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After an impressive win on the road, Badger fans have reason to feel good. But is the light at the end of the tunnel something more foreboding?
We've finally pulled up. Superheroes from the Daft Punk's rolling on the boombox and we're all riding the chill waves of a dominant road victory. Life is good, even if it was on a day where monsters could come rolling through at any moment. Montee Ball started making the money he lost after the ugly start, the defense was dominant for 99 percent of the game, and we've got the division berth pretty much locked.
We're good again. At least that's what you want to think. I know that's what I want to think.
But I'm a man of science. And as a man of science, I have to go deeper. I have to see if this was just because Purdue was a schedule-aided mirage of a good team, or if we're actually back to the hey, we're gonna win 10 or 11 and get to a New Year's Day bowl game?
(Spoiler Alert: Even if the former isn't true? The latter is still likely on like so much barrel throwing monkey.)
The Case For: I believe in Joel Stave.
I know that there are some who look upon him as a transitional champion. If the Badgers are the WWE's Attitude Era. Some of you want him to be the Mick Foley to Bart Houston's Triple H. I, on the other hand, want to see where he can go with this.
Let's look at the facts.
- Under Joel Stave, the Badgers are averaging 6.57 yards per play. (Good for 14th Nationally)
- Joel Stave's currently tied with Tyler Wilson in regards to Yards Per Pass Attempt.
- Current Quarterbacks who are under Stave's 149.64 Passer Rating include: Braxton Miller, Sean Mannion, the NCAA's current leader in Passing Yardage Rakeem Cato, and preseason #1 pick Matt Barkley.
We're past the point where this is just a good bit of luck. Stave's making plays at a comparable level to Scott Tolzien. And not to sound like a color commentator, but he's still just a Freshman! Imagine what happens when they let him do more.
The Case Against: Imagine what happens when teams roll 4 guys onto Jared Abbrederis.
Jeff Duckworth's a curious case. He's played in 6 games, and he's only caught a pass in one of them. But here's the reason why it's curious. Before Jacob Pedersen showed up and nearly doubled his season yardage total against Purdue with a 4-catch, 77-yard and a score outing? Jeff Duckworth had the best non-Abbrederis receiving game for the Badgers: 7 catches, 55 yards.
And apparently, he's not impressing the coaches.
I'm not someone with the access to the team in near the form or fashion to make any sort of value judgment on the whys and the wherefores as to why this is happening. I'm just using this to make mention as to the sort of mess the receivers are still.
The Case For: The offensive line looks there.
With what seemed like a scary injury to Ricky Wagner turning out to be something that might not cause him to miss this week, I can say this: Wagner, Groy, Frederick, Costigan, and Havenstein are an offensive line that plays at a level commensurate to recent history. You saw it with UTEP. You saw it in the first 11 plays of the Nebraska game. And you sure as shooting saw it against Purdue.
Put it this way, when that line starts the game, and when that line is healthy? The Badgers have put up 6.77 yards per rush. You also see nine of the Badgers' 15 rushing touchdowns from when these five roll out from jump street. You think that's impressive? Well it is.
The Case Against: It's a thin line between greatness and looking up at Colorado.
But if you notice? I've thrown in a few qualifiers. You saw it with the non-conference schedule. You saw it with Nebraska. One false step, one injury, and there's trouble. Trouble with a capital T. If you noticed how well the aforementioned five played, the thing of it is, they haven't played with each other that often. In seven games, they've played roughly nine quarters together.
And seeing as we're averaging 4.43 yards per carry, suffice it to say we have been one of the worst run blocking lines in the country when any of those five are resting or limited. It's amazing, but there's really that much of a difference in performance from these lines.
The Case For: The Defense is solidly good.
Back in September, after the Badgers needed a missed field goal to escape Utah State, I wrote about how the Badgers defense was locking up the run, and they were on pace for a top 25 defense vis-a-vis yards per play. Well, the injury situation in the defensive line has the Badgers running into the 30's for rush defense, but they are still a Top 25 defense by that metric.
And this is a defense that's getting healthier as the weeks progress.
The Case Against: Placekicking
Do I need to go any further?
The Case For: The schedule
By the time Ohio State rolls into town, the Badgers look like they're going to be an 8-2 team, and return to the realm of the ranked. With Wagner's health, I'm already confident in putting my score up for the B5Q consensus this week. (Badgers 34, Minnesota 6). And as recent history shows? The Poisonous Nuts of the Big Ten struggle to win in Madison. Especially at night.
And seeing as I can't really rack my brain for another case against the Badgers, it comes down to this. The hope for the Badgers is real. But it's not a steady root. The starters are good enough to win the darn thing. But one false step? And we're all staying up past our bedtimes on a random December night to watch that which Buffalo Wild Wings hath wrought.
And my friends, while watching Buffalo Wild Wings commercials is the cost of watching football, a whole game dedicated to promoting the atmosphere of a chain sports bar is would make any day sadder.