After starting 5-0, adversity has gotten the better of the Badgers the last two weeks, taking Wisconsin's number five national ranking and a shot at the conference title with it.
With five games left in the 2007 season, however, the Badgers still have plenty of opportunities to right their wrongs, finish strong in the final five weeks of the season and play in a January bowl game. More importantly, the Badgers will have time to generate plenty of positive vibes to think about during the off season in preparation for 2008.
The Badgers will lose just one senior on defense (Nick Hayden), four seniors on offense (Marcus Coleman, Tyler Donovan, Paul Hubbard and Luke Swan) and will be chomping at the bit to have another shot at the conference title. All this hinges on the momentum and confidence instilled by the offense and defense over the next six games.
Don't get me wrong. Tyler Donovan earned the right to start after his excellent fall camp and has done an admirable job trying to guide a struggling offense the past two weekends – including throwing the ball 49 times against Illinois (third most all time in Wisconsin history). Donovan has also proven that he's a winner and can win under pressure. Having a 7-2 record as a starter, Donovan has guided UW to two fourth-quarter comeback wins in his short career.
But the problem with Donovan is that he's a senior and Evridge, while experienced, hasn't started a football game in two years and is still learning the Wisconsin offense.
Even so, Evridge is far from inexperienced.
Transferring from Kansas State in 2005, Evridge earned honorable mention All-American honors from the Sporting News, throwing for a freshman school-record 1,365 yards and six scores and running for an additional four.
In fall camp, Evridge looked like the more skilled quarterback, but lacked the polish needed to run the tricky Wisconsin offense. Since being named the backup, Evridge has played in only three games in garbage time, but his performance against Penn State gave Badger fans a glimpse of what he has to offer.
With Wisconsin down 38-7 and 4:50 remaining, Bielema decided to put Evridge in to run Wisconsin's offense with the game well out of reach. Although his stats reflect a one-for-five passing performance, Evridge's first pass was a strike on a slant route to Kyle Jefferson that went for 24 yards.
After back-to-back incomplete passes, Evridge delivered a 50-yard bomb to Jefferson that slipped out of the young receiver's hands, prompting game announcer Brad Nessler to say, "Evridge has got a pretty good arm." Evridge final pass was another bullet that split three Penn State receivers, but was dropped by Travis Beckum as he slipped to the turf. Despite the fact the game was out of reach long before, Evridge stepped in and showed what he's capable of.
Granted, being prolific on one series late in the fourth quarter in a game you're trailing by 31 doesn't mean you deserve the right to start the following week. But let's face facts – Wisconsin has lost two in a row, conference and national title hopes are gone, the offense is struggling and UW is playing a non-conference game against 1-6 Northern Illinois.
What harm could it do if Evridge starts the second half with the game well in hand?
With a solid performance, the junior could give the fans something to cheer about and something for the coaches and the players to hang their hat on for the start of 2008.