Wisconsin Football Report Card: Grading The Win Over Minnesota
After playing poorly in virtually every facet of the game last week on the way to their first loss of the season, the Wisconsin Badgers appear to be back on their feet and running in the right direction following a dominant 41-23 win over rival Minnesota on Saturday afternoon.
Not only did the Badgers earn their seventh straight win over the Gophers (retaining Paul Bunyan's Axe once again), but it looks as though they regained some of their swagger going into the meat of their Big Ten schedule.
It's always nice to get a win on Homecoming as well.
So, here are my grades for Wisconsin's win on a sunny, unseasonably warm day in Madison.
A week after looking largely out of sync and inconsistent at Michigan State, Wisconsin's offense finally played like everyone in the Big Ten knows they can.
No, by no means does Minnesota have a good defense. But this was an impressive performance.
In scoring 41 points, the Badgers racked up 473 yards of total offense, using virtually an equal dose of both running and passing.
Quarterback Scott Tolzien, after going only 11-25 against the Spartans, connected on 17 of 23 passes against the Gophers, throwing for 223 yards and a touchdown to Jared Abbrederis.
Meanwhile, the Badger running game absolutely destroyed the Minnesota defense, gaining 250 yards and scoring five touchdowns. 111 of those yards and three touchdowns came from the feet of John Clay while James White continued his impressive play, rushing for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
Wisconsin also converted in critical situations, going 7 of 9 on third downs while also controlling the clock for over 34 minutes.
After a disheartening performance last weekend, the Badger 'O' seems to have found their way back.
Although they certainly played much, much better on Saturday than they did a week ago, Wisconsin's defense is anything stingy.
In allowing 23 points, the Badgers gave up 345 yards of total offense, including 249 yards through the air. Better than the 34 and 444 they gave up to Michigan State, but Wisconsin just can't hope to win out when their defense is so spotty.
Yes, Minnesota does actually have a decent offense. But, the Wisco 'D' can't give up numbers like these and hope to run the table the rest of the year.
That said, two of Minnesota's touchdowns came on absolutely awesome catches by Da'Jon McKnight in the fourth quarter. After all, despite throwing for three touchdowns and 249 yards, Gophers quarterback Adam Weber completed only 11 of the 25 passes he threw.
Still, great catch or no, conference-winning defenses would find a way to keep Minnesota off the scoreboard. Not to be too picky, but it's true.
Against the run however, the Badger defense did well. J.J. Watt and company held the Gophers to just 96 yards on the ground and leading rusher DeLeon Eskridge averaged only 3.4 yards a carry while rushing for 72 yards.
No, not a perfect day by the Badger defense, but certainly an improvement over last weekend.
Again, like the defense, Wisconsin's special teams were significantly better on Saturday than last weekend.
Although Phillip Welch did miss his only field goal attempt (from 49 yards), Wisconsin's punt and kickoff coverage was much, much better.
Punter Brad Nortmann punted only twice, but the Gophers didn't manage a return and on five kickoff returns, the team averaged just 22 yards. Certainly a drastic improvement from their previous performance.
Although a whole lot can't be said about the brilliance of Bret Bielema's game plan on Saturday, it was certainly a step up from last weekend, especially on defense.
After allowing the Spartans to go 9 of 18 on third downs last week, the Gophers converted only 3 of 13 on Saturday. Now, that could be attributed to the fact that Minnesota is a much inferior team than MSU, but it does show that the coaching staff worked out some of the kinks in the Badger's third-down 'D'.
Ironically, maybe the only real controversy from Saturday's game came when Bielema decided to go for a two-point conversion late in the game with the Badgers up big. Gophers coach Tim Brewster certainly didn't appreciate that, but that frustration could be accentuated by the fact that he may be in danger of losing his job in the near future.
Overall, the Badgers played much, much better than they did against MSU. They executed their game plan, earned a good victory over their rivals and appeared to regain some confidence going into their showdown with Ohio State next week.
The offense was in sync and balanced after an inconsistent outing the week before. The defense, though it still has its problems, played much better, especially against the run.
The coaching and special teams, although not a huge factor in the game, were fine as well.
Although honestly you can't accurately judge Wisconsin's play because Minnesota is probably one of the worst teams in college football, it's definitely a step in the right direction.