Hey, hi, hello, did you miss me?
I won’t bore you with the details of my absence, but suffice it to say the Wisconsin Badgers taking it to No. 5 LSU for the majority of the game on Saturday provided a massive amount of succor for my well-being. Any positive adjective you can think of — that game was it.
What does it mean for the season, though? Most people going into the season would have probably taken some semblance of 8-4 or 7-5 as Wisconsin’s record. The schedule was going to be so tough, and the offense doesn’t have a quarterback, and the team has over 60 freshmen. It was gonna be difficult.
Instead of 16-14, however, that score could have easily been double digits. The Badgers took it to a very talented team. Expectations can’t help but change, but are we talking about a team that’s gonna go into the Big House and take down Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverine? Let’s break it down and see.
Reasons for improvement
Corey Clement averaged four yards per carry against a Dave Aranda defense.
While an Aranda-led defense is usually infinitely more dangerous after the installation season, in his first year at Wisconsin there was only one team that was able to manage more than the 4.3 yards per carry without one singular chunk putting up half the yardage. If you guessed that it came against Ohio State in that 2013 season, you’d be right. Wisconsin average 4.3 yards per carry on Saturday.
What this shows is that Clement is a professional level running back, and whatever ailed the offensive line seems to be cured. Aranda absolutely knew what was coming, and had the horses to stop it — and yet they couldn’t. With good health, they can run on anyone.
The Troy Fumagalli breakout game
The one thing that gave Aranda-led defenses fits in season one was a big, athletic receiver. And for the first time in a while, the Badgers had multiple possibilities for a pass catcher to step up. While senior Robert Wheelwright had a solid game — but one where the inconsistent hands came back into play — tight end Troy Fumagalli turned that breakout potential we all saw into a 100-yard receiving game. Inexperienced quarterbacks tend to lean on their tight ends, and with Fumagalli, the Badgers do have an option that they can turn to when they need to pass.
The defense came to play
Yes, all-world running back Leonard Fournette rushed for 138 yards as a part of 257 yards of total offense, but he didn’t cross the end zone. When the situation came down to everybody knowing what was coming and the Badgers trying to stop it, Fournette was stopped.
Add to that the undersized cornerbacks handling the tall talented receivers of LSU to the tune of eight catches for 74 yards and their lone offensive touchdown, along with the team getting three sacks and three turnovers, and you have a defense that seems to have maintained that mojo from last season.
Bart Houston’s interceptions were on terrible throws
I’m not going to bring it back to the seven-year reign of Joel Stave too hard. After all, Houston was able to move the ball with his feet in a way Stave couldn’t. On the whole, it was a performance that does not make one forget about what the passing game was last year. A shade over 60 percent of the passes were completed, and the two interceptions were on a throw into triple coverage in the end zone and a jumped route returned for a touchdown. He’s definitely got a short memory, but the awareness is definitely a danger that will likely jump up and cost the Badgers a game.
Not every quarterback is going to react to the pressure like Brandon Harris
That’s not to say that most won’t. In fact, it’s entirely possible that you’ll get the likes of Michigan State’s Tyler O’Connor and Michigan’s Wilton Speight off their game if the pressure the Badgers generate is commensurate with what they generated at Lambeau Field.
The Badgers are definitely going to face much better offensive minds than LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron as the season goes along as well. Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox brought his "A "game to the party for week one, but it still wasn’t enough to get me to believe they could harass a player as skilled as Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett.
All in all, you can tweak the expectations uphill, especially when you add the fact that Michigan State struggled to put away Furman, and Miami (Ohio) won the yardage, time of possession, and first down battle with Iowa despite losing 45-24. Western Michigan took down Northwestern in Evanston, and if they can do it, why not Wisconsin?
This is still a very young team, not likely going to be a BCS contender quite yet, but if you’re thinking UW can take down another big school or two along the way and get to double digit wins after a win like this — you’re absolutely correct.
This team could return 16 starters next season. A big run’s coming.