Sep 22, 2012; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon (25) rushes with the football during the first quarter against the UTEP Miners at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Wisconsin vs. UTEP Wrap: Five Big Answers

Last week we asked five big questions about the Badgers’ game vs. UTEP. Now we provide five big answers not necessarily related to the five big questions:

1. Yes, Joel Stave can play quarterback. A little.

Joel Stave did exactly what Bret Bielema wanted him to do. He played well enough to keep Danny O’Brien on the bench. At no point in that game did you think “Stave’s overwhelmed, they better get O’Brien warmed up.” O’Brien stayed on the sideline with his headset over his ears doing his signals and that was fine by me. Stave went out there and did everything they asked. He took care of the ball for the most part. He hit a couple playaction things deep. He didn’t play scared. He stayed within himself. He didn’t go crazy and run around trying to be the hero. He played quarterback within the game plan. Now, will he do that well against Nebraska? That’s another question. But he passed his first test. He did his best Jim Sorgi impression.

2. Yes, Montee Ball’s season has been kind of a disaster. But that could actually be a good thing.

All this crap has happened to Montee Ball in the past few months. He got cited by the cops for refusing to leave a man’s porch during the Mifflin Street block party. He was allegedly present when a couple of his teammates beat up a guy. He was beaten up by friends of that guy and suffered a concussion. He missed a bunch of camp because of the concussion. He didn’t play that well against the Badgers’ first three opponents. He finally got himself on track against UTEP and then suffered another head injury. Oh, and he fell so far out of the Heisman race you’d need spelunking gear to find him. And in the meantime the Badgers have discovered a new running back weapon in Melvin Gordon. Of course when Ball is cleared to play again he will go right back in as the #1 back, and that’s fine, but you have to believe Gordon will get his fair share of touches and that will mean fewer touches for Ball. So forget about him putting up enough stats to re-ignite that stupid Fall Belongs to Ball campaign. The best thing for the Badgers – the whole team, not just Montee Ball – is to mix it up. The best thing Matt Canada did against UTEP was discover the outside running game. If you can pound it inside then run it outside, you’ve got something. Canada should have fun shuffling and mixing his three good solid backs. I said three good solid backs, not one great back and two good solid backs. If Montee Ball ever gets over 25 carries in a game again this season it’s a mistake.

3. No, the Badgers can’t dominate people anymore.

There aren’t going to be any Indiana-style routs this year. There won’t be any fourth-string QBs scoring rushing touchdowns a la Nate Tice. There won’t be any 2-point conversion controversies in blowouts cause there won’t be any blowouts. The Badgers are going to have to scrap for everything they get. They can’t bully people anymore. They seemed to finally figure this out against UTEP, hence Matt Canada’s more diverse running attack. Run outside, run inside, use play action, mix in the tight ends. Throw the kitchen sink at them because the old “line up and run it down their throats approach” just ain’t gonna work. Not this year. Not even with Bart Miller coaching the offensive line.

4. Yes, Jared Abbrederis is huge for this team.

How much better does the offense look with Jared Abbrederis on the field? Don’t underestimate the value of that field-stretching receiver. Joel Stave certainly appreciates him. The UTEP cornerbacks, not so much. Hopefully Abbrederis can stay healthy from here on out because without him this offense loses all its downfield dimension. And therefore loses all its ability to keep defenses honest. And Stave throws a better deep ball than O’Brien. He pretty much does everything better than O’Brien right now. Which makes you wonder why O’Brien was ever brought in.

5. Yes, Bret Bielema made a mistake by switching kickers in the middle of the game.

Bret Bielema flat out screwed up by yanking Kyle French in the middle of the game and sticking in Jack Russell who promptly missed a field goal. This all happened because French kicked a ball out of bounds on a kickoff. Not the first time French has done that, okay? But still. Send a message to him after the game. I don’t know, make him run wind-sprints. Figure something out that doesn’t end up hurting your team. Russell badly missed the only field goal he was called upon to kick and oh by the way it was a miss that could’ve cost the Badgers the game. How stupid would Bielema look right now if that decision had lost the game for Wisconsin? Like I said, discipline is great, sending a message to players that you expect them to execute is great, but there must be a way of doing that without putting your entire team at risk of losing a game in the process. Sometimes Bielema’s arrogance really gets him in trouble.

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