A week after their season-opening loss to an impressive No. 2 Alabama team, the Wisconsin Badgers took the field at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday for the first time in 2015 and learned that, well, the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks are not the Crimson Tide.
While certain strengths were apparent against the Crimson Tide, there were clear areas of improvement. Against Miami --one of the lowest-ranked FBS teams -- Wisconsin had a prime opportunity to shore up various parts of its game during a 58-0 win.
1. The defense flew around
All off-season, the talk around the Badgers' defense was turnovers. After forcing 17 (11 fumbles and six interceptions, 10th in the Big Ten) last season, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda made improving upon that a primary focus of fall camp.
Against Alabama, Wisconsin didn't force any takeaways -- in large part because the Tide just didn't allow for those opportunities.
The Badgers reversed fortunes Saturday, coming away with four turnovers from the RedHawks. Things got underway with a fumble recovery off a Drew Meyer punt in the first quarter. Leo Musso had two interceptions and Tanner McEvoy added a pick of his own as the defense shut Miami out.
Wisconsin didn't have a three-interception game since 2011. Saturday, the Badgers held Miami to -3 rushing yards. That is a negative sign by the numeral, yes. Only 13 of 34 passes were completed against the secondary (Darius Hillary was quietly great again, mostly because he was rarely targeted). Regardless of the quality of opponent, it was clearly a step in the right direction for the Badgers.
2. Options, Joel! Options!
As expected, quarterback Joel Stave and wide receiver Alex Erickson connected often. Erickson finished with five receptions for 73 yards. But in another impressive showing from Stave -- aside from a poorly underthrown interception -- it was the other names that led to the biggest takeways.
Robert Wheelwright (ALL HE DOES IS CATCH TOUCHDOWNS) led the team with six grabs for 79 yards and two scores. The second touchdown grab came on an impressive 15-yard back shoulder strike with 53 seconds left in the first half. The chemistry and timing between Wheelwright and Stave appears to be high, and that grab was a prime example.
Tight end Austin Traylor worked extensively on improving his hands this off-season, and it showed once again on a 20-yard touchdown down the seam in the second quarter. Jazz Peavy also had two catches and the backs were still a part of the gameplan, as Dare Ogunbowale finished with three catches while starting in place of the injured Corey Clement.
But the real stand out from Saturday may have been...
3. Wide receiver/safety/all-around playmaker Tanner McEvoy
Wisconsin displayed its dynamic threat McEvoy in just about every facet of the game. He lined up in the backfield and took a direct snap early on, caught three passes for 29 yards and made a great read and ensuing 41-yard scamper on an interception.
McEvoy was limited against Alabama, and showed that he can be one of the various weapons on offense for the Badgers. Defensively, his athleticism was simply too much for Miami. Aside from the interception, he had a pass breakup and laid the hit that helped lead to Musso's first pick.
Between McEvoy, Musso and Michael Caputo, the Badgers could have a group of dynamic playmakers at safety.