We can try and assess Wisconsin all we want from an outsider’s perspective. I’ve seen a grand total of four halves of Wisconsin this year – 2 vs LSU, one against Western Illinois and one against USF. Three of those four have been miserable halves. The fact is, the halves I haven’t seen are such an extreme opposite it is pretty unfair for me to judge. Consider last week. Wisconsin goes in to halftime 3-3 against a weak South Florida team. Then, Melvin Gordon simply carries the team on his back for a 24-point second half explosion. Northwestern’s inconsistency is more concise – they’ve played terribly for three game and very good for one. Wisconsin has been Jekyl and Hyde within the same games.
So, to get the expert inside opinion we reached out to Wisconsin blog, Bucky’s 5th Quarter and Andrew Rosin was kind enough to play the role of Chief Bucky Educator for us. Let’s dive in….
LTP: Slow starts. Let’s discuss. The Badgers have had a disturbing trend of letting lesser teams hang around for a half before Melvin Gordon takes over and the Badgers’ line wears teams down. What’s behind this? Do you think Gordon’s halftime “pep talk” will carry over to this week in Evanston? What’s the inside scoop?
B5Q: There’s no one aspect that can truly be blamed for a slow start. At least here. Week 2 it can be blamed on the fact that week one Tanner McEvoy had a problem getting any passing done against LSU. And as you saw, Western Illinois may be an FCS team, but they’re not going to be a team that makes it easy for you. They’ve got a smart coach and they may be making some lower level noise in the next couple of years. Week 4 and South Florida feels like a situation where they saw a tendency and took advantage of it. Because before the Badgers really got going, they had some real down and distance trouble in the game.
LTP: Melvin Gordon gets all the national ink for Wisconsin, but to me one of the early surprises is the Badgers’ defense. You’re top three in the B1G in just about every category. You’re great in rush defense, very good in pass defense and extremely good at not giving up points. What’s your take on the strengths, weaknesses and biggest concern heading in to Evanston?
B5Q: They are one of the better run-stuffing defenses in the country. They handled LSU until their lack of depth on the defensive line was exposed and some good non-power 5 backs have been shut down in Marlon Mack and Travis Greene. The passing game is great at locking down the short stuff and getting pressure on the quarterback. They have almost as many hurries through 4 games as they have had in previous recent seasons. Where they can get beat is on deeper passes. They’re allowing 7.4 yards per attempt and almost 15 yards per completion through the air.
LTP: Assess Tanner McEvoy’s play to date. Clearly he’s a really dangerous threat with his smarts and his feet, but the defensive blueprint to beat Wisconsin is pretty straight-forward. Stack the box, hope you can contain Gordon to some degree and challenge McEvoy to beat you through the air. Tell us about the progress he’s making and your thoughts on Tanner’s overall accuracy as a passer.
B5Q: McEvoy has developed one receiver where he has a consistent rapport with and he’s perfectly cromulent when he’s allowed to roll out and throw the short stuff. But yeah, there’s something to the strategy of fill the box and hope Gordon doesn’t break one open quickly. McEvoy’s deep ball is wholly theoretical and he’s, and I’m not using hyperbole here, about a billion times more accurate throwing a pass of 15 yards or less.
LTP: Wildcat fans are very aware of Corey Clement and also the ridiculous size of this line. What do you expect the run/pass ratio to be and how do you expect the rushing touches to be split between Gordon and Clement.
BFQ: The run/pass playcall ratio is likely going to be about 65/35. McEvoy’s probably going to make the run pass ratio closer to 70. As it stands, Gordon’s gonna get half the runs. Clement will get roughly 30 percent of them.
LTP: I’m not sure how much of NU you’ve seen. Here’s the concise version – train wreck on offense for three games and big play gaffes on “D” in three games. Then, Penn State happened. Siemian seemed to regain a semblance of what we thought he would be and the team played with its hair on fire on “D”. How would you assess the match-up from the Wisconsin “D” against NU’s offense?
B5Q: The Badgers match up well. Carrying a sub 3 yards per carry rushing average into this game means you’re going to have to hit some passes to win. And considering Northwestern has a predilection to throw often and throw short, this is where the Badgers remain strong. A consistent taller deep threat would cause some real issues for the Badgers.
LTP: Which story line or players are getting overshadowed by the Melvin Gordon show?
B5Q: You mentioned the defense. This defense had to replace six starters and seven from the front seven two deep. They had to rebuild their defense from scratch. There was some obvious good pieces. But right now they’ve got a defense that had very little game experience, and they’ve been mostly dominant. Derek Landisch has turned in a senior breakout season to be sure.
LTP: I sense that fans are unhappy with OC, Andy Ludwig. What’s your take on his play calling to date. Likes? Dislikes?
B5Q: I’m in the ‘Winning despite Andy Ludwig’ camp. We may never know what truly happened in the third quarter of the LSU game, but what we do know is that Ludwig kept attacking the LSU’s defense at its strength. It was a lot of deeper passes and as I said. McEvoy’s deep ball is theoretical. And when we’re talking about a lack of creativity. I’m going to give you a pro tip,. Pat Fitzgerald needs bloggers help to win games. So here it is.
The Badgers have not passed once on third and short.
If you want to know how South Florida stopped the Badgers on third and short four times in the first half, there it is. Andy Ludwig’s has a leverage problem. He knows the Badgers reputation and is willing to follow it, but he’s not willing to deviate from it. He also isn’t using Tanner McEvoy to his peak. Because let’s be honest. You have a mobile QB who’s accurate with short passes and on the run, and he’s attacking deep. Also, the Badgers have an over-reliance on Alex Erickson right now. It’s going to hurt the Badgers down the road.
So long story short? The Badgers offense isn’t going to operate at peak efficiency. So long as Andy Ludwig’s calling plays.
LTP: Which defenders should NU fans be up to speed on heading in to Saturday? Which ones most surprise you?
B5Q: I’ve already mentioned Derek Landisch. Michael Trotter’s a tackling machine who will likely end up leading the team in tackles. And if you don’t know Michael Caputo? Friend, you need to learn about him.
LTP: Joel Stave. I read on your site that he’s likely going to be named #2 this week. Considering how much trouble NU has had with multiple QBs in games this year (see: Cal, NIU) do you expect to see him play? Why or why not?
B5Q: Not likely. McEvoy hasn’t been out and out terrible. And we don’t know how either one would play without the ability to get into some kind of offensive rhythm. A road game against an opponent with a tendency to trap you isn’t the place to start.
I would end with an Andy Ludwig joke, but I’ll save that for when the results come in.