We have all heard of moral victories, but Wisconsin's 26-21 victory over Northern Iowa may qualify as a moral loss. The Panthers are a top FCS team, but Wisconsin is a top-tier FBS school and should not have found themselves in such a close game.
The game can really be divided into two parts. The first three quarters, and the first three minutes of the fourth (when Wisconsin was holding a 26-7 lead), and the final 12 minutes that saw the Badgers defense get burned twice for two long touchdown passes and the Wisconsin offense stall. In the wake of this uncomfortable Badger victory, here are grades for every starter.
It was a mostly promising start for O'Brien. He completed 19 of his 23 passes, showing he understands the playbook and has developed a good rapport with his receivers. His two touchdown performance made his Camp Randal debut fairly successful
However O'Brien did make a couple of bizarre decisions. On a 3rd-and-11 play, O'Brien decided to tuck the ball and run. There were no obvious holes in the defense ,and O'Brien failed to convert.
Later in the game on a 3rd-and-2, O'Brien again tried to scramble, yet he fell short of the marker. Maybe O'Brien slipped instead of not knowing where the first-down marker was, but either way, it is unacceptable for a player to gain only one yard on a 3rd-and-2 when they go down on their own volition.
Confused how a running back who ran for 120 yards with a touchdown to boot can get a C-? Easily, if that man is supposed to be a Heisman candidate playing an FCS school and needed 32 carries to put up those numbers.
Ball showed a surprising hesitation behind the line during most of the game. Ball also was responsible for an awful block that lead to a Danny O'Brien sack. It was the first game of the season, the line did not play well and Ball is recovering from a rather stressful offseason, so expect Ball to eventually return to his dominant self.
It was not necessarily a bad game for Ball, but success breeds expectations, and for arguably the best back in college football, "not a bad game" just won't cut it.
The Wisconsin Watt dynasty continues. While it is unclear if Watt or Sherad Cadogan is No. 1 on the depth chart, Watt definitely played a bigger role in Saturday's victory.
The converted linebacker pulled in two catches for 14 yards. Watt did let an easy grab slip through his fingers, but for a man still learning a new position, his play was brilliant. He contributed when the rock was in his hands, but more importantly, when it was not, he could be seen all over the field laying down solid blocks.
Abbrederis continues to play like one of the best receivers college football. His six catches for 84 yards coupled with his two TD grabs made him instrumental to the Wisconsin win. He managed to slip behind the coverage on both of his scoring grabs, showing just how lethal his combination of precise route running and underrated speed really is.
The only thing keeping Abbrederis from getting a perfect mark was his fumble. Luckily, the Badgers recovered, but the junior receiver knows how important protecting the ball is and really has no excuse for letting it slip out.
A starting wide receiver is expected to have more than two catches in a game. Fredrick did not play horribly, per se, but his lack of production is worrisome. With teams cheating up against the run to stop Montee Ball and slanting coverage towards the dominant Abbrederis, Fredrick really should have been able to have a better game.
Pederson was a non-factor for most of the game. On 3rd-and-short plays, O'Brien really should have been able to find the dominant pass-catching TE on a check down.
With that being said, Pederson bailed the Badgers out by making a fantastic grab on a 3rd-and-22 play late in the game. This one play redeemed him for the disappearing act he pulled during much of the game.
Wagner is supposed to be the best lineman on what is one of the nation's best lines. The Badgers got beat at the point of attack repeatedly in Saturday's game. The way they got manhandled upfront is unacceptable, and Wagner should take a lot of the responsibility.
The Badgers should be able to lean on Wagner to open up holes for Montee Ball, and against Northern Iowa, the holes were just not there. Hopefully, Wagner shakes this game off and reaches his potential as a truly elite tackle.
Of all the offensive linemen, Havenstein arguably played the best. In the second half, he made a series of athletic plays that opened up holes for the Badgers running backs.
Still, the line was far from its usually dominant self, therefore explaining Havenstein's poor grade.
Quite simply, there were no inside holes for almost the entirety of the game. There is no reason for a lineman over 300 pounds to be beaten repeatedly by a somewhat undersized Northern Iowa defense. His play was unacceptable.
The Badgers have a history of molding great offensive linemen, so expect to see drastic improvement in Groy's play by the end of the season.
Just about all the criticism leveled at Groy is also applicable to Matthias. Also like Groy, expect Matthias to see tremendous improvement. A repeat of this week's abominable performance is unlikely.
Frederick was responsible for the penetration the Panthers defense generated. However, you can not really fail a center if he reliably delivers the ball to the quarterback. Also, it was Frederick that fell on the Abbrederis fumble, preventing a Wisconsin turnover.
Gilbert was active and put pressure on the Panthers early and often. The whole defensive line played well, surrendering just 41 yards on the ground. The defense may have played a bad fourth quarter, but it had little to do with David Gilbert.
Kelly played a pretty good game. He helped put pressure on Sawyer Kollmorgen. The biggest knock on Kelly was that he committed a fairly egregious face mask penalty early in the game. It was a sloppy play, and Kelly should have been more careful.
Beau Allen may have had the best day of any Badger. He continuously found himself in the Panther backfield. The dominant Allen also forced a fumble.
If you make the one play that saves your team from a potentially embarrassing upset, you get an A+. Hemer got his hands up to deflect a pass on a Northern Iowa fourth down. Because of Hemer the pass fell harmlessly to the ground and the Badgers' season was not lost.
If the Panthers had converted that late game fourth down, it is not unreasonable to think that the Wisconsin's DB's would have gotten burned, again snapping the Camp Randall home winning streak.
Taylor was an absolute beast against the run. He was a huge reason why the defense was so stingy with yards on the ground. Taylor, however, did get beat a couple times in pass coverage.
Similar to Taylor, Armstrong was stout against the run while playing the pass rather poorly. Armstrong and the rest of the Badger linebackers really should not be getting burned again and again.
Borland played great when he was blowing up the Northern Iowa rushing attack. He showed his great instincts and nose for the ball. Just like the rest of the unit, however, Borland needs to get more comfortable in coverage.
Cromartie got burned repeatedly in the fourth quarter. His blown coverage that led to a successful 4th-and-7 conversion for the Panthers was unacceptable. If the Badgers want to be competitive this year, Cromartie cannot repeat this utter stinker of a performance.
Smith played the least terribly of the team's staring DB's, but that's not really saying much. Smith had a huge blown tackle in the fourth quarter that was the definition of bush-league. Smith seemed to learn from his mistake, however, and ended the game by making a couple nice open-field tackles.
Johnson dropped a sure pick early in the game. Johnson, as a safety protecting a lead late in the game, is at least partially responsible for the two long Northern Iowa touchdown passes that changed the game from a comfortable Badger win into a nail-biter.
Seeing Southward beat repeatedly was horrifying. Such inept DB play was reminiscent of the disasters that were last year's Ohio State and Michigan State games. Southward needs to step up his play, or the Badgers will be repeatedly torched over the top for the rest of the season.