The Morning After: Tennessee Tech vs. Wisconsin

Mike McGinnis

The Badgers have won their first two games in impressive fashion, with young freshman Corey Clement doing much of that impressing. Now, the real games begin this Saturday night in Tempe, Ariz.

2-0 is where we expected Wisconsin to be before heading to Arizona State. But did we expect the defense to pitch back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1958? No, I think not.

That 3-4 defense defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has put together is fun to watch, especially when he sends creative blitzes at the opposing quarterback on third downs. I'm very intrigued to see him delve deeper into his blitz package options as the season goes along. I have a feeling he's been fairly vanilla to this point in the young season.

Now as stout as the D has looked thus far, it has faced an FCS opponent and a UMass team that was dead last in total offense in the FBS last year. Let's wait and see what happens against a talented Arizona State team this weekend before we really start to ponder how good the unit can be.

Wisconsin certainly looked sounder in all facets of the game in week two than it did in week one, and to see such progress is always encouraging. But as we all know, the games really begin next Saturday night. Until that time, let's get to our Monday after diagnosis.

What we liked

There was a lot to like in the Badgers' performance Saturday, but the signature portion of the game, at least in my eyes, was Joel Stave's brilliant execution of the two-minute offense to end the first half. I know this has been much discussed the past couple of days, but that was about as good as I've seen Stave look in his time at UW. He still needs to improve on his accuracy, no question. But on that touchdown drive, he was like a surgeon executing a key procedure. Every throw was on-time and on-target, and his 10-of-10 stat line on the drive is indicative of that. I referenced it regarding the defense above, but I'll say something similar here: We should wait before throwing a ton of praise Stave's way until he proves he can execute in such a fashion against a quality opponent.

Bottom line: Stave improved from week one to week two, which is a great sign, but he'll need to be even better in week three.

What needs to improve

The Badgers can still shore up some miscues in the special teams aspect of the game. Gary Andersen talked about it all week leading up to Saturday's game -- he wasn't pleased with the kick coverage teams in week one. Well, those units got the message and didn't allow any significant kick or punt returns from Tennessee Tech. But other areas of special teams struggled, too.

The kicking game is still a major cause for concern, especially with a big road game on the West Coast coming up this weekend. The Badgers can ill-afford to miss a chip-shot field goal or clank another extra point off the post.

I also saw a couple of punt-return blocking schemes that didn't get the job done. Jared Abbrederis subbed for Kenzel Doe on one return attempt and was swallowed up immediately. Then a block-in-the-back penalty nullified Doe's great return later on in the first half. Doe's big-play ability as a return man could be an x-factor next week against the Sun Devils, but the blocking has to be crisper for that big play to hit.

Which player impressed?

There are a number of worthy candidates here, but three guys really stood out to me: Connor O'Neill, Darius Hillary and Corey Clement.

Clement is an absolute stud, and the fact he is the Badgers' No. 3 tailback is laughable in many respects. He'd be the starter on many teams in the country, including the likely starter for many teams in the Big Ten. He looks to have great vision and knows how to follow blocks like a seasoned back. Watching his development over the next three years is going to be a lot of fun.

Hillary set the tone early for the defense, forcing a fumble on the Golden Eagles' very first play from scrimmage. Hillary showed great coverage ability throughout the day, blanketing receivers downfield on numerous throws. He also delivered a pretty big hit that upended Tech quarterback Darius Stone in the first half. I've been pleasantly surprised with the play of the entire Badgers secondary through the first two games.

If you've got to elect just one player that impressed the most Saturday, it has to be O'Neill. In his first start as a Badger, O'Neill admirably replaced the injured Derek Landisch and led the team with nine tackles. O'Neill also recorded 1.5 tackles for loss to further bolster his stat line. The senior was in on seemingly every play defensively in the first half and provided the perfect complement to star linebacker Chris Borland. Let's see what O'Neill does this week against ASU.

Which player underwhelmed?

The kicking tandem of Jack Russell and Kyle French. These guys just can't get it figured out. Neither seems to want to definitely win the kicking job. French undoubtedly has the bigger leg, but he's alarmingly inconsistent. Russell trots out to try from inside 40 yards after French's botched extra point, but he misses. The kicking situation is in disarray and Andersen knows it, too. During his post-game interview with Matt Lepay, he wasn't shy in voicing his frustration about the kickers, and I can't blame him. Big games are on the horizon, and Wisconsin has to be able to send out a kicker that can make a field goal when it matters.

I don't think a single member of Badger nation has any faith in Russell or French right now, and that is worrisome moving forward.

Next up

The Arizona State Sun Devils, led by second year head coach Todd Graham. Graham has given much praise to Wisconsin over the past couple of days, and rightfully so. This game on Saturday should be a back-and-forth battle.

West Coast trips never sit well with me, especially when it comes to picking games. I called a Badgers loss at the beginning of the season, but I'm definitely waffling on that choice right now. This will only be ASU's second game of the season, and I expect them to be rustier than the Badgers.

Another interesting side note about the Sun Devils: The game on Saturday against Wisconsin precedes a huge conference match-up on the road against Stanford. Is there any chance they'd be looking ahead to the Cardinal? I highly doubt it, but it is a possibility.

Prediction: The Badgers' first two games were romps, but they didn't play anybody. ASU is a different animal, and that will show early in the game. I think it's close, really close, but Wisconsin leaves Tempe with a 23-20 loss.

Let's hope I'm wrong.

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