The Wisconsin Badgers haven't been too kind to the Big Ten Conference's newest members the past two games. After their bye week, head coach Gary Andersen's crew have dominated both the Maryland Terrapins and Rutgers Scarlet Knights by a combined 89-7 margin. Saturday, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's crew pitched its first shutout of the season -- the program's first road shoutout since 1998 -- in a 37-0 route of Rutgers.
To discuss the team's performance Saturday, we bring back our weekly roundtable of B5Q writers:
- Luke Mueller (@Luke_Mueller24)
- Louis Bien (@LouisBien) -- who was actually at the game Saturday
- Zach Wingrove (@ZachWingrove)
The Good: What went right for Wisconsin?
Luke: The defense continued to look like a force to be reckoned with on Saturday. Holding the Rutgers offense to no points and under 150 yards is a big accomplishment against any team, let alone on the road. That is the sign of a special unit.
The defense did not let Rutgers ever establish a rhythm. Gary Nova was never allowed to get comfortable in the pocket, which is why Rutgers struggled to establish the run. Without the opportunity to threaten through the air, the Badgers were able to put more in the box and stuff the run. Great play calling by Aranda on the defensive side of the ball.
Louis: Wisconsin held Rutgers to zero points and 139 total yards of offense. Rutgers had just three first downs at halftime. It had 76 yards rushing, 30 of which came in the fourth quarter, about two quarters after Rutgers fans had left the game. I think this was as complete a defensive mauling I have ever seen a Badger defense lay on anyone.
More From the Game
More From the Game
I'm excited to see this unit jell late in the season. I should temper that excitement by pointing out that the game was played in front of the most dispirited crowd in the most dispiriting weather possible. High Point Solutions Stadium was a pathetic sight, truth be told. But within that sad space we may have witnessed a good defense become great. The proof will be the Nebraska game in two weeks. Somebody hold me.
Zach: For the second straight week, we saw Wisconsin's defense absolutely dominate their opponent from start to finish. It seems that ever since the bye week, the Badgers' defense has turned the corner from a good unit to an elite unit (granted it probably helps when you're playing Rutgers and Maryland). Prior to the season, everyone--myself included--was skeptical about our entirely new front seven and how they would all fare as the season progressed. At this point, I would say the front seven's ability to stop the run and pressure the quarterback is the second biggest asset on the Badgers' team, behind only our running game.
Speaking of which, it was also nice to see Gordon get back on track and break off a big run once again on his first carry of the second half. One of the only "concerns" I had after the Maryland game was that Gordon had very few big plays like we've grown used to seeing from him week in and week out-- his longest run of that game was only 22 yards. But I guess if that's one of my biggest concerns, then the team is doing something right.
The Bad: Even in a blowout victory, there were "layups" that could've been made, right?
Luke: McEvoy threw an interception, which is never a good thing. It wasn't really one of those that you can live with when the corner makes a good play or its off the receivers hands and into the defenses. It was just a misread, which can't happen. With that said, he also missed a few receivers especially a wide open Alex Erickson. Stave also missed a wide open Troy Fumagalli, but looked like he is settling in better than McEvoy.
Again this week, the punting is an issue. This week Bart Houston did not rattle off a 52 yarder and Drew Meyer tried to adapt the rugby style as well. Neither were very effective. Can Rafael punt?
Louis: Missing wide open receivers is bad. Furthermore, it is not a thing that quarterbacks should do. In conclusion, Wisconsin should stop missing wide open receivers.
Look, I think there are probably other dudes out there who would do a better job as Wisconsin's offensive coordinator than Andy Ludwig. But he did his dang job sequencing a set of successful plays to spring Alex Erickson on a play action pass for Tanner McEvoy. Joel Stave is the lesser of two evils and should helm the offense full time, I think. I'm not going to feel fully comfortable about Wisconsin's offense in any remaining game, however.
Zach: I'm in complete agreement with Louis -- missing wide-open receivers for easy touchdowns is unacceptable. I'm going to continue saying what I say every week, Tanner McEvoy should not be playing quarterback for the Badgers. In the long run, this two-quarterback system is only making it harder for Joel Stave to develop (and then maintain) a rhythm with the offense. The biggest problem I have with McEvoy is that our offense becomes incredibly predictable with him under center. Andy Ludwig can only call so many read options before the opposing defenses catch on and begin to dare McEvoy to complete a pass. Unfortunately, McEvoy has given us weekly reminders that he can't throw. I think Louis hit the nail on the head, Stave is the lesser of two evils and he gives us a legitimate shot to run the table and win the Big Ten west because of his ability to utilize the play-action. Although he struggled today, I'm going to give him a pass due to the inclement weather--if he has the same problem next week against Purdue, then we'll have a bigger problem.
B5Q Game Balls: Who gets them?
Luke: Gotta give it to the hometown boy. Clement gets two touchdowns and goes well over 100 yards. He averaged nearly 10 yards per carry. He won't get the opportunity to go home again in his college career, unless the Badgers play in the Pinstripe Bowl, so it is great to see a hard worker like Clement have such a great showing at home.
Louis: Corey Clement made his mama so damn happy. How could it not be him?
Zach: I have to agree with Louis yet again. 14 carries, 131 rushing yards and two touchdowns coming off the bench? There's no way I can give the game ball to anyone but Clement.
Who's Next: Purdue
Luke: West Lafayette is a place much like Evanston, where the Badgers have struggled in the past. It is also a place of magic at least once. Remember this? Coming out of that nostalgic state, I think I may have learned my lesson this week after predicting a close game and getting a blowout. I think the Badgers will find success against the Boilermakeers. I am looking for a 17 point margin of victory between the Boilermakers and Badgers. Look for Melvin Gordon to have a stellar day.
Louis: Purdue has now had a strong defensive performance against a great (albeit Abdullah-less) offense (Nebraska) and a strong offensive performance against a great defense (Michigan State). I think this team is better than its 3-6 record, and I know it's chomping to pull off an upset, and oh look Wisconsin is set to re-enter the polls.
Before we heap apocalyptic implications on the Nebraska bout, let's make sure Wisconsin actually gets by Purdue on the road. This will be a real test of mettle before Wisconsin gets tested in every way on Nov. 15.
Zach: I could see this being a potential trap game for Wisconsin with the Nebraska game looming large in two weeks, especially if the Purdue team that gave Michigan State a scare three weeks ago shows up against the Badgers. But I expect Gary Andersen will have some of these same worries and, in turn, make sure that his team is focused and prepared for this week's game first and foremost.
Against Purdue, I think Wisconsin's defense will regress a little from the level we've seen them play at these past two weeks (which basically means they'll allow some points early on), but still be able to control the tempo of the game and force plenty of three-and-outs. In the end, I think it will come down to Gordon and Clement's ability to run the ball effectively and break off some big runs to grab the momentum. If they can do that, the Badgers will have no problem handling the Boilermakers on the road. But if Purdue's defense is able to slow down the Badgers' rushing attack, then I think we will see a closer game than expected. Either way, I believe the Badgers will come out of West Lafayette next Saturday with a win.