Make Up Your Mind

The Wisconsin running game showed just how powerful it can be, but the passing attack was never really tested. If that trend continues, Jeff Grimyser writes, the lack of balance will severely limit this offense.

MADISON - The predictable, run-oriented Badger offense against a patchwork Akron defense brings up one question, what type of plays will Paul Chryst call this year?

It's no easy task for Wisconsin's offensive coordinator because of the personal losses during the offseason and the sputtering passing performance against Akron on Saturday.

"We felt we could move things up front and keep the ball on the ground," said Head Coach Bret Bielema. "Especially after [quarterback Allan Evridge] had that pick that we wish we could take back, we knew coming out in the second half that we were going to grind it."

Chryst has several pluses working in his favor, but the problem is most of them lean towards running the ball. The line boasts four returning starters and once Chris Pressley recovers from injury, they will have one of the best fullbacks in the country. Most of all, each their top three backs could start for many teams.

Wisconsin's outstanding rushing performance more fully proves that point. With 404 yards and four touchdowns, there is no concern.

"I think we're a physical football team, we love to pound the ball and the time of possession deal," said Bielema. "For us to have strength as a team, our offensive and defensive lines have to have an attitude."

The cause for concern is with the passing attack. Evridge threw several passes that either were intercepted or should have been if the Zips would have made the play. Evridge posted only 75 yards on 7-of-10 passing to go along with one touchdown and one interception.

"I had the [interception] in the back of the endzone that I wish I could have back," said Evridge. "You can get frustrated at your play, especially as a quarterback, but you gotta forget about those things and learn from them."

Obviously, Evridge rightly is confident that he will right the ship. However, it may not be that easy. Nearly every significant wide receiver is gone from last year, star tight end Travis Beckum is nursing a chronic hamstring injury and the relative inexperience of Evridge could make to pass consistently this season.

It was a wise decision for Chryst to lean towards the run against Akron, but one would just hope that it doesn't lead to an over reliance on the running game.

"We're used to that, it's Wisconsin football, and it was pretty much the case of what we do in practice," said tight end Garrett Graham. "If we're not having success running and we need to go to the air, then fine."

That can't be the case. Passing the ball can't be something that is an additional bonus to this offense. The Badgers aren't good enough to rely entirely on the running attack. At some point they will have to pass against the better Big Ten opponents.

It ultimately comes down to whether Chryst will just stick with the conventional rushing attack or open up the aerial attack. If he keeps the door shut on the passing game, Wisconsin will limit its mistakes and explosiveness. Conversely, passing more creates many more big plays, but also more than likely an increase in turnovers.

Look, there is no concern that the Badgers can't get it done in the air. Beckum, along with Garrett Graham, form quite possibly the best set of tight ends in college football. Evridge can make ever throw required of him and seems to be one of the more intelligent quarterbacks out there.

Yet, Evridge truly struggled on two plays in a limited amount of opportunities. To go along with his actual interception, Akron could have easily intercepted another pass and taken it for six points had the cornerback not dropped the poorly thrown ball.

So, we learned that against a weaker opponent the Badgers will just continue to pound the ball. That won't work against Ohio State and Penn State. Those teams will be strictly preparing their defense to stop the rush. At that point, what happens?

"The run is first, and if it's working successfully we're just going to keep doing it. The pass will come eventually I guess," said Graham. "I'm happy with throwing the ball ten times."

The game against Akron proves that when all cylinders are clicking in the running game, Chryst is not going to tap on the brakes. Nor should he. It will be interesting to see how he reacts when the running game is not making plays.

"Just because of the quarterback situation, we wanted Allan to not have to make as many throws as he may have to in a normal type of situation," said Bielema. "Our motto was, and I heard Paul Chryst say this, the more we run the football today the more we will be able to throw."

On Saturday, he was right. The Badgers gained more than five times more rushing yards than passing yards. Unfortunately, the passing game never came.

It's possible that passing only ten times shows just how much Chryst has fallen in love with running the ball, or maybe it shows nothing. For the sake of the team, it better not become a trend.

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