Badger Nation's View from the Box

With offensive efficiency at a season low, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said that Allan Evridge's production needs to increase or a change will be made. Should the move be made?

MADISON - Allan Evridge was waiting for his defining moment as the quarterback of the Wisconsin football team.

In his first four games under center, Evridge has been questioned for his lack of passing, lauded for his reads, questioned for his strength and flat-out blamed for the Badgers' 19-point loss for Michigan.

With the Badgers' season hanging in the balance, Evridge delivered on his two best drives on the season to give the Badgers a lead against the Buckeyes.

Unfortunately, the ending ruined all of the positives yet again.

The senior quarterback turned in a solid first half, completing 11-of-16 passes for 130 yards and one touchdown, but struggled to parlay that success into the final 30 minutes, going just 2-for-9 and throwing a costly interception that sealed the fate of the Badgers.

"They did a good job pushing and I rolled out with the time clock in my head," Evridge said of his final pass against the Buckeyes. "In that situation, you don't want to take a sack and I tired to check it down, didn't see Jenkins there, he made a great play on it and he picked it. It's my job to see him and I didn't do my job."

Upon hearing that quote, head coach Bret Bielema politely disagreed.

"I saw he made a reference, the Ohio State player made a great play to make a great break on the ball at the end of the game," Bielema said. "I think he caught the ball in self-defense. It was thrown right at him. He's got to see a clearer picture of what we're trying to get done."

Speaking candidly about the disappointment and frustration the coaching staff is having with the offense, Bielema officially has put Allan Evridge has on notice: either improve against No.6 Penn State or you're out.

"As a football coach, you look at positions that haven't played as well as you'd like them to play," Bielema said. "There's a lot of guys on our team playing as good a football, or better, than we thought they could to begin with, but Allan's not immune to that."

Ever since he was battling Tyler Donovan last season for the starting quarterback job, the question revolving around Evridge was not his arm strength, but his accuracy.

In his first two wins of the season, Evridge seemingly silenced those critics, completing 66.7 percent (24 of 36) of his passes against Akron and Marshall, including a 17-for-26, 300-yard performance against the Thundering Herd.

In the last two games, Evridge has misfired, completing just 33 of 62 passes (53.2 percent) for 373 yards, with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Throw in the Fresno State escape and Evridge is completing only 52.3 percent of his passes in Wisconsin's last three games.

For the season, Evridge ranks seventh among Big Ten Conference quarterbacks in passing yards (179.8 per game) and fifth in passing efficiency (125.4).

Additionally, ball security has been a huge issue for the fifth-year senior. Evridge has fumbled four times during the same stretch and has lost three of them, including a key fumble on third and one that forced Wisconsin to punt and a red zone turnover against Michigan.

"The part that Allan has to be able to improve upon more than anything is probably his accuracy as a passer," Bielema said. "There's a number of plays in the last two games in particular and they've surfaced in every game where the ball might be a little behind them, a little over them, a little under them."

But before Badger Nation jumps for joy and starts celebrating the Dustin Sherer era, Bielema also made it perfectly clear that Evridge will start Saturday, although his margin for error is slightly above nil.

"Allan's going to start on Saturday and be our quarterback," Bielema said. "There comes a point in time where you have to make an assessment of where we are as a football team."

Why then, you might ask, is Bielema's reason continuing to stick with Evridge despite the Badgers' offense being on life support and Wisconsin starring at a 0-3 start in conference for the first time since 2002?

In all probability, there are two reasons.

Wisconsin's offense has suffered without its one-two receiving punch of Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham for most of the season. Graham has been hampered by a fracture in his right foot while Beckum played his first full game against the Buckeyes after coping with a hamstring.

Without those two both in the lineup, Evridge has relied on youthful wide receivers who would have trouble catching a cold, as Wisconsin's wide receivers have unofficially dropped 11 balls over the past three games.

Secondly, one forgets that Evridge looks pretty good running the offense in the second quarter against the Buckeyes, including engineering the offense on a 15 play, 91-yard drive that saw the Badgers pass, rush and out physical Ohio State all the way down the field.

Evridge was solid on the drive, going a perfect 5-for-5 for 40 yards, including a fade route to Mickey Turner, who reached across the goal line for first career touchdown catch.

But in order to have a solid passing game, the Badgers needed a solid running game and they got that freshman John Clay. After only having three carries last week, Clay ran the ball six times for 33 yards on Wisconsin's touchdown drive, thus opening up the passing lanes for Evridge and the Wisconsin offense.

"To go the length of the field and eat the clock the way we did is Wisconsin football," Bielema said. "Anytime we can put those things together and score points is huge. The part about that one is they ended up with a touchdown rather than a field goal. That was a huge improvement from last week."

But it was blatantly obvious at the end of the first half Saturday that Bielema's confidence in Evridge and in the offense is in question, as the head coach called for the field goal instead of going for a touchdown with Wisconsin on the three and five seconds on the clock.

"I didn't have enough confidence in what we were trying to accomplish," Bielema said.

Bielema admitted that he watched snippets of the Illinois-Michigan game while he did last minute preparation for the Ohio State game. One only knows how frustrating it must have been for him watching the Fighting Illini score touchdowns off Michigan miscues instead of field goals, a stat that led to the Badgers' downfall two weeks ago and was partially caused by inaccurate throws and decisions by Evridge.

Quarterbacks in the Wisconsin system aren't asked to be heroes, Heisman-trophy hopefuls or world beaters; they are asked to be game managers, handing the ball off to the stud running back, hitting the talented tight end over the middle and occasionally being asked to throw the ball deep.

Through the last two weeks, Evridge has not lived up to that billing. Instead, he's been out played by two freshman quarterbacks, each of whom led their respective teams to a fourth-quarter comeback victory.

Either Evridge hits his mark on Saturday and gets the Badgers back on the winning track, or Bielema is going to have to do something a Wisconsin coach hasn't done since 1999, replace a perfectly healthy quarterback with someone who can hopefully do the job right.


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