The Monday After: Wisconsin vs. Arizona State

Christian Petersen

Well, that was painful wasn't it? I'm still trying to get the shock out of my system. I'm sure Gary Andersen, is too.

I'll admit, this is probably the most difficult column or reaction piece I've ever had to write. For whatever reason, Saturday night's debacle in Tempe was more difficult to swallow than the Rose Bowl losses, than even the Hail Mary loss to Michigan State a couple years ago.

Could the Badgers have done things throughout the game to prevent themselves from ever being in that end-of-game situation? Yes, obviously.

But fact of the matter is, Wisconsin got hosed. The referees decided the outcome of the football game by taking the possible win/loss result out of the hands of the players. Plain and simple, that should never happen at the highest levels of college football. Saturday night wasn't just a shock to the system; it was an embarrassment to the sport.

I, like all of you, am eagerly waiting to hear what the Pac-12 officiating body has to say for itself. Unfortunately, a half-hearted apology will do little to heal the sting we all feel.

All you can really think about is this: if the Badgers can pull out a win in two weeks against the Buckeyes, all will be forgotten.

As hard as it is to do, let's move on. It's time for the Monday-after diagnosis.

What we liked

The absolute class shown by the players after the loss was remarkable. They know they were part of an unprecedented screw-up, but they all took the high road and answered the media's questions with the utmost professionalism. The way the entire program has reacted to what happened Saturday makes me proud to be a Badger. On Wisconsin.

As far as what I liked on the football field: I'll be honest, not a whole lot. I don't think any individual unit played to its capability Saturday, not even the running game that accumulated 231 yards. The majority of those yards came on a couple long rushes from the beast that is Melvin Gordon, and James White really struggled running between the tackles.

If I had to pinpoint one unit, I'd say I'm most pleased with the defensive line, and more specifically, big Beau Allen. Allen was a stud in the middle of that defense Saturday, constantly finding his way into the backfield. Arizona State only averaged 2.8 yards per rush attempt, and Marion Grice is a talented back.

Yeah, the pressure from the front seven could have been better, no question. But the defense was on the field for 93 plays in nearly 100-degree temperatures, and eventually that had an effect. Taylor Kelly just picked the Badgers apart with back-shoulder throws in the second half.

You can't expect the pass rush, or any unit, for that matter, to sustain a high level of effectiveness for that many plays. Moving forward, those QB hurries we saw in the first half need to turn in to sacks.

What needs to improve

This is a toss-up between the secondary and the overall Wisconsin passing game.

Taylor Kelly shredded the young secondary in the second half, and the unit's inexperience finally showed. There were multiple pass interference penalties, and cornerbacks Peniel Jean and Darius Hillary could not adjust to the back shoulder throws to Jaelen Strong. Fortunately for them (and for all of us), they won't face another quarterback all season with as much arm talent as Kelly. Still, the unit has to get better.

As for the passing game, it was, in a word, inconsistent. Joel Stave continues to look rusty with his throws, and Jared Abbrederis is the only wide receiver getting open with any regularity. Kenzel Doe has been a total non-factor offensively, having caught only two passes for 19 yards in three games.

Some of Stave's throws were abysmal on Saturday night. He had a couple of wounded-duck passes basically straight down into his own offensive line or into the arms of Arizona State defensive linemen. All in all, there isn't much rhythm to Stave's operation of the passing attack. I think his leash is getting shorter and shorter.

Which player impressed?

I gave Beau Allen some praise above, and he was terrific. But his performance pales in comparison to that of Melvin Gordon.

Gordon was, bar none, the best player on the field from either team. He had 15 carries for 193 yards and two touchdowns, and on the season he's averaging 12.9 yards per carry.  That makes him the only player at the FBS level with at least 30 carries this season to currently hold a yards-per-carry average above 10.

Those are ridiculous numbers -- my only thought is, why isn't he touching the ball even more? The fact he wasn't on the field for the two-point try was completely befuddling to me, as I'm sure it was for most of Badger Nation.

I saw this in the comments section a few times recently here on B5Q, and those who prognosticated this are right, in my opinion: It is time to forget about White as option 1A and Gordon as option 1B. Gordon should be the feature back from here out. He's just too good not to be.

I've always been a James White fan, and what a luxury it is to have that talented a running back as your No. 2. But that's his role -- he's a great back-up. It's time to give Gordon the reins.

Which player underwhelmed?

For the second time in three weeks, the answer is Joel Stave. First off, I thought Stave looked incredibly slow out of his crouch Saturday night. Maybe that was because of Will Sutton and a talented Arizona State front seven, but Stave seemed to be stepping away from Dallas Lewallen in slow-motion at times.

Couple that with his throws straight in to the arms of guys like Sutton and others on the Sun Devils defensive line, and Stave just didn't look good for the majority of the game. A 6'5" quarterback with a high release should never have that many balls batted down at the line.

There were a couple individual throws that Stave completed that showed his arm capability, but not many. One throw that sticks out in my head was his attempt to hit Doe on about a 3rd-and-3 early in the four quarter. It was a simple slant route that wasn't even close, and Brian Griese commented as much during the broadcast.

Stave's accuracy just isn't there right now. Aside from his 10-of-10 precision during the two-minute drill last week against Tennessee Tech, Stave has been no better than an average quarterback so far.

Next up

The Purdue Boilermakers, led by first-year head coach Darrell Hazell. I'm not sure what to make of the Boilers. They got blown out on the road by Cincinnati and then struggled against Indiana State at home. But then Saturday night against Notre Dame, they looked the part of a competitive football team. That could have been because it was Notre Dame, under the lights and at home. Still, they looked like a better football team than I thought they'd be before the season began.

If you look back at the last two Wisconsin vs. Purdue games, though, this match-up leans heavily in the Badgers' favor. UW has won those two games by a combined score of 100-31, and has amassed 1,250 yards of total offense in the process.

Prediction: I think Chris Borland will have his team ready to play with a big chip on its shoulder after what happened in Tempe. First Big Ten game, it's at Camp Randall... the Boilermakers better look out, because they've got another beat-down coming. Wisconsin wins in blow-out fashion for the third straight year, 45-17.

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