You probably hoped the Arizona State disaster would be a faint memory by this point, perhaps just an unfortunate footnote to Gary Andersen’s inaugural campaign.
But Wisconsin’s 51-3 thrashing of Indiana at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday was convincing proof of just how much these Badgers have improved over the last 10 weeks. They rushed for 554 yards -- yes, it came against the fifth-worst FBS rushing defense 00 -- but it's still an immense number. This team has molded into something very similar to the 2010 Rose Bowl team, from the maulers up front to the multiple thousand-yard rushers to an athletic tight end.
Yet it’s all for naught. As the ESPN announcers cruelly reminded us as the finally seconds ticked off the clock, this will be a season centered on what could have been. It was Wisconsin’s most dominant performance of the year, so let’s pull out of this momentary of depression for grades.
Joel Stave threw the ball 15 times, so there’s not much to break down. He was serviceable and made a great read on that near-touchdown, 61-yard pass to Jacob Pedersen in the third quarter. Pedersen was miles ahead of the linebacker assigned to him.
Stave’s final line -- 7-of-15 for 122 yards -- was good enough, but he was off-target on several throws in the second quarter. Notably, he had Jared Abbrederis open down the left sideline, surely a touchdown if he can hit him in stride, but it sailed out of bounds.
Running backs: A+
I pity Indiana’s defense. They must play about as many snaps as any college defense, they’re undersized and they must live through games like this, when they serve up 554 rushing yards.
It was ugly from start, when James White squeezed through a tight lane and romped into the end zone 93 yards later. White was the star of this game, and deservedly so, as the 208 rushing yards on 20 carries were a career-high. He even had the key block on Abbrederis' third-quarter end-around for a score.
After backpedaling each of the last two weeks, Melvin Gordon was full speed ahead. He was at his best: ridiculously fast and physical. His 44-yard run in the first was particularly wonderful, as he stiff armed the oncoming defender for the final 10 yards. Gordon's only misstep was that third-quarter fumble, easy to forget on a day when the dynamic duo joined John Clay and White in 2010 as the only Badger backs to rush for at least 1,000 yards in the same season.
True freshman Corey Clement didn’t even take a handoff until the latter half of the third, and he ran for 109 yards and had two of the running backs’ four touchdowns. Is that good?
Wide receivers: B
For the first time since 2010, Abbrederis did not catch a ball in a game. He made up for it, of course, with the first and second rushing touchdowns of his career and 86 rushing yards on those runs around the right edge that duped the Hoosiers’ D. That was really what carried this group.
Jeff Duckworth was the only other receiver to log a reception.
Offensive line: A
The more time I spend with non-Badger fans, the more I realize the way Wisconsin fans glorify the O-line is by no means normal. Only in Madison can you play left guard and truly be a household name.
The big boys were masterful Saturday, particularly along the left side where tackle Tyler Marz and guard Ryan Groy rolled out the red carpet for White and Gordon. Wildly outsized and outmatched, Indiana’s D-line turned into bowling pins and it was oh so much fun to watch.
They were also responsible for exactly zero penalties. Shades of 2010, anyone? (I know, I know, they're not that good.)
Tight ends: A-
Pedersen couldn’t match his six catches against BYU, but he was still excellent. Whether he ran out of gas or thought he was home free when he got pulled down 2 yards shy of the goal line -- a drive that ended with a field goal — that play demonstrated why he has major NFL potential.
By my count, Pedersen didn’t have any drops and that’s one of his most glaring downfalls. The only knock: he was flagged for two of the Badgers’ three penalties. Even fifth-year senior Brock DeCicco reeled in a 16-yard catch, his since 2010.
Play calling: B+
Why get fancy when there’s no need to? The offensive line ruled the line of scrimmage with such a firm hand that offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig could keep things simple. It was also the smartest plan of attack given the drizzle-filled, foggy-camera-lens conditions.
The tricky handoffs to Abbrederis were a nice finishing touch, and I’d love to see those again come bowl season.
Defensive line: A-
The Hoosiers ran for just 102 yards, and no player averaged more than 4.4 yards per carry. Quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson often took off so quick there wasn’t time to get up in their grill, perhaps explaining why the Badgers didn’t record a sack.
Stopping Indiana on 1st-and-goal from the 1 was duly impressive, too.
Wisconsin’s defense turned Indiana’s "NASCAR" attack into an ugly 16-car pile-up, complete with multiple fumbled snaps and handoffs.
It wasn’t that the linebackers alone were responsible for such disruption, but as usual, they led the charge. Chris Borland had a team-high 10 tackles and 1 1/2 tackles for a loss while Derek Landisch and Conor O’Neill each added five tackles.
Hopefully I’m not the only one holding out hope that freshman Sojourn Shelton will spark a revival for the Wisconsin secondary. Shelton’s first-quarter interception was his fourth this year and crushed the Hoosiers’ surprisingly methodical opening drive.
Sudfield and Roberson combined to complete just 40 percent of their passes and safety Dezmen Southward dropped another potential interception in the fourth quarter. I don't think Tanner McEvoy has earned sufficient recognition for his development as a defensive back. No. 17 seemed to flash across the screen on every other play Saturday.
Special teams: B-
That Wisconsin attempted three field goals and connected on all three is, in itself, an achievement. Disregard that they were for 31, 36 and 26 yards, because any progress is good progress.
The major boo-boo was Kenzel Doe’s muffed punt return in the second quarter, even though it had no repurcussions.