Heading into the Wisconsin Badgers' second bye week, head coach Gary Andersen's team is 4-2, though this season has been a roller coaster of emotions for many who follow the team.
After the Badgers' 38-28 victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini, I've wrangled together three of our writers for another installment of our roundtable discussion. Our four contributors are:
- Louis Bien (@LouisBien): B5Q and SB Nation writer
- Zach Wingrove (@ZachWingrove): B5Q writer
- Drew Hamm (@drewhamm5): our resident beer expert, subbing in for Mike Fiammetta
The Good: What went well?
Louis: Running backs and outside linebackers is apparently all Wisconsin does now. Fielding a team of 22 really athletic 220-pound dudes probably isn't the most sound football strategy, but it's what would work best for these Badgers. These coaches have a wheelhouse, and I'm all for feeding it.
Zach: As always, the running game continued to shine for Wisconsin. Big plays were key for the rushing attack, there were six rushes that went for 20+ yards. We saw Melvin Gordon have the monster first half that we expected he would against a weak Illinois rush defenses, totaling 146 yards on 18 carries. In the second half, Corey Clement took over as the leading back, running for 153 yards on nine carries. Both backs also combined for all five of the Badgers' touchdowns. In the passing game, we saw someone other than Alex Erickson emerge as the game's leading receiver. On Saturday, it was tight end Sam Arneson who led the team with four receptions for 48 yards. On top of that, Arneson was able to make several key blocks which helped in the rushing attack being able to break off several big runs throughout the game.
On defense, I thought Dave Aranda did a nice job getting pressure on Reilly O'Toole throughout the game. Aranda was able to mix in several effective blitzes, totaling six sacks on the game. Also Vince Biegel seemed to be making plays everywhere on the field. I thought one of the game's biggest turning points was when the game was tied 14-14 late in the second quarter. Biegel stopped Josh Ferguson on 4th-and-2 and the Badgers proceeded to take the lead two plays later. On the stop, Biegel was able to anticipate the run, jump the snap, and get into the backfield as soon as Ferguson got the carry. Hopefully we can see this kind of performance from Biegel throughout the rest of Big Ten play.
Drew: I frequent a Philadelphia sports centric bolg named "Zoo With Roy" that does an Eagles Report Card early in the week after Birds games. Since pretty much forever, no matter what LeSean McCoy does (and this year Darren Sproles) the donkeys over there give the running backs "A++++++++ forever." This is how I feel about Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. They get A+++++++++ forever. So yeah, the running backs went right. Note: "bolg" is the proper spelling of blog over there. I don't know why. That one wide receiver jet sweep early in the game was nice too. I don't know, I was watching on my phone at the doctor's office.
The defense really put pressure on Reilly O'Foole TM (Drew Hamm, 2014, don't even try and dispute it) which was a nice change of pace. Leon Jacobs had a monster game with 12 total tackles and 1.5 sacks. I've never coached a football team, but I think he should see some more reps. Peniel Jean had a fair catch interception that looks nice in the paper. I hope Mr. and Mrs. Jean cut out the box score and mail it to him.
The Bad: What didn't go right?
Louis: I hated seeing this team lose its fire in the fourth quarter. God. Here's what I texted a buddy in the fourth quarter after Clement's touchdown:
"This might be the Applebee's mozzarella sticks talking, but Wisconsin is going to get things on track out if [sp] the bye week. Comfy Stave and a healthy D front."
I was so naive then. It's true that the bye week is going to be an immense help, but I don't know if I can delude myself much longer that this is a good football team. It's hard (for me) to point to any specific problem, except that this team is very quick to go into a malaise. This team still looks talented to me at its face. It makes me nauseous to think why it can't maintain any intensity through four quarters unless it's Melvin Gordon trying to hold up the world.
Zach: It seems Andy Ludwig still remains insistent on taking chances downfield. The Badgers first 11 plays of the game were runs -- which I have no problem with. The downside to that is Stave did not attempt a pass until a big third and eleven attempt. During that play, Stave looked nervous in the pocket and began to scramble despite the fact that he was given adequate time to throw downfield. The result was an errant screen pass into the ground. Ludwig must do a better job getting Stave involved early on in the game without putting too much pressure on him during crucial situations. It's also clear that Stave is not even close to being in midseason form as he missed on several wide open throws over the course of the game. But lets look on the bright side, the passing game went from four interceptions last week to zero this week, no matter how ineffective the passing game was at least the Badgers held onto the ball.
Drew: The quarterback play was shaky, and I don't think there could have been a worse time to bring Tanner McEvoy in. Stave had just found his rhythm! It is important to note that it took me three tries to spell "rhythm." The defense seemed to forget how the long the game was and kind of packed it up in the second half. That Aaron Bailey kid for Illinois sure is fast and made the UW run defense look lost for a couple of drives. Maybe we can trade McEvoy for him?
Jake: I'll interject my two cents into this one. I'm going with field position for three of the four Illini touchdown drives. Where did they start? The Wisconsin 31, 49, and 29-yard lines. The punting and punt defense did not help their defense at all on Saturday. That helped contribute to an uneven performance that showed Wisconsin holding firm in the second and third quarters, while giving up two touchdowns each in the first and fourth.
Also, in tune with Louis, the fourth quarter rush defense. The Badgers came into the fourth quarter holding the Illini to only 65 yards rushing on 20-plus carries. Insert back-up quarterback Aaron Bailey, as they converted the offense to more of a triple-option threat, as Gary Andersen noted post-game Saturday, and they ended the game with 153 total rushing yards on the afternoon.
GAME BALLS: Who shined?
Louis: Melvin Gordon times infinity. Does he actually get a game ball? He probably doesn't need any more.
Corey Clement was pretty sweet. Leon Jacobs! I still love Landisch and Caputo. Sam Arneson played great, too. Everybody else can go kick rocks.
Zach: Once again, Gordon and Clement put the team on their backs so they can share my game ball. I'll also point out that Arneson had what we'd consider a decent performance for a Badgers' receiver (which basically means he caught multiple passes and blocked well). On defense I would say either Biegel or Caputo but since I seem to want to give it to Caputo every week I'll mix it up and say Biegel for this game.
Drew: Really? I'm not answering this question. Did you guys see that Baylor/TCU game? Holy crap was that an amazing, wild shootout. I'm quite happy TCU lost. They've joined the list of teams I will hate forever for, from the outside, no discernable reason. See also: Tampa Bay Lightning, Colorado Rockies, and Cal Poly.
Jake: Interjecting again, I'll say Arneson and Biegel for game balls. Arneson lead the team in receptions with 4 on the afternoon along with having some kick out blocks to spring Gordon, and Biegel lead the team with 2.5 tackles for loss (TFLs). And he has a mullet. Just saying.
BYE WEEK BONUS QUESTION: WHAT STILL CONCERNS YOU ABOUT THIS TEAM AFTER SATURDAY'S WIN? (Capital letters intentional)
Louis: You're killing me, Jake. I'm concerned that we can't complete a pass longer than 10 yards down field. I'm worried that our senior-laden offensive line is soft, and if it's soft now then how poor is it going to be with a bunch of young guys? I'm concerned that the secondary hasn't moved forward. I'm concerned that it may be a product of coaching, and the guys overseeing those position coaches being the same guys in charge of morale. I'm concerned by what I think may be signs of deep-seated issues.
I don't know if it's a concern, but I'm sincerely bummed that Melvin Gordon won't get the ride out into the sunset that he deserves.
(And I'm concerned about Drew. That guy is loopy.)
Zach: I don't think it's possible for Wisconsin to compete against teams like Nebraska and Iowa without a passing attack. On Saturday, the Badgers had their struggles against Illinois, a team that has won only one conference game in their last 25 Big Ten matchups. If you put that one-dimensional offense up against a tough Iowa defense on the road in Iowa City, I don't think there's any way the Badgers could come away with a win.
Hopefully this bye week will give Stave the chance to get better acclimated with the new receivers and also continue to brush off some of that rust that we've seen these last two games. It would also be nice to throw away this ridiculous idea of a two-quarterback system and embrace the fact that Stave is a much better fit for the offense. I wouldn't mind seeing McEvoy used more as a receiver in future games, his size and speed would make him a tough assignment for any cornerback in the Big Ten.
Drew: It appears that, while he improved slightly, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig still doesn't have a 100% grasp of what his players are and aren't capable of. The season is half over. Playing Minnesota also concerns me. They might not even play a QB against us and still win.