College football has a way of doing a 180-degree turn in an instant. Consider the Wisconsin Badgers.
Just minutes into the second half of their Week 1 game against then-No. 13 ranked LSU, the Badgers jumped to a three-score lead on running back Corey Clement’s touchdown run. Wisconsin, and by extension the Big Ten, were less than two quarters away from an emphatic win over the mighty SEC and second-year head coach Gary Andersen would be presiding over a College Football Playoff favorite.
But over the subsequent 15 minutes of game time, Wisconsin’s 17-point lead turned into a 4-point deficit. In the following nine minutes, the Wisconsin Badgers offense became an ineffective mess.
The decision to start converted safety Tanner McEvoy at quarterback grew increasingly head-scratching as his inability to pass beyond a few yards allowed LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis to pack it in. The Badgers’ punishing run game was ground to a halt. And Heisman Trophy candidate Melvin Gordon was nowhere to be seen.
Well, that’s not entirely true: Gordon came on in the fourth quarter to block.
It’s unfortunate, but sometimes in college football, a few minutes is all that separates triumph and praise from defeat and criticism. And the criticism is flooding into Madison this week.
The immediate and most obvious question is why offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig abandoned Gordon in the second half. Gordon was ripping off close to a first down every time he touched the ball.
Without further context, this wasn’t a decision those familiar with Ludwig’s play-calling He had a tendency to go away from stud running back Ronnie Hillman in the coordinator’s tenure at San Diego State. Ludwig also has a proven tendency to rely on short passes out into the flat.
Operating primarily with short routes isn’t necessarily a bad thing for an offense with the quarterback issues the Wisconsin Badgers face–though that’s a whole other problem in and of itself we’ll get into later.
As for the abandonment of Gordon, Andersen said in his postgame press conference Saturday that the running back was healthy. He recanted on Monday, and Bucky’s 5th Quarter reports Gordon called it a misunderstanding.
The situation is nothing if not confounding. Gordon was not 100 percent and thus unable to shoulder the workload on the ground, yet was used in pass protection.
And as for the pass, McEvoy’s inability to do so is going to be a season-long issue–particularly with Tuesday’s revelation from Andersen that Joel Stave is “shut down,” though not for injury.
He has not reinjured anything. When he gets himself to the point where he’s ready to play, he’ll be ready to play. ‘Injured’ is probably a bad word, I guess, of choice by me that I decided to use in the press release.
“Is he injured? No. Is he ready to play right now? No. I used the word ‘injury,’ so maybe it was a bad choice of words.
Wisconsin’s worrisome woes Saturday don’t stop on the offensive end. While in the first half the Badgers held LSU to just one score, Dave Aranda can’t like that LSU’s touchdowns came on plays of 28, 36 and 80 yards.
Those aren’t exclusively on the defense. The Badgers had two injuries on the defensive line, but still performed admirably for much of the game. The Tigers’ scores of 28 and 36 were partially the byproduct of the Wisconsin offense coming off the field quickly and sending an exhausted defense back on the field.
However, that looks increasingly like a reality the Wisconsin defense will have to face throughout the campaign.
The good news for Gary Andersen? The Badgers can turn it around their outlook not quite as quickly as it went sour, but certainly playing three overmatched opponents in a row–Western Illinois, Bowling Green (now without quarterback Matt Johnson) and USF–is a start.
Wisconsin also plays just game away from Camp Randall Stadium between now and Nov. 1.
Andersen has plenty of time to remedy what’s wrong with the Wisconsin Badgers–much longer than the 27 or so minutes it took to expose their issues.