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Wisconsin 16, Utah State 14: Stave Steps In, Doe Steps Up, Aggies' Kicker Blows It

It was close -- too close -- but Wisconsin ultimately ran away from Utah State Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium.
It was close -- too close -- but Wisconsin ultimately ran away from Utah State Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium.

Those plucky upstarts.

One week after a stunning upset at the hands of the Oregon State Beavers, the Wisconsin Badgers barely escaped the Utah State Aggies, 16-14, Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium. The Aggies were in prime position to crush the Badgers for the second straight week, but kicker Josh Thompson nudged the potential game-winning 37-yard field goal wide right.

Simply put, there's quite a bit to digest here. We'll attempt to tackle it all tonight and in the coming days, but first, some quick thoughts follow below the jump.

  • Joel Stave stepped in and looked solid once Bret Bielema decided to yank Danny O'Brien in the third quarter. Stave finished only 2-for-6, though he looked solid in the pocket and, most importantly, didn't make any mistakes. He far from stole O'Brien's job, but now the Badgers have a quarterback "controversy" if you want to call it that.
  • Montee Ball finished with decent numbers -- if you look past his 3.8-yards-per-carry mark. Chalk that up to some more questionable play from the offensive line (more below), but Ball still finished with 139 yards and one touchdown on 37 carries. That last number might be the biggest emblem of Wisconsin's quarterback issues -- by the second half, O'Brien dropping back instilled zero confidence in the passing game.
  • Yes, the offensive line was iffy again. Perhaps it was some early game jitters, but several of Wisconsin's six penalties for 40 yards (I'll tally the exact number later) came on false starts across the o-line.
  • A bright spot for me was the play of the linebackers, most notably Mike Taylor, Ethan Armstrong and Chris Borland. Taylor led the Badgers with 15 total tackles, while Armstrong and Borland each finished with seven. Armstrong was only credited with one pass break-up, though it seemed like he had a few more. His coverage especially stood out to me. This is all pretty big credit after Utah State's first score came on a 39-yard touchdown thanks to a blown coverage on yet another wheel route. As much as we heard about the defense practicing that play last week, you can bet it'll be hammered into the ground now. It better be, at least.
  • Special teams was funny. Kenzel Doe's 82-yard punt return for a touchdown might very well be the play of the game, Kyle French not only missed a 36-yard field goal in the second quarter but also blew a fourth-quarter extra point that would've been the killer had Thompson not screwed his own kick at the end. In between, there was all sorts of inconsistent play that probably deserves more film study for fair evaluation.

We'll have a deeper write-up a little later, but in the meantime, what'd you think? Any idea how good/bad this team is? Should Stave start at QB next week? How happy are you that we're playing UTEP? Please do chime in with your comments.