert.