Wisconsin Football: Biggest Surprises for Badgers Through Week 3
End-game situations for Wisconsin football—we'll throw the Green Bay Packers in there as well—have been a cruel, cruel mistress.
The Badgers lost in truly bizarre fashion late Saturday night against Arizona State. Unfortunately, the final 18 seconds will overshadow what was one of the best college football games we've seen in this early season.
There's no going back now—Wisconsin is 2-1* and we will never know if Kyle French would have knocked home that 32-yard field-goal attempt. Instead of having a chance to come home with a gratifying away victory against a stingy Sun Devils squad, the Badgers have dropped out of the USA Today football coaches' poll.
To revisit those final 18 seconds would be to dwell on the past, although that's exactly what we'll do when looking back on the Badgers' biggest surprises through three weeks of play. What has stood out through the first three weeks of the season at Wisconsin?
The Performance of Melvin Gordon
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Technically, sophomore Melvin Gordon III is No. 2 on the Badgers' running back depth chart. But he's No. 1 in the hearts of the Wisconsin faithful, and while senior tailback James White has paid his dues to become the starter, MG3 is better, and it's not even close.
Through three games, Gordon has been nearly unstoppable. He's averaging 12.9 yards per carry (12.9! That's tops in the FBS by a long shot), has rushed for 477 yards (second behind only Paul James of Rutgers) and scored four touchdowns.
Just imagine if he wasn't splitting carries with White and true freshman Corey Clement.
Despite these inhuman numbers, Gordon isn't touching the ball nearly enough, and that was evident against the Sun Devils. He wasn't even on the field in some of the most crucial moments down the stretch. White has carried the ball eight more times than MG3, and yet Gordon has outgained the senior by 180 yards.
We expected more from White, but we didn't expect this much from Gordon. Head coach Gary Andersen may have no choice but to make Gordon the primary back moving forward.
The Decision to Stick with Stave
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Considering how both Joel Stave and Curt Phillips were listed as starters entering the first week of the season, it's been a little surprising that we've only seen Stave under center, as well as a little bit of Bart Houston in garbage time.
Stave had only played two good halves of football before Wisconsin's first test of the season at Arizona State. He was inaccurate in the first half against UMass, and while his numbers were nothing to scoff at following two weeks of play, he did throw two interceptions against extremely inferior competition.
His flaws were evident against the Sun Devils. In the first half, Stave managed just 30 some-odd passing yards, but he was pressured often. He was also inaccurate, only completing 50 percent of his passes, although Stave did avoid turning the ball over.
On Twitter, the displeasure with Stave's play was evident, with some calling for a change with the Badgers slowly letting the game away. To Stave's credit, he led the team back, but he far from solidified his starting role.
Andersen has said in the past he isn't into rotating quarterbacks during games, but Stave's poor performance warranted a change. Stay tuned—there may just be one in the coming weeks.
Beau Allen Scoring a Touchdown
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Who had nose tackle Beau Allen in the pool for which Wisconsin player would score the first defensive touchdown?
It was the big fella who tracked down the botched snap by the Sun Devils that airmailed over the punter's head. Allen recovered the ball right on the goal line to put the Badgers up 14-3 in the second quarter.
Overall, it was a good game for Allen, and a vintage performance from linebacker Chris Borland, who recorded 10 tackles and a sack. However, getting pressure on the quarterback has been a concern for Wisconsin and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, and that didn't help a secondary that was shredded by Taylor Kelly.
Worries aside, it was fun to watch Allen outrun just about everybody to be the one who recovered the errant snap. Along with Borland, Allen has to be considered a good bet to hear his name called on draft day.
The Bielema-Like Approach
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OK, so we're only four games removed from the Bret Bielema era in Madison, but if you didn't know any better, you'd think he's still roaming the sidelines at Wisconsin based on how the offense has looked early this season.
In Andersen's defense, he has yet to get his recruits on the field—that will take a few years to transpire. Considering the personnel, the power running game is the Badgers' best bet, and for the most part, that approach along with the play action has been successful.
But it goes beyond that.
The jet sweep and fake reverse remains a prominent part of the Wisconsin offense. Melvin Gordon III is a big fan—he ducked, dodged and sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown on the Badgers' first play from scrimmage in the second half.
Then there was the fake punt in the fourth quarter, a staple of Bielema's Badgers. It was a thing of beauty, as Borland (of course) took a pitch from up-man Brian Wozniak and found Jacob Pedersen for 23 yards. Wisconsin eventually scored on the drive kept alive by this mastery.
Have no fear. The Badgers will have a much more "Andersen-like" feel to them in due time, but for now, the ghost of Bielema lives on.
The End of the Arizona State Game
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This would be considered an unpleasant surprise, or in other words, a complete nightmare.
It's been analyzed to the death already, and there were many different aspects that went into the final 18 seconds of the Arizona State game.
Stave quickly kneeling and setting the ball on the ground, creating confusion. The Arizona State defenders lying on the ball. The referee standing over the football refusing to allow Wisconsin to snap it. And then the officials, who had just jobbed the Badgers, running off the field without giving anyone an explanation of what had just transpired.
There was even more that went into it, including Stave appearing to be oblivious of the clock and both teams appearing to try to call timeout. The Badgers didn't have any timeouts remaining—the Sun Devils did.
But now it's over. The fact of the matter is that Wisconsin lost 32-30* and we'll never know if it would have kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired. Credit to the Pac-12 for admitting things weren't handled properly, but it won't heal the wounds created.
It's time to move on to conference play.