Wisconsin was in the driver’s seat most of the night against LSU. They looked to be on the verge of a breakthrough win for their program and their conference. Instead, they fell apart in the fourth quarter. LSU outscored the Badgers 15-0 and outgained them 136-19 in the final stanza. My deep thoughts on the game:
1.) The Badgers feature an athletic, yet smallish 3-4 defense, but they were forced to go even smaller in the LSU game when Konrad Zagzebski went out midway through the first half and Warren Herring was knocked out of the game on the final play of the third quarter. The departure of the latter served as the straw that broke the Badgers back. Before Herring’s injury, LSU had rushed for 44 yards on 32 carries. After he left, that production surged to 15 carries for 86 yards in the final quarter. That figure is weighed down by a 10-yard loss on an errant pitch, so it’s 14 for 96 without that play.
Herring isnt a huge immovable object run stopper. He’s quick off the ball, adept at shooting into gaps and flowing bodies out of the tackling gaps to give his linebackers a clear shot and, on a defensive front that is not very deep, plays almost every snap. Wisconsin coped with Zagzebski’s absence on most downs by first going larger, playing Herring as an end along side his backup on the depth chart, 290-lb Arthur Goldberg, in the middle with Chikwe Obasih on the other side. They also used a lot of subtle presnap movement to thwart the Tigers size edge. Without Herring, they tried to play small ball, putting Goldberg on the bench and using Obasih and Alec James on the interior as the only two lineman in the front. That’s a pair of redshirt freshmen, weighing 268 and 259 respectively. It was a dime-type of look, so they also sat Marcus Trotter, who had been making playings in run support all night, for Michael Trotter. LSU took one look at this and shoved the ball right down their throat, scoring on three running plays of 17, 8 and 28 yards. That go ahead touchdown felt like a checkmate, even though there was still 9:41 left in the game since the Badgers offense had already died because……
2.)……their passing game sucked. How bad was it? Well, the effort was sponsored by the Association Of Horrid Michigan Quarterbacking In Big Game From The 1970s. That’s a mouthful. But if you younger Wolverine fans were looking for a visual on what Rick Leach’s 1976 Orange Bowl looked like, Tanner McEvoy delivered his own adaptation. The grisly final line: 8/24, 50 yards, 2.1 yards per attempt and 2 picks. It’s not all on him. His targets rarely got separation and several times there was obvious miscommunication between QB and WR. The Badgers attempted maybe a half dozen deep balls and none were even close, including a couple moonshots that were nowhere near a WR or, thankfully, a DB. You know how sometimes those type of throws get picked off and you rationalize it as the equivalent of a long punt? The interception McEvoy tossed to set up the Tigers game winning TD was like the equivalent of shanked punt off the side of your foot. I dont know what the end game is here for this spot. It’s not like Joel Stave would have threatened 250 yards had he played, but he’s the better passer of the two.
3.) Melvin Gordon ran for 85 yards on 13 carries in the first half. On the very first play of the second half, he burst untouched off the right side and bolted for 63 yards setting up a Badger touchdown. So that’s 14 carries, 148 yards and a smidge over ten yards a pop. So, of course, he only had two more carries the rest of the game. Translation: The Badgers played the whole second half with zero threat in the passing game and perhaps the best tailback in the nation out of the game plan. After the game, both coach and player knocked down any injury talk. On Monday, Badger coach Gary Anderson said there was a hip injury they were trying to manage. Which is it, guys? He didn’t say Gordon was ruled out of the game, however, so I think it’s fair to be skeptical of the coaches here. Regardless, the outcome of the game could have been different with another 7-10 carries from Gordon. He was that dominant.
4.) Until the fourth quarter collapse, the Badgers defense was every bit the story as Gordon’s running or McEvoy’s lack of passing. They had nine TFLs, a figure only nine other squads exceeded in Week One. Their linebackers were everywhere, especially Marcus Trotter and Joe Schobert, who combined for 20 tackles and 4 TFLs. Safety Michael Caputo was a force near the line of scrimmage and ended with 15 tackles. The corners were solid. The Badgers had one of the league’s best back 7s a year ago. They still do this year. As long as Herring isnt out for a long time, the overall defense should be in the team photo for best in conference as well.
5.) Despite the loss, I would still feel confident in any Over 9.5 regular season wins betting ticket you may have on the Badgers. They’re going to roll their next eight opponents: Western Illinois, Bowling Green, USF, at Northwestern, Illinois, Maryland, at Rutgers and at Purdue. Do you want wo predictions from that stretch? Of course, you do! They win each by double digits and in four of those games they have multiple 100-yard rushers. If they split Nebraska and at Iowa right after that run, all you need is a home win against Minnesota to nab a 10th win and get over that 9.5 hurdle. At last check, the Games Of The Year Board listed the Badgers as pretty solid chalk in all three of those stretch run games: vs. Nebraska, -9.5, at Iowa -4.5, vs. Minnesota, -12.5. Winning out is on the table for Wisconsin. And if they can pull it off, combined with just enough fall carnage around the rest of the country, they might crash the top-10 and at least be in the playoff discussion headed into the Big 10 Championship Game.