Wisconsin Football: Grading Badgers' Positional Units After the First 4 Games
It's safe to say that these Wisconsin Badgers are not what was expected coming into the season. Many picked the Badgers to dominate the Big Ten and earn a third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl.
However, this hasn't been the case in Madison so far. The Badgers have struggled out of the gate, losing to Oregon State and looking lackluster. The offense has struggled, and the defense has been unable to perform consistently.
Here's a look at the positional unit grades so far.
The Badgers' quarterback play has been all over the place this season.
Danny O'Brien lit up Northern Iowa in the Wisconsin opener and then struggled mightily in the loss to Oregon State and in the first half against Utah State.
O'Brien's turnovers led to him being replaced at halftime of the Utah State game in favor of Joel Stave. Stave struggled against Utah State as well, but the Badgers got the win. The redshirt freshman earned his first start of the season against UTEP and had a much better game.
The quarterbacks have had trouble this season, but Stave has the quarterback play trending upwards.
Unit Grade: C+
The Badger's running backs have been the best positional unit for Wisconsin this year.
While they haven't been spectacular and haven't lived up to the preseason hype, the unit has been the most consistent. Montee Ball has been solid, Oregon State loss notwithstanding, and James White and Melvin Gordon went off in the win against UTEP.
The unit has been the backbone of the offense, and in the midst of the troubles of the offensive line, the running backs have impressed.
Unit Grade: B+
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
The Badgers wide receivers and tight ends have been virtually non-existent outside of star Jared Abbrederis, and his absence was a major reason why the passing game struggled against Oregon State and Utah State.
Expected-star Jacob Pedersen has struggled all season, and none of the other receivers have stepped up to complement Abbrederis. Jeff Duckworth had the best showing of the season against Oregon State, and it was only seven catches for 55 yards.
Fortunately, Abbrederis is back and healthy, resulting in an improvement in the passing game.
Unit Grade: D+
The Badger's offensive line has been the worst positional unit, by far.
The unit has repeatedly missed assignments, it has had trouble generating any type of a push, and it has continued to rack up stupid penalties. The unit was so bad that the offensive line coach was fired after two games.
Things are trending upwards, though.
The offensive line was okay in the win against UTEP, as both the running and passing games clicked. Hopefully, the O-line can turn things around and become the mauler that Wisconsin fans are used to.
Unit Grade: D
The Badgers D-line is a tough unit to grade.
The defensive line has been inconsistent in generating pressure against opposing quarterbacks, yet has been very stout against the run. Additionally, the unit has had injuries to the extent that Chris Borland had to step in as defensive end against UTEP.
The injuries are a concern moving forward, but they have been minor and Borland's play in the nickel package really ramped up the pressure. Additionally, the unit has been very reliable to this point.
Unit Grade: B-
The Badger's linebacker corps has been the second best positional unit.
Chris Borland has been an absolute monster this season, and should contend for the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Outside linebackers Mike Taylor and Ethan Armstrong have also been very good, with Taylor leading the team in tackles.
The only problem with the linebackers is their propensity to give up a big play, notably the wheel route in the Utah State game. If the linebackers can cut down on those mistakes, they could be the best unit in the Big Ten.
Unit Grade: B
The Wisconsin secondary has been hit or miss all season.
Sometimes, the unit looks incredible, making impressive plays in coverage. Other times, it completely misjudges a play and gets burnt for a long touchdown.
The main problems have been the mental mistakes and lack of experience. We knew that experience would be a factor coming into the season, but we didn't expect Northern Iowa to pass for 265 yards and three scores.
The talent is there in the secondary, but the defensive backs need to find some consistency.
Unit Grade: C
Outside of a lackluster game against Utah State, Kyle French has been alright.
However, it looks like he has become embroiled in a kicking competition with Jack Russell after having two extra points blocked. Honestly, the Badgers can't afford any more competitions this late in the season.
French needs to lock the job down.
As for punting, Drew Meyer has been outstanding. The redshirt sophomore is averaging over 40 yards a punt, and has a long of 55 yards. Additionally, he has pinned 7 of his 24 punts inside the 20.
As the offense struggles, Meyer has been an unsung hero for the defense.
Unit Grade: B-
Wisconsin has plenty of talent on this current team, but has struggled with inconsistencies and mental mistakes. The offensive line and receivers have struggled, while the secondary and defensive line have been hit or miss.
If these problem units can develop some consistency, there's no reason why this team can't win the Big Ten.
Until that happens, though, it's going to be a roller-coaster ride of a season in Madison.