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Western Illinois vs. Wisconsin: Looking back at Badgers' win

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How do you feel about the Badgers' victory the day after? Sit down with your coffee, juice and/or Bloody Mary (especially necessary after yesterday's Big Ten results).

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Grey Satterfield

It's Sunday morning -- how ya feelin', Badgers fans?

After a disastrous day for the Big Ten Conference -- Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State losing to Power 5 conferences, Nebraska and Illinois barely hanging on against seemingly inferior competition, and Purdue and Northwestern just losing -- No. 18/19 Wisconsin did what it was supposed to: beat an FCS team in Western Illinois.

But not by the way everyone thought they would. The Leathernecks seemed to have 13 guys in the box to stuff the run, and the offensive line could not get the push off the line of scrimmage for the majority of the afternoon.

"Obviously their goal was to stop Melvin [Gordon], stop the run," senior right tackle Rob Havenstein said Saturday.

"They succeeded a lot and I put that squarely on the shoulders of us as an offensive line. We didn't do our jobs in that aspect. No matter how many guys you put in the box, 10, 11, 13, 27, we still have to get that run game going, so that's squarely on the shoulders of us as an offensive line. We have to get that going. Melvin, Corey, those guys can only do so much. We need to help them out any way we can."

So who do you turn to after your most potent offensive weapon, Melvin Gordon, was held at one point to eight yards on nine carries?

Tanner McEvoy and the passing game, of course.

Yes, that Tanner McEvoy.

The Badgers aerial attack accounted for 289 passing yards and four touchdowns against the Leathernecks. With that, let's take a quick look at Saturday's game.

MVPs: Tanner McEvoy, Alex EricksonSam Arneson

McEvoy only had five incompletions on the afternoon, throwing for 283 yards and three touchdown passes. He also showed off his mobility, running for 55 yards and Wisconsin's first touchdown. That's 338 total yards and four of Wisconsin's five scores.

Yes, it was against the Leathernecks, but the offense took steps forward in its passing game.

"Offensively, we needed a game like this," McEvoy said.

"We know what we can do on offense. We know we can pass the ball. Their defense was making us pass the ball and making us throw it. That's what we have to do when teams do that to us and we have to show that we can do it."

After the #B1G weekend throughout the conference, this might very well be the case from our very own Andrew Rosin:

Granted, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah might take the cake with this catch and run alone (note the amazing Super Mario music in the background).

Erickson had a career-high 10 receptions (1 more than his total receptions in 2013) for 122 yards and his first touchdown. He now leads the team in receptions with 13 through two games, and appears to be a likely go-to target for McEvoy.

Same can be said for Arneson. The senior tight end asserted himself as a dependable target Saturday, reeling in two big third-down receptions and a 37-yard catch that set up Wisconsin's first touchdown in the second quarter.

Turning point(s)

I'll point to two key moments.

First, junior safety Michael Caputo's interception. A 2nd-and-9 pass from the Wisconsin 13 with Western Illinois driving, redshirt freshmen Chikwe Obasih tipped a Trenton Norvell throw that wound up in the hands of Caputo, who returned it to the Wisconsin 35. The Leathernecks (side bar: I kinda dig their mascot name) were driving deep into Badgers' territory as they utilized their spread attack, and if not for the turnover, the Badgers could have been down in the first quarter. The Badgers got a stop when they needed it, and did not allow a touchdown on Saturday.

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Photo: Grey Satterfield

Second turning point: The Badgers third drive of the game. Yes, the team didn't score on this drive, and were actually stopped on a 4th-and-1 inside the Western Illinois 10, but Wisconsin found the formula that they'd ride to victory -- a passing game. Out of the 17 plays, 10 were passes -- 8 were completions. It was also the starting point to McEvoy's 17 consecutive completions after sophomore receiver Reggie Love dropped a would-be touchdown. During the completion streak, the Badgers scored 21 points.

"Yeah. Yeah. He's just gotta get his confidence up and get in that rhythm and once he get in it he's a bad boy," Gordon said after the game, which gained some laughs from the media.

That safety

If this week couldn't become any more odd after the Melvin Gordon and Joel Stave situations, the opening kickoff in the game bounced off of junior running back Kyle Hammonds. The ball bounced out of the end zone, but Hammonds then brought it back in. Officials initially called it a touchback. After head coach Gary Andersen challenged the play, officials reversed the play, confirming it was a safety -- giving Wisconsin an early 2-0 lead one second into the game. Our own Grey Satterfield has a great photo of it.

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Photo: Grey Satterfield

A game of firsts

A lot of young players getting playing time, and a lot of new faces in the spotlight. Obviously, there'd be a lot of firsts:

  • McEvoy scored the first touchdown of his FBS career on a 7-yard run
  • He completed his first FBS touchdown pass to fullback Austin Ramesh on an easy 3-yard pitch-and-catch in the flat, who Ramesh himself caught and scored on his first reception 
  • It was also Ramesh's first start
  • As noted earlier, Erickson caught his first collegiate touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter
  • A week after starting his first collegiate game, true freshman wide receiver George Rushing caught his first reception of his career, a 10-yard pass from McEvoy in the second quarter
  • Redshirt freshman tight end Troy Fumagalli made his first catch of his collegiate career for 10 yards
  • A pair of sophomores connected on a pair of firsts. Quarterback Bart Houston threw his first touchdown pass of his career to running back Corey Clement late in the fourth quarter - which was his first touchdown catch.
  • Caputo's interception was the first of his career
  • Junior linebacker Jesse Hayes recorded his first career sack in the fourth quarter. It was also his first forced fumble.
  • Not as happy news, but it was true freshman kicker Rafael Gaglianone's first field goal miss, wide left, from 33 yards out in the fourth quarter.

Who's Next?

A week off and then the Bowling Green Falcons, who are without quarterback Matt Johnson for the remainder of the year with a hip injury. It's another week to rest up any injured players, though a few noted after the game it's a little early for a week off.