Grading the Badgers – Michigan State

In what is beginning to sound like a broken record, the Badgers, after holding a fourth-quarter lead, let it slip through their fingers in a last-second loss at Michigan State. With the Badgers falling to 1-3 on the road this season, Badger Nation Publisher Benjamin Worgull hands out the grades against the Spartans.

Quarterbacks

With the Badgers establishing the running game from the start and finding little resistance, junior quarterback Dustin Sherer wasn't asked for much against Michigan State.

When the Badgers needed him though, Sherer struggled to deliver.

Sherer finished 14-for-28 for 149 yards and a touchdown, but has completed less than 60 percent of his passes in four-straight games. Sherer also was responsible for UW's lone turnover when he got the ball stripped by Dwayne Holmes on UW's 42, leading to MSU's field goal.

"I didn't play well today," Sherer said. "I haven't played well on the road yet and I've got to break that, especially before I go home next week and play Indiana."

Sherer isn't expected to do anything amazing for the Badgers other than be a solid game manager, which he did for the most part against Michigan State. Other than the fumble, Sherer didn't throw an interception and was sacked only once, as his maneuverability and awareness made Sherer avoid pressure and get rid of the football.

While Sherer's performance won't be the first thing that people will talk about at the water cooler, Wisconsin ineptness to convert on third down will be.

After going 5-for-15 on third down against MSU, the Badgers have converted on more than 1/3 of their third downs in just four of their nine games this season, a stat that has led to more than just this defeat.

"We've got to convert," Sherer said blatantly. "We haven't been doing it and I am sure it's something we'll get on this week and fix. We've got to play smart."

Grade: C

Running Backs

Anytime you rush for 281 yards on the ground, you are doing something right. Credit goes around to Wisconsin's offensive line for opening up the holes for P.J. Hill and John Clay

After being limited last week to only three carries, Hill returned to rush for 106 yards and one touchdown. The 100-yard effort was the first for Hill since the Fresno State game and it was his first touchdown since his fourth-quarter score against Ohio State.

Clay led the Badgers with 111 yards (his first career 100-yard game) and a 32-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that put UW up by 11 points with nine minutes to go. It was Clay's first rushing touchdown since the Michigan game.

The last time Wisconsin had two running backs rush for over 100 yards was against Bowling Green on September 4, 2005 when Brian Calhoun rushed for 258 yards and Booked Stanley chipped in with 103.

The Badgers continued to run the end around with sophomore David Gilreath for successful yards, as Gilreath rushed for 49 yards on five carries (a team-best 12.2 average). Throw Zach Brown into the mix (three carries, 12 yards) and UW got production from its entire staff.

"We went with P.J. early and John came in," Bielema said. "John does a really good job and probably feels more comfortable coming off the bench in what we've seen him react to. Zach did some good things when he was able to pop in there. It gives us three guys we feel we can rotate through and make good plays."

Grade: A-

Wide Receivers/Tight End

With Travis Beckum being gone for the season and his replacement, Lance Kendricks, leaving the game early in the first-quarter with what appears to be a season-ending injury, the Badgers are going to be relying on Garrett Graham more now than ever.

Graham led the Badgers for the sixth time in catches (six) and for the fourth time in yards (68). He also connected with Sherer midway through the first quarter for a one-yard touchdown, his first score since Fresno State.

Mickey Turner, who replaced Kendricks, did not catch a pass.

The struggles of Kyle Jefferson are more noticeable now then ever, as Nick Toon appears to be the Badgers' number two receiver until further notice.

The freshman wide receiver from Middleton grabbed three catches for 44 yards, including a key 26-yard completion on third-and-six that set up UW's field goal at the end of the first half.

Nothing really to complain about from this group, as it was the running game that was carrying the load.

Grade: B

Defensive Line

After taking his first carry for 12 yards, Michigan State running back Javon Ringer (the national leader in rushing yards and touchdowns) second-longest rush was nine yards. His third-longest was only five. Holding Ringer to no gain or worst seven times, the Badgers did their job, holding the senior to a season-low 54 yards on 21 carries (a 2.6 yard average).

"He does a lot of his yardage when they are in a two-back formation and we did a good job of shutting down that," said Bielema about stopping Ringer.

As a team, the Spartans rushed for only 25 yards on 29 attempts (.86 yards per carry).

"We played our butts off out there," safety Jay Valai said. "We just played aggressive, read our keys and do what we had to do."

Senior end Matt Shaughnessy and senior tackle Mike Newkirk both played one of their best games of the season. Shaughnessy finished with three tackles for loss for 16 yards and one quarterback sack while Newkirk registered six tackles and one sack. Throw in O'Brien Schofield's four tackles and a 16-yard quarterback sack and UW defensive line has to feel pleased with its efforts.

Grade: A-

Linebackers

Probably the hardest position to grade from the standpoint that the Badger linebackers didn't standout, but didn't make many big blunders.

Senior linebacker Jonathan Casillas led all Badgers with 10 tackles and Jae McFadden (five tackles) got enough of his fingers on a Brian Hoyer two-conversion pass that caused the pass to be incomplete.

DeAndre Levy finished with six tackles but had a key 15-yard facemask penalty called on against him. Instead of third-and-long on the MSU 38, the Spartans had a first down on the UW 47 and eventually scored a field goal.

The trio was instrumental in helping to stop the run and it's hard to pin the failures in pass coverage of them. I'll save that for the secondary.

Grade: B-

Secondary

The goal of the Badgers defense this week was to stop the run and make Hoyer beat them by throwing the ball. Wisconsin got its wish but couldn't deliver as the secondary, particularly Niles Brinkley, looked absolutely atrocious in the fourth quarter.

Brinkley was flagged for two pass interference penalties, was out run multiple times by State's wide receivers for big gains and watched as his assignment, Blair White, caught seven passes for 164 yards. The damage could have been a lot worse, as the Spartans dropped a countless number of passes, many of which came matched up against Brinkley.

Jay Valai made eight tackles (only one solo stop), Chris Maragos made three and Allen Langford played the best of all, making seven stops and was credited for two pass deflections.

But with Wisconsin up two and Michigan State on its own 17, the secondary allowed pass completions of 20 and 32 yards, both in Shane Carter's neck of the woods, that set up the winning field goal.

Throw in all the penalties and no question was this a huge step backwards for this unit.

Grade: D

Special Teams

Bielema's special teams units continue to struggle to give Gilreath any room to return. Gilreath only got 64 yards on four kickoff returns and even less on punt returns, returning four for 49 yards. Gilreath was able to create some room on his own, returning a punt 27 yards at the end of the third quarter.

Punter Bradley Nortman averaged dipped back under 40 yards for the fifth time, punting eight times for 319 yards (39.9 average). In his defense, Nortman dropped two inside the 20 and was inches from having one kick downed at the one-yard line.

Phil Welch nailed his 11th-straight field goal attempt, a 31-yard boot at the end of the first half, but missed a 44-yarder wide left in the third quarter. Welch averaged 60 yards on his five kickoffs with one touchback.

Grade: C+


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