The Wisconsin Badgers traveled to College Park, Md. to take on the Maryland Terrapins minus their gamebreaker in junior running back Corey Clement. On the Terps' homecoming weekend, the Badgers (8-2, 5-1) withstood a valiant first half effort from Maryland in a 31-24 victory at Byrd Stadium on Saturday evening.
After a sloppy, anemic two quarters for the offense, Wisconsin came alive -- led by redshirt senior quarterback Joel Stave and the passing game. #AirStave took off in the third quarter and threw for 188 yards in the game, including 8-of-9 in that third frame.
The defense, after being scorched in the first quarter for 126 yards, came back and allowed only 316 total yards. Sophomore Jack Cichy, again stepping in for injured true freshman Chris Orr at inside linebacker, came up big once again. The former walk-on recorded 10 tackles, three for loss, and two sacks -- leading the team.
1. Badgers won the special teams game, contained Will Likely. Despite the poor punting performance by senior punter Drew Meyer (5 punts, 36.2 average -- and that delayed punt to adjust the ball that looked to be partially-blocked), and some blemishes otherwise (most notably a Maryland onside kick that was recovered late in the fourth quarter only to be brought back by an offsides penalty), Wisconsin outperformed Maryland in this third phase of the game.
Sophomore cornerback Natrell Jamerson's 98-yard kickoff return after Maryland's first touchdown drive halted any momentum the Terps gained early on. It was huge for the Wisconsin kickoff return unit, which ranked 124th in the nation coming into Saturday's game with only 16.5 yards per return.
The next offensive series for Wisconsin, the Badgers rolled the dice on a 4th-and-1 deep in their own territory. Outside linebacker Joe Schobert directly took the snap intended for Meyer and rumbled, stumbled for 57 yards, which set up
Likely was the biggest threat on offense for the Terps, rushing for 56 yards on three carries. The Badgers held him to 18.3 yards per kickoff return and -1 on his lone punt return.
2. Though ugly for most of the game, Stave and passing game came alive in the second half; still need closing out drive with the "dagger". After a terrible showing in the first half, the offense came alive with its last two drives of the third quarter, heading into the fourth quarter. Drives of 69 and 71 yards ended in touchdowns and a two-score advantage for Wisconsin with 14:01 left in the game. Stave found redshirt seniors Alex Erickson and Derek Watt for substantial gains in the second half, who ended the game with 83 and 32 yards receiving, respectively. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jazz Peavy also caught two passes for 31 yards.
The Badgers were only 3-of-13 on the day in third-down conversions, but two critical plays moved the chains in that third period. [Ed./writer's update: one first down was to Erickson for 18 yards from Wisconsin's seven-yard line on the first drive of the second half to get the ball out of UW's end zone, the other was to Peavy for 22 yards on their first scoring drive of the second half. Both were pivotal plays.]
It by all means wasn't a clean performance by any of Wisconsin's three phases of the game. The defense looked vulnerable at times against a downfield Maryland passing game with big chunks of yards. On special teams, Meyer and kicker Rafael Gaglianone struggled. It definitely holds true for Stave, whose interception in the first half should have contributed to points if not for a missed 46-yard field goal. The offensive line couldn't keep him upright with three sacks and false start in one possession. However, the offense rebounded when it needed to, albeit they did not put the game out of reach when they could have.
3. Gritty, "play where needed" mentality present with Cichy, McEvoy. It's cliche and stereotypical, but this team -- with all the injuries it's suffered with on offense and defense -- is defined by that hard-nosed, no-excuses attitude that personifies Wisconsin football. Head coach Paul Chryst and his staff have not let these players have the "woe-is-me" outlook after injuries to Clement, center Dan Voltz, linebackers Orr and Leon Jacobs, and receiving targets Austin Traylor and Robert Wheelwright. Facing a Maryland team during their homecoming weekend, they silenced the confident Likely -- who "promised" to beat Wisconsin.
Cichy's performance was impressive. Again leading the team in tackles for the second straight week, his versatility at both the inside and outside linebacker positions should bode well for him not just this season spelling Schobert and Biegel, but also when called upon to partner with redshirt freshman T.J. Edwards on the inside.
Same can be said, overall in the season, for redshirt senior Tanner McEvoy. The converted quarterback turned wide receiver/safety hybrid, intercepted two passes on the afternoon -- along with a 12-yard reception. He wasn't recruited to play those positions, but he's been a team player and shined where needed this year (though his offensive output in the passing game has underwhelmed, which may not be due to him). The 6'6 athlete has rushed for touchdowns, sacked a quarterback, intercepted four passes and recovered a fumble.