When Corey Clement punched the ball in from the 2-yard line to give Wisconsin a 24-7 lead over LSU with 12:24 remaining in the third quarter of Saturday's season-opener, everything was looking positive for the Badgers. Melvin Gordon was getting a fair amount of carries, the offensive line was overpowering the Tigers in short-yardage situations and Tanner McEvoy had managed to get into somewhat of a rhythm by completing a couple of short passes and also making some plays outside of the pocket.
But then, as we all know by now, something happened to the Badgers' offense. Or, more accurately, something didn't happen to the Badgers' offense -- they failed to make the proper adjustments.
Once Tigers head coach Les Miles realized that the Badgers running' game was dominating his defense, he adjusted his front seven. He moved nine players into the box and all but begged McEvoy and the inexperienced Badger receivers to make a play. Miles' adjustments proved to be successful as the Badgers faltered on offense. As a result, LSU stormed back to a 28-24 win and left Wisconsin fans across the country wondering what went wrong. Let's take a closer look.
By the numbers
63: Total number of plays run by UW (38 rush/24 pass)
318: Total yards against LSU
480.8: Average total yards per game in 2013 for UW
5.0: Average yards per play against LSU
28:14: Time of possession for UW
13: First downs converted against LSU
22: Average first downs converted per game in 2013 for UW
4: First downs converted in the second half on Saturday for UW
197.1: Average passing yards per game in 2013 for UW
50: Passing yards against LSU
2.1: Average yards per pass for Tanner McEvoy
4-of-15: Third-down conversion rate against LSU
6.6: Average yards per rushing attempt in 2013 for UW
6.9: Yards per rushing attempt against LSU
4.6: Average number of plays per drive in the second half (not counting punts) for UW
2: Carries for Gordon in the second half
1: Pass completed by McEvoy in the fourth quarter.
What went right?
1. Melvin Gordon. When he was in the game, Gordon was effective against a top-tier SEC defense. In the first half, Gordon found the holes that his blockers had created for him and used them effectively, as exhibited in Gordon's lone touchdown that night. You can see for yourself in the video below (1:03) that the offensive line was able to clear an open space for Gordon and, as a result, he ran "virtually untouched" for a 14-yard touchdown. If you continue watching the next highlight in the video, you can see Gordon's 63-yard run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. Notice how this time, Gordon uses his exceptional vision as a ball-carrier to change directions at the line of scrimmage and find a hole that allowed him to get into the open field.
Overall, Gordon managed to perform well before he suffered a hip injury that caused him to sit out for most of the second half. While his Heisman Trophy stock might fall due to his team's performance, it's important to remember that that the level of defensive competition that Gordon will face from here on out decreases significantly.
2. Offensive line play early on. Yes, we all saw McEvoy running for his life late in the game, along with Clement not being able to muster up more than a few yards on each carry he took in the fourth quarter. Those problems were both byproducts of the Badgers' offensive line getting overwhelmed by LSU once the Tigers began to pack the box tight with nine men. But up until midway through the third quarter, the Badgers' offensive line was controlling the line of scrimmage against the Tigers' front seven. Prior to Clement's touchdown in the third quarter, head coach Gary Andersen had elected to go for it on 4th-and-1. Even though virtually everyone in the stadium knew that Clement was going to carry the ball up the middle, the Tigers were still unable to stop it, thanks to solid blocking by the Badgers' offensive line as well as an excellent lead block by Derek Watt. While its performance didn't hold up in the end, it was certainly encouraging to see the offensive line continue to dominate (much like it has in past years) early on in the game.
What went wrong?
1. The passing game. It's hard to point a finger at one individual in the passing game. There were so many blunders made on Saturday that it would be unfair to put the blame on just one specific position. With that being said, the Badgers have a major problem as of right now. It is impossible to be considered a College Football Playoff contender, or even a contender to win the Big Ten championship, if your team is throwing for only 50 passing yards in a game. McEvoy was 8-of-24, completing only one pass in the fourth quarter. The receivers also had no chemistry with him, as the junior quarterback overthrew his receivers by 20-to-30 yards on several occasions due to miscommunications. Whether it was a bad throw, a wrong route or poor pass protection, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and Andersen will need to find a solution to the Badgers' passing deficiencies fast.
2. Short drives. Late in the game, when the momentum began to swing in the Tigers' direction, the Badgers were unable to sustain a long-lasting drive that could've helped them a.) build on their lead, and b.) keep LSU's offense off the field. Instead, the Badgers went three-and-out on three of their last five drives of the game, the other two ending in interceptions. It's also notable to mention that after Clement's touchdown with 12:24 left in the game, the Badgers only totaled 32 yards of total offense, while the Tigers had 219 total yards.
Final thoughts: Breaking down the success of the jet sweep
The Badgers struck first on a 45-yard touchdown run by Reggie Love off an end-around. Below is a picture of the LSU defense reacting as soon as Love gets the carry. Notice how the linebackers are still focused on Gordon at this point because the Badgers lined up in a single-back formation, and as of right now, it still looks as though Gordon could get the hand-off. This hesitation allows Love to find an opening in the defense, and by the time the defense is able to react to the jet sweep, it's too late and Love has already broken into the open field.
Later on in the second quarter, the Badgers attempted to replicate their success on the jet sweep. This time, with an empty backfield, Gordon took the end-around coming from the left side. Notice how the defense is quicker to react this time around because on this play, there is no one else in the backfield to draw the defense's attention away from the receiver in motion. This resulted in Gordon getting swallowed up in the backfield for a loss of 1 yard.
If the Badgers want to continue to run this play successfully, they will need to utilize it with a running back in the backfield. Gordon and Clement are big weapons on offense and it is a guarantee that the defense will be worried about them getting the ball every down due to their big-play capabilities. Adding a tailback in the backfield will cause more hesitation among the defense's front seven and lead to the receiver having more time and space to get around the corner, and into the open field.