The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the South Florida Bulls 27-10 Saturday afternoon to end their non-conference part of the 2014 season at 3-1. The Badgers survived a threat from the Bulls, who held Wisconsin to only three points in the first half.
Along with fighting off some big plays from South Florida while forcing some of their own (Lubern Figaro's forced fumble after a WHEEL ROUTE that went 52 yards the big turnover and turning point of the game), Wisconsin scored on four of its second half possessions to secure the win.
Each Sunday -- starting this weekend -- four B5Q writers will answer four big questions after each game in a roundtable format. Here's our panel of writers from B5Q this week:
- Luke Mueller (@Luke_Mueller24), who covered the game at Camp Randall Saturday
- Mike Fiammetta (@MikeFiammetta), managing editor of Bucky's 5th Quarter and noted New York Yankees fan. (Jake's note: Mike's still emotional after Derek Jeter's last at-bat at Yankee Stadium. I mean, really, who isn't?)
- Louis Bien (@LouisBien), B5Q and SB Nation writer -- dude actually covered the Tour de France this summer.
- Zach Wingrove (@ZachWingrove), one of the newest B5Q writers, so we dragged him into this
THE GOOD: What went well for the Wisconsin Badgers against USF Saturday?
Luke: The defense stayed tough again yesterday for the entire game. They are the only team in the nation not to allow a redzone touchdown. Another bright spot is the way the team answered the bell in the second half. They were a totally different team.
Mike: The second-half response. I think a lot of it was remaining patient with the offense, letting Wisconsin's offensive line continue to wear down South Florida's front and knowing Melvin Gordon would eventually break loose. It's somewhat worrisome that the Badgers had to ride Gordon so hard (he had a season-high 32 carries), but if Wisconsin wasn't able to find a way to run away with this wind, how could they confidently respond in similar situations against tougher Big Ten teams later in the season?
I was also pleased with Corey Clement (boy, he sure doesn't look like a No. 2 tailback) and Tanner McEvoy. The latter did miss on a few throws -- especially deep, over- and under-throwing a couple of long balls -- but he was mistake-free and allowed the Badgers to churn out some long drives (UW had six that lasted at least eight plays). Even though his rushing numbers (six attempts, 23 yards) aren't stellar, I enjoyed seeing him move around in the pocket and keep some plays alive with his feet. Believe it or not, I'm confident with McEvoy at quarterback entering Big Ten play. The soft conference schedule definitely plays a significant part there, but hey -- confidence is confidence.
Defensively, I'll be succinct -- Derek Landisch and Michael Caputo are incredible. Landisch had a Chris Borland game today, if I'm allowed to say that for anyone not named Chris Borland. Caputo, once again, was everywhere, and made one likely touchdown-saving tackle in the first quarter on USF running back Marlon Mack.
Louis: I think Melvin Gordon was the only things that was completely good in this game. I don't ding him for a quiet first half when it appeared the offensive line wasn't executing. And I give him all the credit getting the team fired up at halftime, something he admitted he hadn't done before.
The front seven also played particularly well, though a lack of pressure on the quarterback was a bummer. Derek Landisch and Michael Caputo were stars.
Zach: Once again, we saw the Badgers' rushing attack carry the team to victory despite the fact that the opposing defense was practically daring the Badgers to throw the ball. In the first half, the offensive line was not playing up to their standards, and the result was a mere 2.6 yards per rush for the Badgers. But Melvin Gordon returned to his normal form in the second half, tacking off on several big runs which I think we'll continue to see from him throughout the rest of the year. Corey Clement also provides a fresh option to help wear out opposing defenses--I think the blend between Gordon's speed and Clement's power will continue to expose the weaknesses of opposing defenses as the game progresses.
Add Tanner McEvoy to that equation, and I think the Badgers' opponents have just one too many rushing threats on offense to focus on. Although McEvoy was relatively quiet on the ground today, running for 23 yards on just six carries, he showed some flashes when running options. If Andy Ludwig can design more running plays around McEvoy, especially the read option, I think opposing Big Ten defenses will have a hard time stopping McEvoy because they devote so much attention to Gordon and Clement. If Ludwig is able to blend Gordon, Clement, and Gordon into the rushing attack, the Badgers will be able to continue winning games despite being reliant on the run.
THE BAD: What concerns you or didn't mesh well for Wisconsin against the Bulls?
Luke: The Badgers again started slow which is a concern. After the game Gary Andersen said that and the "throw game" were a concern. I have to agree with Coach again because the other concern is the Badgers inability to throw the ball downfield.
Mike: The slow start, and the early struggles on third down. Oddly enough, it almost seemed offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was riding Gordon too hard, in the sense that South Florida knew what was coming. As the ESPNU broadcasters mentioned a few times throughout the game, South Florida was able to correctly anticipate run plays on 3rd-and-short, using some pre-snap motion to penetrate Wisconsin's offensive line and make some huge early plays in the backfield. I put that mostly on the o-line, but Ludwig definitely seemed to call a stronger came in the second half, utilizing Gordon and Clement on the field together with more frequency, and more great results. That one play in particular where Clement went wide (either in motion or on a fake sweep look; my memory is failing me) and then nailed a poor USF defensive back to spring Gordon was awesome.
Louis: Tanner McEvoy is going to lose Wisconsin more football games. His lack of accuracy is frightening, as is Andy Ludwig's latency in recognizing it.
Like Mike, I thought offensive play calling was much better in the second half. Screens and the read option were more heavily incorporated, and McEvoy threw well on one roll out in particular. So why Wisconsin came out to start the game as if Joel Stave was at quarterback, I'm not sure. Wisconsin needs to continue to call plays that take advantage of the threat of McEvoy's legs, because he isn't close to being a viable dropback passer. Unfortunately, at this point I don't have much confidence that Ludwig can make the correct adjustment on a consistent basis.
Zach: I agree completely with what everyone has said about the frustration over Andy Ludwig's playcalling. But just so I'm not pouring gasoline onto the fire, I'll say the third down efficiency for the Badgers. In the first half, the Badgers converted once in seven attempts on third down. They were much better in the second half, going four-for-five (however on several occasions they got bailed out by USF penalties to extend the drive). My biggest concern from this is that most of the failed conversions occurred in short yardage situations. In the first half, four out of the seven third down attempts for the Badgers came when they needed 5 yards or less in order to convert. Normally, these situations are easiest for Wisconsin due to their plethora of power running backs and dominant offensive line. In this case, the Badgers failed to attempt on all four third downs.
In these situations South Florida was packing the box tight in anticipation for a run up the middle, and for the most part that's exactly what Andy Ludwig called. The Badgers need to be a better job being less predictable on these short yardage situations. Obviously if it's working, then don't fix it; but today, it wasn't working. When Gordon fumbled on 3rd-and-2 at the end of the first half, I wouldn't have minded seeing Ludwig call to roll McEvoy out on a play action and see if he could have caught the Bulls off guard.
B5Q Game Balls: Who's your MVP from Saturday's Game?
Luke: My offensive MVP is Gordon. He made 182 yards and 2 TDs look easy again. Most of that came in the second half, which makes it that much more impressive. On defense it has to be Derek Landisch. 2 TFL 1 sack and an INT is another big game for the linebacker. He leads by example on the field and the team clearly feeds off him on defense.
Mike: Gotta be Gordon for breaking loose, but again, I'd love to share this honor with Caputo and Landisch if possible. Landisch finished with three tackles (two for loss), one sack and the interception. Caputo tied with Michael Trotter and Sojourn Shelton for the team-lead with five tackles.
Louis: Melvin Gordon. I'm just so happy that guy is on our side. He saved Wisconsin's ass in the second half, and I think made the offensive line look much better than it actually played. It warmed my heart to hear he stoked the team at halftime. He's so special, and man I wish he could just play for Wisconsin for the rest of all time. I love watching him do his thing. I fear that this isn't a particularly good Wisconsin team, but I may love it as much as any simply because of Gordon. He's that good.
Zach: I'm tempted to give my game ball to Landisch because he made some huge plays for the defense. But I'll opt for Gordon due to his incredible second half performance. I don't care whether it was the adjustments made at halftime or if the Badgers just wore down the Bulls' defense over the course of the game, but Gordon looked like a completely different back in the second half.
The Bulls' devoted plenty of attention to Gordon coming off of his 253-yard outing against Bowling Green. And a "slow" start by Gordon in the first half didn't stop Wisconsin from giving him the ball as the game progressed (Gordon's 32 carries on Saturday were the most he's gotten all year). In the third quarter, he ran for 106 yards after totaling just 50 yards in the previous two quarters before that. After fumbling to end the first half, Gordon provided a much needed spark for the Badgers' offense in the third quarter, and I credit him with carrying his team to victory in the second half. And let's not forget, he also added another highlight to his Heisman portfolio in an incredible 43-yard touchdown run.
LOOKING AHEAD: What to expect vs. Northwestern
Luke: Northwestern is coming off of an impressive win in Happy Valley. Expect them to stay hungry. In the past, the Badgers have struggled at Ryan Field. Expect a close battle, especially if the Badgers get off to their patented slow start, but I expect UW to win.
Mike: Northwestern looked better than usual on Saturday, dispatching Penn State 29-6. I think that defense was more impressive than anything though Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg hasn't really been consistent this year. If anything, I'd be worried about Wisconsin's offense again starting slow at Northwestern next weekend, and allowing the Wildcats to gather some early momentum off either a turnover or a big third-down stop or two.
Ultimately, though, I still expect Wisconsin to win this one with relative ease. I imagine a similar game plan to today's game: a lot of Gordon, hopefully also a lot of Clement, while using McEvoy largely as an effective game-manager who can also keep plays alive and convert some third-and-medium/longs with his feet. My early prediction is Badgers by 17.
Louis: I don't know what to think about Wisconsin, to be honest with you. Across four games, I've seen about three different teams show up. The Badgers have looked like world-beaters (first half LSU, all of Bowling Green), bottom-barrel B1G (second half LSU, first half USF and WIU), and sort of nondescript (second half WIU and USF). I don't have a good read of next week's game because I don't have a good read on Wisconsin, much less Northwestern after their surprising performance today.
Just as a gut feeling, I think Wisconsin will win something like 27-20. Northwestern's defense doesn't scare me -- Penn State's running game is actually that bad -- but Wisconsin is a one dimensional team right now. I really like Wisconsin's defense, but this secondary is still going to give up big plays on a regular basis. Trevor Siemian has been mired in a slow regression for about three seasons now, but he's competent enough to take advantage of Wisconsin.
Zach: Northwestern's victory against Penn State was by far the most impressive the Wildcats have looked all year. I've been watching Trevor Siemian play for three years now and don't think we've seen his full potential on display this year. Siemian is an excellent pocket passer and the Badgers' will need to get some pressure on him or else he has the ability to pick apart the secondary. With that being said, Northwestern's weakest link is their defense. In their losses to Cal and Northern Illinois, the Wildcats allowed 414 and 401 total yards respectively. I think the Wisconsin will have no trouble running the ball against the Wildcats defense.
My prediction is that Pat Fitzgerald will have his team ready to play at home, riding off the momentum they got from the Penn State victory. The Badgers will start slow once again but manage to step it up in the second half. Fitzgerald's teams have always been able to keep games close, so I will say the Badgers leave Evanston with a 28-17 victory.