Northwestern stunned No. 17 Wisconsin on Saturday in a 20-14 upset that will jeopardize the Badgers' spot in the college football rankings.
Badgers running back Melvin Gordon delivered his usual brilliant outing, turning 27 carries into 259 yards and a touchdown. He bolted out of the starting gate for a huge carry to begin a day that quickly became bleak for Wisconsin. ESPN College Football shared a significant achievement Gordon has already accomplished on the field in 2014:
ESPN CollegeFootball @ESPNCFB
Melvin Gordon's 1st run of the game went for 58 yds. He now has 4 runs of 50+ yds in 2014, most in the FBS http://t.co/6iorRZfVuW #WISvsNU2014-10-4 20:07:54
Despite Gordon's best efforts, his team could not generate enough offense behind an abysmal passing attack. During the first half, Tanner McEvoy went 4-of-10 with 24 passing yards and an interception.
Excluding his 283 passing yards and three touchdowns against Western Illinois earlier in the season, the junior has struggled against stiffer competition. Per WisSports' Travis Wilson:
Travis Wilson @travisWSN
Tanner McEvoy’s passing numbers against FBS opponents this year: 32 of 68 (47% comp), 346 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, 87.74 passer rating.2014-10-4 21:07:15
With no aerial assault to speak of, head coach Gary Andersen made the switch to junior Joel Stave, a decision reported in a Badger Football tweet:
Wisconsin Football @BadgerFootball
Gary Andersen tells @PatrickHerb in halftime interview on Badger Sports Network that Joel Stave will start 2nd half at QB. #Badgers2014-10-4 21:16:44
Andersen foreshadowed such a switch early in the week, when he hinted at the swap, The Associated Press reported (via ESPN.com).
"If there's an opportunity to get Joel in the game in the right setting, it will be a possibility," Andersen said. "I think he's continued to progress, handled some more team activities in a solid way this week."
When things aren't going well, there's no player more popular than the backup quarterback, even if he can't right the ship. According to 247Sports' Evan Flood, the Wisconsin faithful at Ryan Field warmly welcomed the change:
Evan Flood @Evan_Flood
#Badgers crowd roaring to their feet for Joel Stave.2014-10-4 20:53:43
Chuck Freimund of 1250 WSSP was also initially thrilled to see the team's former starter take the helm again:
Chuck Freimund @ChuckFreimund
Never thought I'd see the day that I would be delighted to see Joel Stave at quarterback for @UWBadgers2014-10-4 21:20:06
Stave, however, produced much of the same. He completed eight passes in 19 attempts, registering 114 yards, a touchdown and three costly interceptions.
Anyone happy to see Stave quickly realized that Wisconsin can't deliver much through the air either way. Now it's time for an embarrassing tweet relaying his futility, courtesy of Fox Sports Wisconsin's Dave Heller:
Dave Heller @dave_heller
Joel Stave has thrown an INT in 4 straight games, in 6 of last 7 and 9 of last 11. #Badgers2014-10-4 21:40:55
But at least he has nailed down a big part of his job description, a sentiment echoed by Heller:
Dave Heller @dave_heller
Man, does Joel Stave know how to hand the ball off. #Badgers2014-10-4 21:21:37
Any chance of a late comeback dissipated with six minutes left in the fourth quarter when Stave threw a pick in the end zone. They scored minutes later, but another interception with less than a minute left sealed the deal, bringing both squads to 3-2 on the season.
College GameDay @CollegeGameDay
Down goes #17 Wisconsin! Northwestern defeats the Badgers 20-14. #WISvsNU http://t.co/fagyBULObi2014-10-4 22:51:30
Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian didn't light up Wisconsin's secondary, but his so-so stat line looks masterful in comparison to his opposing quarterbacks. The senior, who entered Saturday with two touchdowns and four interceptions, went 15-of-29 for 182 yards and a passing touchdown.
In a matchup dominated by both ground games, Justin Jackson gained 162 rushing yards on 33 carries for the Wildcats. Playing in Gordon's shadow, the freshman 4-star recruit made quite an impression by exceeding 100 rushing yards for the first time in his young career.
Scout.com's Nick Medline liked what he saw:
Nick Medline @NickMedline
I don't think it's too soon to say that Justin Jackson looks like a future all-time great for Northwestern.2014-10-4 21:56:46
Given the national spotlight, Jackson enjoyed a coming-out party against a ranked opponent and potent Big Ten defense. Wisconsin's loss will seize the spotlight over Northwestern's victory, but Jackson's breakout performance is worth celebrating for the Wildcats.
After opening the season with a pair of losses, Northwestern has won three consecutive games to soar over the .500 mark. The squad has surrendered a combined 27 points in the last three games. This win at least puts them in the discussion for a national rank, even if it takes another triumph over Minnesota next weekend.
Wisconsin's quarterback woes will persist into the upcoming weeks. It remains to be seen who takes the snaps against Illinois next week, but the "give the ball to Gordon and hope for the best" strategy will likely be heavily utilized once again.
Even in a subpar outing, Stave showed more ability than McEvoy, so he'll likely vault up to QB No. 1.
As good as Gordon is, he needs some help. After declining to 3-2, don't expect the Badgers to remain in the Associated Press Top 25 next week.