For the second time in three weeks, the Wisconsin Badgers faced a halftime scare against an inferior opponent. After leading Western Illinois just 9-3 at halftime en route to a 37-3 win three weeks ago, Gary Andersen's squad was knotted up 3-3 at the half Saturday with South Florida, a program that has never beat a Big Ten school.
But Melvin Gordon, who rushed for just 50 yards in the first half against a stingy South Florida defense, strung together a series of touchdown runs, including a 43-yarder, to put away the Bulls in the second half. Gordon finished with 181 yards on the day.
While the 27-10 score indicates a relatively commanding win, the game strikes a major blow to the Badgers' eye test for the College Football playoff selection committee. South Florida continually found ways to stifle the Badgers' run game, and Tanner McEvoy, save the final touchdown drive, delivered another underwhelming performance, often overthrowing wide-open receivers.
As John Congemi said during the ESPNU broadcast, Wisconsin's offense needs to showcase a more balanced attack, utilizing the play-action pass, to become a truly dangerous team. Saturday, we watched a team that hasn't yet reached that point.
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More from the Game
The nine-minute, 90-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter engineered by McEvoy represents a positive sign for the Badgers' offense. If they build on the momentum generated by that dominant downfield procession, the Badgers can take a major step toward becoming a national threat -- the "dangerous team" Congemi described.
An unimpressive win against a 2-3 non-conference opponent won't catapult the Badgers any higher than they already stand. Expect them to stay put in their No. 19 ranking in the AP Poll. As for their Playoff chances, they'll still need to roll through the Big Ten slate, which begins next Saturday at Northwestern.
Around the Big Ten
Northwestern's dominant 29-6 win over Penn State in Happy Valley will infuse the Wildcats with confidence entering their Oct. 4 matchup with the Badgers in Evanston. Also, Iowa, perhaps the Badgers' stiffest competition in the Big Ten West, notched a 24-10 win over Purdue on Saturday.
Next week's Big Ten opener against 2-2 Northwestern will be a must-win for the Badgers, who can't afford to lose a Big Ten regular-season game to keep their Playoff hopes alive. But the Big Ten game of the week will take place in East Lansing, where Nebraska will take on Michigan State. The Badgers will be rooting for the Big Ten East's Michigan State in this one. Unfortunately for Cornhusker fans, Nebraska faces a high-caliber conference test the likes of which Wisconsin won't face during the regular season. A Nebraska loss could help the Badgers in the Big Ten West standings when November rolls around.