MADISON — After stumbling through most of the game offensively, the Wisconsin Badgers (3-0) were able to stave (see what I did there?) off the Georgia State Panthers (0-3) in a 23-17 win at Camp Randall Stadium.
Here are three things we learned from UW’s uncomfortably close win to close out their non-conference schedule.
There could definitely (but probably not) be a quarterback controversy in Madison
Bart Houston struggled to find a rhythm against Georgia State, unlike a week ago against Akron. Houston, who completed 10-of-18 passes for 91 yards, labored to move the ball into the third quarter and a change was made. Alex Hornibrook was inserted into the game and sparked Wisconsin’s first scoring drive, but an interception (that wasn’t his fault necessarily) led to the Panthers going up 17-13 in the fourth quarter.
The redshirt freshman showed his poise thereafter, then leading the Badgers on the go-ahead touchdown drive, culminating with a touchdown pass to fellow redshirt freshman Kyle Penniston. On the day, he completed 8-of-12 for 122 yards and one touchdown.
“He did what he was supposed to do. Coming in, having to step up and make some plays, he did everything we need him to do to get the victory,” senior wide receiver Robert Wheelwright said.
This will be an interesting process moving forward to see who head coach Paul Chryst decides to go with under center. He acknowledged after the game that Houston is still the starter right now, and he’s “not planning anything right now other than appreciating this win.”
The defense looked human, for a change
Despite being solid for the most part, three huge plays after the catch gashed the Badgers’ defense, with the tackling in the secondary leaving a bit to be desired. Georgia State reeled off completions of 60, 40 and 38 yards.
Aside from suffocating the Panthers’ run game for most of the game—holding their opponent to 33 yards rushing, the lowest total since Hawaii ran for 15 yards on Sept. 15, 2015—the Badgers’ stop unit had a let down in the red zone, allowing their third offensive touchdown of the season (an impressive statistic, nonetheless).
“They were able to get some really explosive plays off so hats off to those guys. They’re a really good team,” senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton. “We kind of needed a performance like this, as far as having to deal with adversity. I think we handled it well.”
Lack of play-making could be an issue without Clement
It was overwhelmingly obvious that without Corey Clement in the lineup, other teams simply aren’t afraid of the Badgers’ passing attack. Georgia State put eight or nine defenders in the box consistently, and without Clement in the game, the Badgers looked fairly ordinary. The Panthers’ odd front kept the chunk plays out of the rushing attack and made the Badgers march down the field.
This certainly wasn’t the “tune up” that many were looking for heading into East Lansing next weekend. Despite their No. 9 ranking, the Badgers looked sloppy at times, and to be honest looked very flat throughout most of the game. All units will have to be sharpened up if Wisconsin looks to upset Michigan State next Saturday in what could be a catalyst game for the season in Madison.
“After the game, I told them I appreciate what they did,” Chryst said. “It was good to find a way to win. It's hard to win and appreciate that. Certainly, there's areas—and believe this for every week—that we can get better, and we need to take those steps.”