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Wisconsin vs. Alabama: Badgers' Passing game takes step forward, running game suffocated

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Surprisingly, it was Wisconsin's passing game that kept the offense alive against Alabama.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers' offense was stymied in many ways Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Dallas against arguably the best defense in the nation from the Alabama Crimson Tide, but not all was doom and gloom for head coach Paul Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph.

Here's a look at the numbers behind Wisconsin's offense and some thoughts on how the Badgers might improve.

A look at the numbers

Total offensive yards: 268
Total number of plays: 60
Passing yards: 228
Rushing yards: 40
Yards per carry: 1.9
Third-down conversions: 6-of-14
Average per completion: 8.8
Badgers who caught passes: 8
Badgers wide receivers who caught passes: 3
Receptions caught by receivers: 9

The Good

Joel Stave and the passing game. The former walk-on showed significant improvements in his accuracy and placement of the ball. On that 23-yard completion to redshirt senior wide Alex Erickson at the end of the first half, Erickson wasn't even into his cut when Stave threw the ball. He trusted his receiver to get open in the right space and make the play. Aside from a couple of errant throws -- including a bad decision interception during garbage time -- he had a solid start against a top-five defense.

Pass protection. The Badgers did allow some sacks that disrupted drives, but with three sacks against such a vaunted front seven, you can call this a win. Stave stayed upright for the most part, and when given time, he delivered a solid, catchable ball when needed.

Running backs making contributions to the passing game. Dare Ogunbowale, Derek Watt, Corey Clement and Taiwan Deal all caught passes from Stave that contributed to 14 of his 26 completions. Yes, you'd like to see more wide receivers making the receptions, but it's nice to see the fullback in Watt be utilized within this pro-style offense more. Expect him to be a big factor in the passing game for the rest of the season.

The Bad

No receptions for Tanner McEvoy. Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst noted in his post-game press conference that the redshirt senior wide receiver/safety hybrid was "a little bit banged up coming into it." It was reported last week that McEvoy suffered a leg injury, but Chryst also noted the offense needs to have him more involved. It would have been nice to have a 100-percent healthy McEvoy on both sides of the ball (especially with the head injury to senior safety Michael Caputo three plays into the game), giving the Badgers a deep and red-zone threat aside Erickson and junior Robert Wheelwright. Wisconsin averaged only 5.8 yards per attempt.

Groin "tweak" to Clement. Wisconsin's most valuable offensive player suffered a groin injury Tuesday, which substantially hurt the running game's chances of making any sort of impact. The Badgers have three home games against Miami (Ohio), Troy and Hawaii before opening the Big Ten Conference schedule against Iowa on Oct. 3. There's no timetable for when he could be back to 100 percent (as a side note, Clement said he was about 70, 75 percent on Saturday night for the game).

The running game as a whole. The Badgers did face one of the best defenses in the nation with an offensive line still working to find its identity and cohesiveness, but UW only gained 40 yards total and averaged 1.9 yards per carry. Clement's injury didn't help, but the junior could only do so much without any holes to run through if he was healthy. Ogunbowale and Deal couldn't get anything more than a 5-yard carry at most. The running game won't be asked to carry offense like last season's record-setting team, but when your leading rusher is a wide receiver (Erickson) who took a fly sweep 25 yards in garbage time, it's 1) a testament to a very good Bama defense and 2) an inexperienced offensive line whose first test against a major opponent didn't fare well in the slightest. The good thing is that, like Clement's injury, they have a few weeks to continue to hone the group before the Hawkeyes and Huskers kick off the conference schedule.