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Roundtable: Badgers adjust, special teams shine in 31-24 win vs. Maryland

Our writers look back at a grind 'em out victory

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers (8-2, 5-1) continued their winning streak in College Park, Md., on Saturday, defeating the Maryland Terrapins 31-24 at Byrd Stadium.

Though uneven in all three aspects of the game, the Badgers received some inspired play on special teams with a 98-yard kickoff return by sophomore cornerback Natrell Jamerson and a 57-yard run off a fake punt by senior linebacker/former prep running back Joe Schobert. Redshirt senior Joel Stave and the offense recovered from a horrendous first half to get the go-ahead touchdowns for the Badgers in the third and fourth quarter. Redshirt sophomore and former walk-on Jack Cichy led the team with 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks in place of the injured Chris Orr at inside linebacker, while redshirt senior Tanner McEvoy made some plays in the secondary.

Our writers break down the game heading into Wisconsin's late bye week.

THE GOOD: What went well against Maryland?

Neal Olson: There might not be a more succinct way to summarize the season than this Maryland game. The Badgers mixed inconsistent and maddening play with spurts of solid offense and dominating defense. It should not seem like a such monumental effort to find a positive after winning a conference road game but there is much more a feeling of relief than euphoria after that game. I will say both offensive and defensive coaches deserve credit for adjusting the game plan during halftime. As discombobulated (sorry Max - stealing your word) as the offense was in to open the game, they strung together several nice second half touchdown drives and put Maryland in catch up mode. Which coincidently played right into Dave Aranda's hands on defense. The Badgers held the Terrapins to 47 yards on their first five possessions after halftime after giving up nearly 200 yards of offense in the first half. As dire as first half looked, the second half was dominated by Wisconsin, yet somehow wasn't over until the final possession. What a game!

Jon Arens: This game was effectively a mid aughts Chicago Bears game. Wisconsin had no business winning this game, especially on the road, but an unreal defensive effort coupled with two monster special teams plays, and here we are.

You can probably count the amount of special teams touchdowns in the post Barry era on one hand. Only three stick out to me: David Gilreath's opening kickoff against OSU under the lights, Kenzel Doe's return against South Carolina, and Jamerson's on Saturday. Special teams was arguably Bret Bielema's only truly substandard unit during his tenure. So to get not only a return touchdown, but also a fake punt (almost touchdown) in the same game is quite the day. But alas, special teams was not a total win on the day, as Chryst's fear of kicking to Will Likely allowed for several terrible punts and a ton of free yards on kickoffs. A normal defense wouldn't have been able to overcome how poorly the "Will Likely Gameplan" worked. But this is not a normal defense.

Owen Riese: Wisconsin's linebackers are really good. Like, really good. In a game where the offense was slow starting yet again, the linebackers kept UW in the game. Cichy has been an absolute animal, and combining him with Biegel and Schobert, Aranda's pass rush can be unreal at times. When the offense is stagnant, Cichy and Biegel are the emotional leaders and the Badgers' defense rallies around them. I was thinking yesterday, Schobert is the only member of the front seven that will be gone after this year. You think it's good now, woof. It will help the very young secondary quite a bit. Anyways, back to this year. Paul Chryst's halftime adjustments were also huge, as he took an inept offense and turned them into a threat. Without those adjustments, Wisconsin loses, plain and simple.

Maxwell Brusky: Steal away, Neal -- it's better usage than the one I used when you asked for one meaning the same as "extremely discombobulated." Fortunately, though, the Badgers offense did get "re-combobulated" in the second half, and very much so. I suspect it had something to do with a sharpening of Joel Stave's focus after halftime (an esoteric contention, but I do wonder what was said in the locker room) and Taiwan Deal's success running between the tackles and a softening up of the medium-range zones Stave and Alex Erickson began exploiting. Stave was 3-of-8 for just 20 yards in the first half, but completed a stretch that began in the third quarter and ended with touchdown pass to a wide-open Dare Ogunbowale in which the quarterback went 11-for-12 for 159 yards. When the offense was scuffling and Maryland was outplaying the Badgers altogether in the first half, "special" special teams plays -- Jamerson's kickoff return TD and Schobert's run on a fake punt -- kept UW in the game. Oh, and the defense remained its stout self.

Luke Mueller: With this team, the play of the defense can't be overstated. This team is honestly a six win team most seasons, but have been saved by the play of the defense and an easy schedule. Yes, I understand that they have had injuries to the offensive line (which is a very young unit to begin with) and the new star running back has only played two games, but the skill level on the field is not what we have become accustomed to seeing with the Badgers of late. With all of that being said, the defense had eight tackles for loss, tallied three sacks, and had two interceptions. Cichy had another standout game after getting another chance to show his abilities with three tackles for loss and two sacks. McEvoy showed his ability to find the ball with two interceptions -- his third and fourth of the season. To wrap up a nice day for the defense, redshirt sophomore defensive end Chikwe Obasih had a quiet, but great game. He racked up four tackles, 1.5 of which were for loss. As the rest of the guys have already stated, the other things that went right had to be the play of special teams (minus any punting from Drew Meyer), and the offense, particularly Stave's play, in the second half. Stave was 12-of-16 for 168 yards and a touchdown.

THE BAD: A win's a win, but what didn't go right?

Neal: We all knew the offensive line was going to be a work in progress. Three freshman starters and injuries to the starting center have a significant impact it turns out, but the struggles in the first half were more than anticipated. On two separate 3rd-and-2 runs, not only were the Badgers unable to pick up the first down, but they did not gain any positive yards on either. Without question, much of the offensive struggles can be traced back to inconsistent line play and against Maryland, particularly in the first and second quarters, the inexperience was on full display.

Jon: When Stave throws across his body, things do not go well. I would have to LOOK AT THE TAPE, but I think the majority of Stave's interceptions this year have come on throws he made across his body to the left. Because his release is so long, it gives the defenders a lot of time to react to the throw and close the gap on the receiver (or in the case of Maryland, step in front of the throw). I know crossing routes make Chryst happy, but he needs to reconsider the four to five plays he runs a game that often lead to Stave interceptions or near interceptions. Stave has been great on the 15-30 yard throws, but unfortunately, he rarely gets the time to let those plays develop. I cannot honestly recall, in the history of my fandom, a Wisconsin three and out that featured three sacks in a row. That is unfathomable.

Owen: As a former offensive lineman, this group can be very frustrating to watch. The potential is there, but the inconsistency is baffling. As much of a Stave apologist as I am, he really has had no shot at times this season. As Max mentioned, on a drive where he dropped back three times, Stave was sacked three times. That's inexcusable. It's not that they can't pass block -- it's the lack of communication on picking up blitzes and in slide protections that's killing them. Also, another thing that will come with experience, the kids are pressing. They know they're not playing well, so rather than let the game come to them, they're over-extending trying to kill the defensive lineman rather than just block him, and they whiff and that's where we see the negative plays. Not to pick on him, but redshirt junior Walker Williams personifies this. They'll improve, but the growing pains are exactly that, painful.

Max: Schobert led the team in rushing and Stave was sacked four times, which included a series that saw him sacked on three straight downs. Maryland does have an excellent pass rush and some talent on its defensive line, but it wasn't a good day for UW's young and developing offensive line. They collectively improved in the second half, but the Badgers were fortunate not to have been in a deeper hole when the half ended at 17-17. I still have misgivings about Wisconsin's corners in coverage; there were several plays on which all three cover men -- Darius Hillary, Sojourn Shelton, and Derrick Tindal -- were beaten. Even if Maryland's receivers could hang on to some of those balls, they had position against the particular defender much more often than not. Will Shelton ever record another interception? Ever? They should be fine against the remaining schedule, but it is concerning.

Luke: Not sure what hasn't been mentioned that I can add, but I'll sure try. As Jon pointed out, sometimes the decisions Stave makes are so confusing. Neal and Owen couldn't have been more right about the play of the offensive line, which really is baffling at times. This is Wisconsin after all, the land of beer, cheese, and beef-fed offensive lineman! Max nailed it with the concern over the four sacks (three coming on consecutive plays) and Schobert being their leading rusher. When you allow one sack, you think okay let's not let that happen again. When it happens two plays in a row, you have to think, on third down we will do anything to not let this happen again. When it happens three times in a row, you really have to question the unit as a whole. That series was an clear and utter disappointment. Schobert being the team's leading rusher is another disappointment for the offensive line, and shows the true difficulty that the Badgers have to find success with a depleted group of running backs. The only thing I think I can point out that is different than what everyone else went with is the play of Meyer. This just really confuses me, as I'm sure it does for others. How a guy who looked very promising could fall from grace and be so inconsistent. It looked for a time that he had turned the corner and fixed his issues (even being named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week), but his up and down performance has returned. You just have to wonder when the Badgers give P.J. Rosowski gets a chance in a game. Saturday seemed like the perfect time to give the backup punter a chance after watching shank after shank.

TEAM MVP: who gets the nod for the road win?

Neal: Cichy continues the season tradition of backup inside linebacker playing well in place of injured starter. Getting the nod ahead of an injured Orr for the second game, Cichy finished with ten tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks. Biegel and Schobert are definitely on offensive coordinator's radar when it comes to handling the Badger defense. Cichy has capitalized on that focus and become a disruptive force in his own right. Dave Aranda's attacking defense has plenty of room for playmakers at the linebacker spot. The development of Cichy is just another weapon for Aranda to have in his already dangerous defensive arsenal.

Jon: I can get aboard the coaches as the MVP Train here. The first half was, to put it gently, atrocious. I give Chryst a lot of credit for calling the fake punt when he did, as I am not sure Wisconsin scores an offensive touchdown in the first half. Aranda's defense played against two completely different types of quarterbacks, despite likely preparing for just one. Good coaching is best defined as what you do when what you had planned to do fails (feel free to write that out in italics in an Instagram post and post it during a bad day at work). What Chryst and his staff had planned for the first half failed, and they adjusted. Erickson was moved around in the formation. Deal was brought in to establish an inside presence missed during the first half. Again, this is not your classic Wisconsin team, but you have to admire their ability to win despite being pieced together from three different coaching regimes.

Owen: I mentioned it a bit earlier, but I'm gonna give this one to Coach Chryst. In the first half, his offense looked anemic, and he and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph's halftime adjustments were just what the doctor ordered. Moving Erickson from the outside to the slot to get him off of Maryland cornerback Will Likely was huge. Anything to get Maryland out of that bump and run coverage. Just like Illinois, they started in press-man and pinned their ears back, and they struggled mightily. Stave simply isn't accurate enough to compensate for the lack of separation by the receivers and the lack of time he has to get rid of the ball. Again, Chryst made adjustments, and just as Bart Houston had success after early struggles, Stave had the same luck yesterday.

Max: Neal went first, so Cichy's taken I suppose -- he'd be my choice with his two sacks. Cichy will ameliorate some of the concerns next season at outside linebacker after Schobert graduates. But since I should pick someone else, I'll go with Erickson. As I watch these games, I get frustrated that there isn't a wider variety of players that touch the ball, especially when the offense struggles as it did in the first half on Saturday -- but there's Erickson, Mr. Reliable, telling me to calm down. He finished with five catches for 85 yards, but each of the five was critical when it happened. Don't know if he'll be Steve Largent (Matt Millen' comparison FWIW), but he's a darn good receiver for this team.

Luke: I'm going to go with an unpopular pick, but give the nod to Stave. After a miserable first half that had many Badgers fans screaming at the top of their lungs for the return of Houston, he rebounded like you'd hope a four-year starter would. As I mentioned earlier, Stave followed a 3-for-8 first half with a 12-for-16 second half. He provided a spark for the team through the air after immediately making connections with his receivers to start the second half. He deserves criticism for that head scratching interception and the first half play, but also deserves praise for the way he responded.


Neal: Twitter

Jon: Chores?

Owen: HAVING A LIFE, I mean Twitter.

Max: Podcasting

Luke: Kohls Shopping Spree?

For real though, going to Nashville to watch Kentucky take on Vanderbilt. One of my best friends from high school is the long snapper for UK and I finally get to see him play in person. Hoping for a win so the Wildcats are one win away from being bowl eligible for the the first time in his college career. Shoutout to big number 59, Kelly Mason!

Jake: Herding cats...I mean my three kids, including two 11-month old twins