Homecoming weekend is always special -- well, maybe now it is even more seeing that I've been part of the Wisconsin alumni since 2006. You see tons of former Badgers come back to Madison to remember the good ole days of their youth, catch up with old friends, but also look at all the changes the campus area brings each passing year:
To celebrate and welcome Maryland to its first year of being a Big Ten Conference member, Wisconsin competed and owned the Terrapins in all three phases of the game Saturday, leaving their opponents "shell shocked," "shell-acked" --whatever pun you can actively describe the blowout. Today's roundtable to break down our thoughts on the game includes the following writers:
- Luke Mueller (@Luke_Mueller24) -- B5Q writer who's covered the beat for us since the spring
- Zach Wingrove (@ZachWingrove) -- B5Q writer who writes the offensive reviews and quick game recaps
- Maxwell Brusky (@LibertyBowlMax) -- B5Q writer and also writer and co-host of BuckAround.com -- our good friends who also cover Wisconsin Badgers football.
THE GOOD: What went well vs. Scott Van Pelt's alma mater?
Luke: The defense played fantastic. Only allowing 175 yards is a big feat. The defense has been the bright spot all season. The last two games, the defense has had 18 tackles for a loss and had 7 today. The Badgers forced 8 3-and-outs and had seven consecutive possessions where they forced 3-and-outs. Also, how about that punt by Bart Houston?!
Zach: Everything seemed to click for the Badgers in all aspects on Saturday, but in my opinion, the two things that went best for the Badgers on Saturday were the passing game and the run defense. It looks like that bye week did wonders for Joel Stave's confidence and accuracy--as he finally started to connect with his receivers on the long ball. It looks like Alex Erickson is beginning to embrace the role of a poor man's Jared Abbrederis on those deep throws, as he connected with Stave twice for 40+ yard receptions, including his 47-yard reception in the second half. Stave also utilized the play action pass effectively throughout the game, something that will be crucial for him to continue doing as the season progresses.
On defense, I was in awe at just how dominant our defense was at stopping the run, specifically on option attempts. On nearly every short yardage situation the Terrapins faced throughout the game, the Badgers' defense was able to stop them short of a first down. Maryland has always relied more on the pass this season, but still...46 rushing yards on 28 carries? That's absolutely incredible. Prior to this game, I thought that Michigan State had far and away the best defense in the Big Ten, but the Badgers' defense looked every bit as solid as the Spartans did against Michigan on Saturday--so maybe I was mistaken.
Max: I have to admit that I was a bit worried going into this game, and even into the second half, I was wondering when a shoe was going to drop - I had the same feeling in the 2012 B1G title game - how big of a lead would be safe? Well, much like that game, it never happened, and an otherwise decent (or even better than decent) opponent was dominated in all phases. All phases. Nearly everything the Badgers tried worked, and worked well.
When you score more than 50 points on more than 500 total yards (527), don't turn the ball over a single time, (for this team) have more than 200 yards passing (with two 40-plus pass completions, one a touchdown), you're doing pretty well. When you hold this offense (35-plus points per game in 2014) to less than 200 total yards, including 46 yards rushing (!!), and to a single touchdown with less than a minute left in the game, you're doing very well. When you're special teams essentially eliminates two of the top returners in the nation from the game, doesn't miss any of 8 kick attempts, and even successfully executes a fake punt in the first quarter, you're off the charts. In other words, everything went well on Homecoming.
THE BAD: What hurt Wisconsin Saturday?
Luke: The concern from today would be the punting. Drew Meyer's punting was not good. On his four punts today, he only averaged 33 yards per punt. He has been shaky a various points of the season, but this game was maybe the most concerning.
Zach: It's hard to find something that the Badgers didn't do very well on Saturday. But if I had to pick one thing that I didn't like from Saturday, I would say it was Andy Ludwig's decision to try a two-quarterback system yet again in this game. I was disappointed earlier in the week when I heard Ludwig say that both quarterbacks would get playing time under center this game because I think Saturday's game was a prime example of why Stave is clearly the better quarterback for the offense. For the second game in a row, we saw Stave pulled from the game and I just don't understand the decision to pull a quarterback from the game when he is having absolutely no trouble against the opposing defense. I'm hoping that one of these weeks, Ludwig will come to his senses and START MCEVOY AT RECEIVER, but at this point it's fair to say that I've given up hope on our offensive coordinator's decision making ability.
Max: For Luke, despite the funky, but successful fake, Drew Meyer continues to struggle -- favorite back-up Bart Houston is now apparently the rugby-style specialist! Fortunately, Meyer's punts were few and the Badgers' coverage units helped out considerably. For Zach, given that three of McEvoy's four drives resulted in touchdowns (including the first, when the game was still somewhat up in the air, and third, when McEvoy again vaguely reminded me of the 2012 title game -- that's vaguely, but still beautifully), I'm not sure that the QB usage "hurt" Wisconsin this game. Don't get me wrong, it's still a head-scratcher, and I still think McEvoy should be used at wide receiver, but at least on Saturday, it didn't wind up hurting UW.
If anything, and I can't overstress the "anything" part this time out, it would have been yet another muff by Kenzel Doe - seems like there's always one by him, doesn't it? On this one, it did look like Austin Hudson obstructed his view and his flow, and it didn't hurt the team, but it was almost even worse when Jordan Fredrick came up wincing and holding his wrist in pain. Fortunately, all this didn't even wind up hurting the team, as UW kept possession and no one was seriously hurt (that we know of, Fredrick did return).
Jake: I'm jumping in on just this question based on the answers. Meyer's punting average hasn't been that good this season, and wasn't good in terms of yards per punt yesterday; however, I will say that he did help pin Maryland deep in their territory with three punts inside the 20. He does need to establish better punting to help change field position (see: Illinois game) but at times the stats can be misleading.
Regarding the quarterbacking situation, I do like Stave as the main starter, but if Ludwig uses McEvoy like he did Saturday in quarterback runs and read options, I have absolutely no reservations about using them both. It worked against Maryland because they utilized his strengths and it showed. In my opinion, it was Ludwig's best called game of the season -- he deserves kudos there.
I'd say the muffed punt by Doe's concerning, as it's not the first time this season he's done that.
B5Q GAMEBALLS: Who owned the field vs. the Terps?
Luke: I would give a game ball to the whole defense. They played outstanding today and lead by example. This team needed to show the potential they have and it happened today. This defense proved that it is not a fluke and one of the best in the Big Ten. They forced turnovers, never allowed drives to materialize, and put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Landisch and Biegel had great games.
If I had to give it to one person, I think I would give it to Warren Herring. He showed what he meant to this defense. Even if all he did was give the defense the on the field leadership they needed, his return clearly showed his value to the team. It may have also showed how big of a difference there is between he and Arthur Goldberg from a talent standpoint, but that's a different story.
Zach: I completely agree with Luke about the defense, I can't single out a single person because they all played absolutely incredible; and the same applies to the Badgers' offensive line, who did an excellent job in both their pass and run blocking all game. But if I had to choose one person who was most valuable for the Badgers on Saturday, I would give my game ball to Joel Stave. Stave added another dimension to the Badgers offense through the passing game and showed immense improvement coming off of the bye week, looking more confident and accurate on his passes. The Badgers' have the best rushing attack in the country, so when you can effectively use play action on opposing defenses and complete passes down field (something McEvoy can't do), it forces the defense to stop keying in on the run so much and respect the quarterback's potential to find an open receiver deep downfield. Stave converted on the short to medium throws that he was supposed to make and was finally able to have some success with the long ball as well--something he loves to do when he gets the opportunity.
Max: Tough not to give it to a coach, [defensive coordinator Dave] Aranda, for the way his guys came out on Saturday - they were prepared, smart and intense, but it needs to go to a player. I can't give one to a single defender (Sojourn Shelton still might not get one in any event). I am totally with Zach, irrespective of the widespread excellence on defense, my game ball goes to Joel Stave.. I was screaming to my kids and my fiance after the first bomb to Erickson - "that was the longest pass of the year! Of the year! This is huge." I don't think I was wrong. Stave looked "back to normal" as far as I was concerned and while he will never be Dan Marino, his game, aside from being as "on" as any Badger's on Saturday, was the most significant development. If this, or better, can happen weekly the rest of the day, doesn't everyone feel about ten times better now?
Coming up: Rutgers -- what to expect against the Scarlet Knights?
Luke: I think the Badgers have a difficult time in Piscataway. It will be very difficult to replicate the type of performance that the Badgers showed today. I am still leery on this team's ability to play on the road. I don't necessarily think that Rutgers is a good football team, but I think this game ends up somewhere in the 27-21 range with the Badgers coming away with the victory.
Zach: After seeing the way Rutgers handled Ameer Abdullah on Saturday (19 carries for 225 yards, three touchdowns), I think Melvin Gordon will have no trouble running the ball next week against the Scarlet Knights. In fact, I think Gordon will be looking to top Abdullah's numbers in hopes of establishing himself as the Big Ten's premier running back. The biggest news from Rutgers' game last week against Nebraska was the injury to their starting quarterback, Gary Nova. Nova left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury and didn't return. The Scarlet Knights' coach, Kyle Flood, said after the game that we may have to wait a couple of days in order to hear a definitive statement about Nova's condition and status for next week's game. It would be even worse for the Knights if they are without Nova against the Badgers next week; but regardless of if he plays or not I'm still picking Wisconsin to roll 38-13.
Max: To continue the theme from immediately above, Stave will have to pick up right where he left off. Rutgers' defense remains salty at all three levels, but its performance against Nebraska showed that it can be had against a balanced attack - Ameer Abdullah's performance stood out like it almost always does (and like Melvin Gordon's almost certanly will), but Nebraska's passing game was the difference.
Gary Nova was knocked out against Nebraska and it's not known yet whether little-used back-up Chris Laviano will get the nod against Wisconsin, but either way, if the Badgers' defense plays at 80 percent of what it did against Maryland (who's offense, although on the road, is probably superior to Rutgers'), Rutgers should likely be held under 20 points. I'd venture to say, too, that UW's defense is likely to force more than one turnover in Piscataway. If I'm picking a score, I'd say something close to Wisconsin winning 30-17.