Allan Evridge knew he could throw the ball. His coaches knew he could throw the ball. His receivers knew he could throw the ball. The fans, however, not so sure, especially after the fifth-year signal caller threw only 10 passes in the season opener.
One week later, Evridge became the eighth quarterback in school history to throw for over 300 yards, as he completed 17-of-26 passes, had an 18.1 yards per completion average, no picks and a 26-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Graham, proving that UW isn't solely a one-trick pony.
"It shows that this team has an offense that can do both things," Evridge said. "Last week, everybody thought that we didn't pass because we couldn't. That's obviously not the case. When you're running the ball that well, why pull away from it?"
With Wisconsin down 14-0 early, Evridge came out of his shell, going 6-for-8 for 151 yards in the second quarter and engineered quarter scoring drives of 60, 57 and 88 yards to dig Wisconsin out of its hole. As a result, Wisconsin scored on five consecutive possessions and 51 unanswered points.
But before we anoint him UW's next great quarterback, the caveat of Evridge's performance, much like the rest of the offense, was a slow first-half quarter for the second straight week. While last week it was the second quarter, this week was the first quarter, with Wisconsin gaining only 10 yards in the first 15 minutes and Evridge started 0-for-4, a start that must be fixed by next week.
"The beginning of the day was very frustrating but you have to stay confident, forget about the last play and keep going," Evridge said. "As long as we won, it's a good day."
Although Wisconsin rushed for six touchdowns, its biggest scoring output in three years, the Badgers rushing performance wasn't as impressive as guys hoped, which was evident by the disappointment shown by Wisconsin's front five.
After 400 yards last week, UW was stymied by a stout Marshall front four, managing just 158 rushing yards and zero 100 yard rushers. Wisconsin's running game reaped the benefits of Wisconsin's passing game, as pass plays got UW inside the five-yard line and then turned the ball over to the backs. Of Wisconsin's six rushing touchdowns, the longest was five yards, which was the last touchdown of the afternoon.
The backs also committed three fumbles, including two by P.J. Hill (his third in two weeks).
The big highpoint was walk-on Bradie Ewing, who scored his first career touchdown for Wisconsin. With the opposition getting tougher, Wisconsin needs to prove that they can run consistently, no matter the opponent.
Wide Receivers/Tight End
The running joke in the weight room was ‘Travis Who?' Beckum was self-pronounced ready to play on Tuesday but digressed Wednesday and Thursday, prompting Bielema to hold him out one more week. With the way Garrett Graham and Lance Kendricks are performing, Beckum has not been needed thus far.
Graham led all receivers with four catches and has both UW receiving touchdowns this season. Kendricks led all receivers with 94 receiving yards (making catches of 38, 34 and 22) and, after converting from the wide receiver position, has become more and more comfortable within the offense.
"I was definitely a lot more comfortable (in the offense this week)," Kendricks said. "I got my feet wet last week and when the ball was in the air this week, I knew that I had to go get it."
No.1 wide receiver Kyle Jefferson (three catches, 66 yards) and No.2 David Gilreath (three catches, 47 yards) improved from last week, especially when it came to securing the ball, but there's still more work to be done. Maurice Moore stepped in and caught three passes for 37 yards but the Badgers will need more production from other receivers down the line.
Dan Moore continued to impress, playing his best game of his young career with six tackles, three of them solo, and one tackle for loss. Jason Chapman continues to make his way back to 100 percent and performed well Saturday, making four stops. More importantly, Wisconsin held another opponent under 100 yards rushing, a continuous goal for this defense. The only thing the defensive line did not accomplish was notch a sack, but it's a moot point because those three interceptions were direct results of putting pressure on the QB.
Saturday was another solid showing by this unit without the services of Jonathan Casillas, who is another week away from stepping on the field. Jae McFadden continues to show why he is deserving of the middle linebacker position, leading the team with a team-high nine tackles. Blake Sorensen looked much more comfortable in his second game filling in for Casillas and DeAndre Levy was one of the Badgers responsible for riling up the defense when they were down 14, a sure sign of leadership from this unit.
After seeing Akron attack Wisconsin's young corners, Marshall succeed where the Zips failed, connecting on routes after getting past corners Mario Goins and Niles Brinkley. Goins was beaten by Darius Passmore for a 36-yard catch that got Marshall down to the UW 1 and set up Marshall's first score while Brinkley allowed a 13-yard completion on a third-and-10 that led to Marshall scoring a second touchdown.
But as the game wore on, both settled in. Goins tackled well in the open field, registering five solo stops, and Brinkley had two second-half interceptions that turned the tide in favor of the Badgers.
"It boosts my confidence," Brinkley said of the picks. "It makes me realize that I can make plays, makes me realize that what the coaches are telling me is true."
Behind him, Jay Valai, another relative youngster, played better after the opening-week jitters and Shane Carter made up for some missed tackles and a dropped interception by picking up a second-half interception and returning it 43 yards inside the Marshall 30.
In their first two games, Bradley Nortman and Phil Welch have silenced the critics and have assured Wisconsin coaches and fans that they can successful do their jobs. Nortman booted three kicks that could have seeded the clouds with an average of 47.7 and a long of 57 yards.
Welch helped Wisconsin get back into the game by hitting a 45-yard field goal in the second quarter, and that was facing a tricky wind in the north end zone, a field goal that Bielema almost didn't attempt. The head coach revealed after the game that he set Welch's limit at 41 yards but assistant Charles Partridge and Welch convinced him otherwise.
"I thought Taylor Mehlhaff was confident, Philip thinks he can kick a 75-yard field goal probably, if you asked him," Bielema said. "I think our kicking game could be a strength."
It wasn't all positives however. The kickoff-coverage isn't quite where it needs to be and the punt unit needs to calm down. Daven Jones cost the Badgers 15 yards with a late hit on Nortman's first punt and Kevin Claxton and Antonio Fenelus (playing in their first game) nearly cost Wisconsin another touchdown when the duo thought the ball was touched by a Badger player and went after the rolling ball in hopes of recovering it.
The PAT unit allowed a blocked extra point, which shows that the special teams units need the most work out of everyone else.