After a while -- maybe just until next weekend's game, but we'll get back to that -- we'll run out of things to say about Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin's rushing attack. That happened pretty early on in Saturday's 41-10 win over Purdue, in which the Badgers ran for 388 yards, with 147 coming from Gordon, 145 from James White and 83 from Corey Clement.
This recapper saw more than a couple "obligatory Melvin Gordon is f***** great" tweets by the second quarter, as the sophomore running back had two first-half touchdowns and entered the break with 90 yards on 10 carries.
White himself was fantastic in probably his finest game of the year, serving as more of the slasher to Gordon's "run everywhere really fast, really hard" game. White also looked sharp as a receiver, catching three passes for 49 yards, with most of those coming after the catch. Lining up the senior running back in the slot, or even further outside, as a pass-catcher is a look that we should expect Wisconsin to continue to utilize moving forward. Same with the halfback screens, which the Badgers ran well Saturday.
Gordon and White scored the first two touchdowns of the game, each capping lengthy drives. Gordon's 5-yard run wrapped up an eight-play, 95-yard drive that began after some nifty/lucky Purdue punting. White, meanwhile, made things considerably easier four minutes later with a 70-yard run on the third-play of what was a 79-yard "drive."
Purdue scored first three minutes into the second quarter, on a 22-yard rush that saved an otherwise broken play. Wisconsin's defense played well, for the most part, limiting Purdue to 180 total yards (only 45 rushing) and 12 first downs. Gripes could be justifiably held against the sizable cushions Wisconsin's defensive backs allowed Purdue's receivers, but that's really it. Besides, the Badgers won by 31 and allowed just 10 points.
Offensively -- strangely -- it gets muddier. It all starts, and ends, with Joel Stave.
A personal caveat, first, since I was perhaps a bit aggressive in beating back the groundswell of "WHERE'S BART HOUSTON" tweets during game: I think Stave's catching a bit too much blame through four games. Just a bit. Pass protection, in my mind, has been lackluster. He also has just one receiver to throw to in Jared Abbrederis. Wisconsin's tight ends are fantastic blockers, but either by design or other reasons, they've yet to become factors in the passing game. Maybe Jacob Pedersen, but he went down with a knee injury about halfway through the game and his status is currently unknown.
But Stave does continue to struggle in a few areas, namely accuracy, getting the ball out on time and working through his progressions. I never played quarterback at a high level, but I imagine those things are tied together. His one interception came on a 3rd-and-8 from Wisconsin's 29-yard line, early in the second quarter. Stave dropped back, looked for tight end Brian Wozniak (I believe) on an out route toward the right sideline and delivered the ball both late and behind his receiver. The latter especially is a recipe for disaster on those those throws, and Purdue's Ricardo Allen had a remarkably easy interception.
That throw triggered the "STAVE NO" outrage that was the second-most major storyline from the Arizona State game. Simply put, Stave needs to get better. Mindblowingly awesome as the running game is, there will almost assuredly come a time when Wisconsin's passing attack will need to win a game. It feels like there's a very, very good chance that time will come next Saturday night vs. Ohio State.
Stave can be turnover-prone, frequently inaccurate and a risk-taker when caution is better served. But what other option does Wisconsin have? The one rational one I see played out late in Saturday's game, and that's Curt Phillips coming in in relief. Granted, today's was simply mop-up duty. Phillips attempted two passes and didn't complete either, but he didn't really need to.
Dating back to fall camp, Phillips looks like a better quarterback than the one that managed to engineer the Badgers to a third straight Rose Bowl (some small feat). Much of that is probably due to his knee/lower-body injuries having healed, and allowing him to generate more power on his throws. I certainly don't think Phillips is any worse than Stave, yet I also don't know how much better he is than him at this point. At Stave's best, we all love his deep ball. When have you ever said that about Phillips? Phillips is probably more mobile than Stave, even after his absurd number of knee injuries. But is that the solution Wisconsin's offense needs?
What the Badgers need is a quarterback who can reliably deliver the ball, exemplified by a high completion percentageand lower number of turnovers. Yards and touchdowns, at this point, seem mostly irrelevant, because Gordon, White, and I'll still throw Clement in here, can get Wisconsin up and down the field quite consistently.
I'm not sure if the push for Bart Houston is a real thing, or just fans excited by the next generation of Wisconsin football. Nobody can be blamed for the latter -- it's why we watch college football over and over. Part of what's so great about seeing Gordon put together this season so far is that we've known this was going to happen.
Yes, Houston became the de facto No. 3 quarterback after Tanner McEvoy switched to defensive back/wide receiver. But strong as his arm might be -- and he might have the strongest among the trio -- he was entirely too erratic to remotely be considered ahead of Stave or Phillips. As bad as Stave might look in moments, do you really want the keys handed over to an entirely untested redshirt freshman? One who also lost an entire season to injury? That doesn't feel like an answer.
Anyway, this was supposed to be a recap, though Nick will have a full gamer coming from Camp Randall shortly. After that Henry rush to get Purdue on the board, Purdue scored again two minutes later on a 24-yard Paul Griggs field goal. Gordon then added his second touchdown rush, and the Badgers closed the first half with a 32-yard field goal from Kyle French for a 24-10 lead.
At that point, the game was all but over. Gordon capped a six-play, 68-yard drive at the 12:05 mark in the third, and French added another short field goal later in the quarter. In the fourth, Clement got his burn, and gained 83 yards on 13 carries (6.4 yards per). He added a five-touchdown for the last score of the game.
Mostly good things today. Next week is the big one, probably The Game of the Year. We'll see what happens, and we'll hear soon what Gary Andersen, Stave and everyone else have to say about the passing game.