Wisconsin's 52-7 win over Maryland on Saturday was anything but routine.
For just the second time all season, the Badgers' quarterbacks outgained the tailbacks. Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy combined for 267 total yards; Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement: 224 yards. Stave showed off his arm strength with two deep completions to Alex Erickson, one a 43-yarder and one a 47-yard touchdown strike. In the few drives he played, McEvoy was efficient, going 5-of-7 and running for a 60-yard highlight-reel touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Of course, while the quarterbacks' solid play coming off the bye week was encouraging, Gordon still put up typical Melvin Gordon numbers. He rushed for 122 yards and scored three touchdowns, but did break his streak of four straight games with 175+ yards.
The real story of the day, however, was the Badgers' stifling defense. Maryland averaged 35 points per game coming into Madison and scored only on a garbage-time touchdown with a minute left in the game. In Warren Herring's return from a right-knee injury, the senior helped hold Maryland's rushing attack to just 46 yards and quarterback C.J. Brown to a 45 percent completion rate.
After allowing 28 points to an inferior Illinois team, the Wisconsin defense, allowing just 175 total yards, quelled many fears in Madison as it moved up the list of top=10 defenses nationally. The Badgers now rank seventh, giving up just 16 points per game.
|Defense Stats Post-Week 9, per CFBstats.com|
|9||Penn State||7||14||8||17.4||284.7 (7th)|
The first top 25 from the College Football Playoff committee comes out on Tuesday. It seems unlikely that the Badgers will make an appearance, but the relevance of their ranking pales to the importance of their standing in the Big Ten West.
Around the Big Ten
Coming into Saturday, Minnesota led the West with a 3-0 record. But Illinois, a team that had notched just two Big Ten wins since 2011, shocked the Gophers in Champaign, 28-24. Nebraska, the only other Big Ten West team that played, took down Rutgers, 42-24 in Lincoln.
After Saturday's action, here's what the Big Ten West standings look like:
Following road matchups with Rutgers and Purdue, Wisconsin will enter the gauntlet of Big Ten West play, a three-game stretch that will decide the Badgers' fate: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota. Gary Andersen's squad is fortunate to have the Nebraska and Minnesota games at Camp Randall Stadium, but it'll be a tough road nonetheless. Three wins in those three games could turn out to be the required result.
Before looking ahead to the final stretch, Rutgers is up next. After nearly taking down Penn State and beating Michigan, the 5-3 Scarlet Knights have been blown out by Ohio State and Nebraska in consecutive weeks. Quarterback Gary Nova anchors an offensive attack that thrives on the big play and likes to take downfield shots. In fact, Nova's 10.1 yards per attempt marks the third-highest average in the country. He also has a 161.5 quarterback rating, good for 12th-best in the nation.
Rutgers' rush defense, however, is something Wisconsin can certainly take advantage of. The Scarlet Knights allow 162 rush yards per game, so expect Gordon and Clement to impose their will. In fact, Rutgers' defense as a whole falls near the bottom of the country, as it allows 424 yards of offense per game. After this week's offensive explosion, the Badgers should be more than able to take advantage, but they will need to consistently find the end zone early -- falling behind early against the Scarlet Knights' powerful offense could turn out to be catastrophic.
Many positives can be drawn from the victory on Saturday: hard-nosed defense, efficient quarterback play, big-time plays in the receiving game (Erickson) and, of course, a consistent ground attack.
The Badgers are on the rise, but the true tests have yet to come.