Boy, was it nice to see No. 44 back roaming the middle of that 3-4 defense that continues to give fits to opposing offenses. Chris Borland returned to the lineup against BYU and proved why he's the best defensive player in the conference and arguably the best linebacker in the country -- what a player, what a leader, what a Badger.
James White was special, too. I've long called him the consummate college tailback, but he's deserving of a more noteworthy descriptor after the game he had Saturday. What a performance he put together.
Wisconsin's four-quarter consistency could use some improvement, but at least the Badgers rectified their slow start against Iowa and came out of the gates with a masterful first drive against the Cougars. The same can't be said for the way Wisconsin finished, as there was a clear lapse in the game's closing minutes.
Other than those final few drives, there isn't a whole lot we can dissect and scrutinize after a more dominating win than the 27-7 score indicates, but we've got to do it. Here is your Monday-after diagnosis.
What we liked
An 11-play, 76-yard drive to start off your first home game in nearly a month is just what you would want to draw up, and Wisconsin did just that.
The Badgers' great first drive set the tone and was ultimately the highlight for me on Saturday. White's 27-yard catch down to the goal line after he emptied out of the backfield was the most highlight-worthy play of the drive, but Joel Stave's strike to Jordan Frederick on 3rd-and-13 was the most important.
After the Badgers, and Stave in particular, struggled so mightily on third down the week prior at Iowa, this was a momentum-swinging play early in the game. If that first down doesn't get picked up, Drew Meyer is out to punt into a stiff breeze deep in his own territory. I don't want to get speculative, but given Meyer's struggles punting into the wind the past two weeks, that third-down throw from Stave was arguably his best and most crucial of the day.
You also have to note the exceptional play yet again from Wisconsin's defense, especially as Borland and company completely limited the effectiveness of dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill. Hill entered Saturday's contest averaging 358 yards from scrimmage per game, and the Badgers held him to about 100 yards under that mark. The Cougars quarterback made a few plays late with his legs and his arm, but Wisconsin's ability to hold him to a meager 60 yards of total offense at the half allowed the Badgers to jump to their 17-3 lead after the first 30 minutes.
What needs to improve
I mentioned this in the introduction, but Wisconsin's consistency from quarter to quarter really needs to get better. The Badgers are too talented of a football team to put together a great drive and then have the next four possessions all last three plays or less. With Wisconsin continually being disrespected in the BCS rankings, the Badgers honestly need to revert back to the... dare I say it, Bret Bielema days and just steamroll their next three opponents in almost brutal fashion. That might be the only way the Badgers get to No. 14 in the final BCS standings -- by obliterating the remaining competition.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin's offense is mired in too much inconsistency for that to happen. The Badgers seem to summon a great level of urgency at the end of the first half when they're in the two-minute drill, but that urgency needs to be present throughout the game. Wisconsin should have buried BYU in the fourth quarter, but the Badgers had the ball for just 11 plays in the final 15 minutes, with each of the three drives ending in punts. Those 11 plays resulted in just 41 yards -- you can't take your foot off the gas pedal when you're trying to make a major move up the BCS ladder.
Which player impressed?
I also gave the answer to this question away with a little foreshadowing in the introduction. Two options here: White or Borland. One's the offensive star from Saturday, the other's the defensive.
Here's a look at their numbers: Borland recorded 13 tackles, two sacks and 2 1/2 tackles for loss -- each statistic was tops in that respective category for the Badgers. On the other side of the ball, White had 194 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.
Both players were fantastic on Saturday, but my answer on this day is White. The senior tailback seems to have regained that quick cutting ability that looked a tad slower last season, and it's been fun to see, particularly the past two weeks. White had a couple of upfield cuts off his right foot that left would-be BYU tacklers in the dust, and he's now equaled Melvin Gordon in rushing touchdowns with 11.
I know we're all excited by the prospects of a Gordon-Corey Clement backfield or, knock-on-wood, a Joe Mixon-Clement backfield, but take a second to admire the body of work that White has put together. He's been nothing but productive throughout his career, and that shouldn't be overlooked.
Which player underwhelmed?
I don't think there was a single player I can truly say I was underwhelmed with Saturday. Obviously, I still believe that Stave needs to show more improvement from game to game, but the guy was 23-of-32 through the air while dealing with a fairly stiff breeze much of the day. Plus, he's seen the brunt of my critiques a ton this year.
Kenzel Doe still doesn't know how to be an effective wide receiver, and I guess that's frustrating. Doe can be dynamic in space, but he's also prone to mental miscues and that fumble in the first quarter right after the Badgers forced a turnover of their own was unacceptable. The shifty return man did have a big punt return in the third quarter to gain some positive points back from me, but that's all he is at this point -- a quality kick and punt returner.
If I could peg an entire unit as underwhelming, it would undoubtedly be that young and inconsistent secondary. BYU's star wideout Cody Hoffman ended the game with seven catches for 113 yards and two scores. Dezmen Southward, Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary all tried their luck against him, but not one had much success. Wisconsin's secondary will need to work through some of those issues this week with Indiana coming to town. The Hoosiers will be the final pass-first offense the Badgers face this year, and the secondary will need to be able to at least hold its own.
The improved, albeit defensively-challenged Indiana Hoosiers are next on the slate for Wisconsin.
Kevin Wilson is an offensive guru, and you can see that with IU averaging the 12th-most passing yards per game (327.4) in the country and the 10th-most points per game (43.1). Indiana's head coach said before the season began that his Hoosiers would be able to move the football this year, and they've certainly proven that to be the case.
Indiana's 527 yards of total offense per game are good for 8th-most in the country, showing the Hoosiers have found something that clicks offensively. The question is, will Wisconsin slow them down?
Prediction: Yes, I think the Badgers do contain Indiana's high-powered attack, rather easily in fact. Wisconsin has really improved against no-huddle offenses as this year has progressed, with Saturday's performance against BYU a solid example.
As long as you force Indiana into quick three-and-outs, you can pound away on the ground with White and Gordon to eat massive amounts of clock. Wisconsin does just that en route to a 45-27 win at Camp Randall Stadium.