Wisconsin Football Report Card: Grading the Win Over Arizona State
After a closer-than-expected win against San Jose State last weekend left a bad taste in the mouths of Badgers fans, Wisconsin didn't do too much to ease the ever-growing feeling of apprehension in Madison after their win against Arizona State.
Although the Sun Devils are a Pac-10 team and could surprise a few teams in 2010, they will still likely finish in the bottom half of the conference. A 20-19 win at home—on the strength of a Jay Valai extra point block for heaven's sake—is certainly not what Badger fans hoped for or expected.
That said, Wisconsin is 3-0 and that's all that matters. But if this kind of play continues when the Badgers hit the Big Ten schedule, their Rose Bowl dreams are going to go up in smoke.
Now, despite putting up just 20 points on Saturday, Wisconsin's offense had an efficient and effective day.
The Badgers racked up 440 yards of total offense and, more importantly, didn't turn the ball over—a great sign after turning it over four times in their previous two games.
After struggling somewhat against UNLV and San Jose State, Scott Tolzien had his best outing of the year, throwing for 246 yards and a touchdown on 19-25 passing.
With both David Gilreath and Nick Toon down with injuries, Tolzien's favorite target on Saturday was tight end Lance Kendricks, who is quickly developing into one of the best tight ends in the Big Ten. Kendricks had probably the best game of his career on Saturday, catching seven balls for 131 yards and a touchdown.
Isaac Anderson and Jared Abbrederis also had good days, catching five and three passes, respectively, with Montee Ball also catching four passes out of the backfield.
As usual, Wisconsin's rushing attack was close to unstoppable. As a team, the Badgers racked up 194 rushing yards with John Clay leading the way with 123 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
So no, Wisconsin didn't light up the scoreboard like they're capable of, but the offense still had a good day.
Although Wisconsin's D didn't have their best game on Saturday, they weren't terrible.
Yes, they gave up almost 400 yards of total offense against Arizona State. They allowed 169 rushing yards on a staggering six yards a carry and gave up over 200 yards passing to Steven Threet.
That said, the defense allowed only one offensive touchdown and kept Threet in check, something they were worried about after his two monstrous games to open the season.
However, this defense still has a lot of work to do if they're going to hold up their end in the Big Ten.
If Wisconsin has any hope of stopping the pass, they need to get more pressure on the quarterback. Wisconsin's defensive backs aren't good enough to hang with their receivers for more than a few seconds, especially when they are already giving them an 8-to-10 yard cushion on most plays.
Arizona State didn't exactly torch the secondary on Saturday, but they probably could have.
Yes, they held the Sun Devils to 19 points, a feat that shouldn't be taken lightly. But, like the rest of the team, the defense has some work to do before conference play starts.
In short, Wisconsin's special teams on Saturday were absolutely terrible.
On the day, Arizona State's kickoff return team averaged 52.2 yards per return—yes, that's not a typo—and Omar Bolden took one back 97 yards for the Sun Devils' first touchdown.
Oh, and Kyle Middlebrooks took one back 95 yards, only to be tackled at the one-yard line with no time left on the clock in the first half.
And then, the Sun Devils seemingly returned a punt for a touchdown only to have it called back on a penalty.
So yes, it very well could have been the worst day for a special teams unit in Wisconsin's 100-plus years of football.
The only reason they didn't receive a failing grade is because of Jay Valai's miraculous extra point block late in the fourth quarter, providing the margin of victory for the Badgers.
Other than that, it was simply a pathetic effort.
Although they weren't on the field, some of the blame for Wisconsin's special teams failures has to go to the coaches.
When a team almost allows three return touchdowns, something is wrong with either their coverage strategy or players aren't staying in their lanes. Either way, some of the blame should be shouldered by the coaches.
Offensively, the Badgers once again played a conservative game—which, as is becoming increasingly apparent—produces a lot of yards and stats, but not necessarily points.
John Clay, despite averaging almost six yards a carry, got the ball only 22 times. Now, they may be trying to save him for the Big Ten season, but when someone has been as dominant as he has this year, they should be getting him the ball more.
Defensively, it's extremely frustrating watching Wisconsin's secondary play so far off the wide receivers that opponents could have the underneath route any time they want. It may be part of their defensive strategy, but it's proving to be a nuisance and Big Ten teams will expose it if it continues.
Obviously, Bret Bielema and company need to make some adjustments in all facets of the game if the Badgers are going to be the team everyone thought they would be in 2010.
It's hard to complain when a team starts the year 3-0, but when two of those wins have been as ugly as the Badgers' have, it's hard not to.
Yes, Arizona State is a quality opponent from the Pac-10. No one should have expected a blowout. But a one-point win in Camp Randall Stadium against a team who will likely finish around .500? That's a little too close for comfort.
If the special teams unit hadn't been as bad they were, this grade would have been much better. But, they were awful.
The defense, although they allowed only 19 points, has a lot of work to do.
The offense, although statistically putting up huge numbers, needs to find a way to translate that into points.
Although getting wins is all that really matters, Wisconsin fans have to be more than little nervous going into the Big Ten season in two weeks after watching this Badger team on Saturday.