With a successful debut for Gary Andersen in the books, let's begin to look forward to his second test. The Badgers host Tennessee Tech at home this Saturday, looking to follow up their impressive rout of UMass.
However, don't get too wrapped up in these games against weak non-conference opponents. UMass is still acclimating to FBS football and is in the midst of a transitional period, so a blowout is to be expected on the part of the Badgers.
While UW proved its effectiveness in the run game and shutout the Minutemen, there will always be room for improvement. In these early non-conference games, you have to credit the Badgers' successes but focus more on the weaknesses, because stiffer competition is just around the corner (Arizona State and Ohio State).
So what are those areas of concern, or what needs to be tightened up by Saturday?
First and foremost, we need to see a better performance from sophomore quarterback Joel Stave. Even with improved play in the second half, he still only completed 53 percent of his passes (9-of-17) and didn't look all that comfortable in the pocket. Besides a couple nice deep touchdown connections with Abbrederis in the third quarter, it was a subpar start to the season for Stave.
Looking ahead to Saturday, and really the rest of the season, Stave needs to show he can be a more consistent passer and decision-maker in the pocket. Early in the UMass game, he looked down passes to Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Duckworth, which made the reads too obvious for the defense and got Abbrederis caught up in a jam. Luckily, Stave had a rushing attack behind him which piled up nearly 400 yards on the ground. Regardless, it was his first start in approximately 10 months and he still showed he can throw an effective deep ball, which is huge for spreading the field in this offense, so we'll cut him some slack this week but he has much more to prove in the coming weeks.
Although both Wisconsin's offensive and defensive lines played well on Saturday, these are areas I still expect to see a bit more from. UW controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball but didn't always get the push you might expect against a far inferior potent. Andersen mentioned this in his Monday press conference, saying his players need to improve their pad level:
"It's going to be tougher sledding as we move forward," Andersen said. "We've got a lot of things we'll have to button up. I think sometimes our pad level can still get a little lower as a whole on the offense. I would say that's also with the defense. We can get our pad level down a little bit lower, and it will help the line of scrimmages even more as we move forward."
Lastly, the special teams units need to be sharper. It begins with the Kyle French missed field goal attempt but Andersen pointed out several other areas for improvement, including kickoff coverage, PAT field goal protection and fielding punts on punt return (first question from press conference).
Some of these points may be considered nitpicking, and while everyone should enjoy 45-nothing blowouts, it's worth acknowledging which areas need immediate improvement before UW travels to Arizona State in less than two weeks.