Yesterday's Badger romp over the Minnesota Golden Gophers has re-energized the Wisconsin faithful. With the team coming off back-to-back divisional wins (and competing in a neutered division due to the postseason ban on Ohio State and Penn State), the question emerges, how good is this team?
In light of Wisconsin's superb defense of Paul Bunyan's Ax at Camp Randall, here are four things we learned about this year's Wisconsin Badgers.
Joel Stave had mediocre numbers against the Gophers. He only threw the ball 15 times for 106 yards, and he took a bunch of bad sacks. However, Stave's best throw of the day was actually a rare Jared Abbrederis drop where the young QB showed of his pocket poise and strong arm.
Stave seems to have issues with his timing and stays in the pocket too long (on two drives he took sacks that knocked the Badgers out of field-goal range), but these issues are pretty common for young signal-callers. Stave is far from perfect, but Bielema could be grooming an eventually elite QB.
This was supposed to be a Heisman year for Montee Ball, but his slow start probably knocked him out of the race. Ball will probably end the year with excellent numbers, but last year's featured back will need to get more comfortable sharing time with James White.
Both White and Ball went over a hundred yards on Saturday (and Melvin Gordon got 10 carries as well). While the 2011 Badgers were the Montee Ball show, the 2012 Badgers are clearly a running-back-by-committee team.
The gimmick play is not completely new to the Badgers—they have run reverses and experimented with the spread in the past—but on Saturday they broke out what the announcers called the "Wild Badger." The play was a direct snap to James White.
Gimmick plays have always seemed like the antithesis of the smash mouth football that Wisconsin likes to play. The "Wild Badger," however, a direct snap to a running back in a jumbo package, felt like a natural extension of the team's identity as a run-heavy, offensive-line-driven team. Look to see more direct snaps worked into the Badger offense in the coming weeks.
Paul Bunyan's Ax is one of the greatest trophies in college football. The Wisconsin-Minnesota is the most played rivalry in FBS college football. However, the rivalry has become stale.
Wisconsin has not lost since 2003 and has only lost twice since 1995. Jerry Kill is a great coach, and there is a pretty good chance that he eventually raise the profile of the Minnesota program. Until that happens, though, this game seemed like a rivalry appetizer to many Badger fans, who see next week's Michigan State game as the main course.