Last week we asked five big questions about Badgers vs. Huskers. Now we give five big answers not necessarily related to the questions…
1. Yes, it was the right move to yank Joel Stave.
Bret Bielema is taking heat from some quarters after yanking Joel Stave for the final series against Nebraska. Was it the right decision to go with Danny O’Brien there? I think it was. I think Stave was getting rattled by the pressure. He’s shown a lot of poise for the most part but as that game wore on his decision-making got worse and worse. Nebraska was just teeing off on him by the end there and I think Bielema had to do it. With the clock running down and you needing a touchdown to win and your running game being basically non-existent, you’ve gotta give the veteran O’Brien a shot to make something happen. And O’Brien did start moving them down the field. But then the fourth-and-short came up and that was the end of them. Obviously that was a mess with O’Brien getting the play wrong but you can’t anticipate that happening. It was still the right move to put him in after Stave got rocked. Now the question is, after the way that game went, who starts next week? I think you have to start O’Brien. I think you have to give up on the ball control concept, which is all you can really do with Stave, and try to make more plays through the air. O’Brien at this point has a better chance to give you that dimension. With the current offensive line situation, you’re not running it down their throats and passing to keep them honest, you’re using the run to set up the pass. This has to be almost a pass-first team in order to win. O’Brien allows you to do a little more. Maybe sitting and watching for a couple weeks helped him.
2. No, the running game will not work with Montee Ball getting the majority of the carries.
This is the stat that should probably irritate us the most. # of carries for each Wisconsin running back. Montee Ball: 32. Melvin Gordon: 2. James White: 1. Really? 32 carries for Montee Ball and 3 total for the other two backs? That is just not smart. I’m sorry but I don’t get it. I get that they jumped on top and were trying to grind clock but what about after Nebraska started coming back and they needed to get some momentum back? How is running Montee Ball 32 times the answer? 32 times for 90 yards, mind you. Want to talk about beating your head against a brick wall. And this after Melvin Gordon lit up UTEP for 14 YPC. Maybe Nebraska would’ve shut him down but at least try. Most of the time I think people are talking out of their butts when they rip playcalling, because there are so many things that go into when you call a play and how it’s executed and there’s a lot of subtle stuff that we don’t really understand while watching the game or even after, but in this case I think it’s valid to call out Matt Canada. It’s valid because we could clearly see that what they were doing wasn’t working, yet they continued doing it. And we’re not talking about throwing the ball more. Stave threw it 23 times which is probably too many frankly. We’re talking about mixing up the run looks. I think we all assumed that was coming after the way Gordon ran but, nope. Montee Ball 32 times. All that inside stuff that hasn’t been working all year. Somebody get a memo to Matt Canada. The offensive line isn’t good. You need to help your players out by throwing some different stuff at the defense otherwise they just tee off. It’s puzzling.
3. Yes, the Badgers do have other receivers besides Jared Abbrederis. They’re just really young.
Chase Hammond made a nice leaping grab – he probably pushed off but oh well – and Jordan Fredrick did a couple things and Kenzel Doe is in there and I still think Melvin Gordon can be a weapon as a receiver if they decide to use him that way. So there should be some optimism that at some point this season a more diverse and effective passing attack will materialize for this team. Maybe it’s time to put a little more trust in these young guys and call some more throws. That’s why I say Danny O’Brien should start. If you’re going to pass 25 times a games, which they need to now if they’re going to win anything, it should be O’Brien. The Stave thing looked good when it seemed like they were getting a run game going again but with the rushing attack back on ice, O’Brien is the guy.
4. No, the pass rush isn’t good enough.
Taylor Martinez had altogether too much time to stand in the pocket. Of course Martinez is kind of inconsistent delivering the ball even when he’s got a clean pocket but that’s immaterial. Lack of pressure hurt as much as anything in this game. You knew Nebraska would get their rushing yards and they did, especially in the second half with the defense clearly gassed from being on the field too much. The key to winning was getting in Martinez’s face and forcing interceptions and that didn’t happen. He ended up throwing the ball 29 times with 17 completions. And there should’ve been more completions but he flat out missed open receivers on multiple occasions (because he’s not that good). That’s giving up too much. You can’t win allowing the QB to make throws AND giving up 259 yards on the ground. Again, not entirely the defense’s fault. Gotta get some first downs and give your guys a blow. But even early, Martinez had too easy a time of it back there.
5. No, it doesn’t count as a moral victory to lose by 3 in Lincoln with a young team. Not when you were up 17 in the third quarter.
Maybe the game will end up being a good learning experience for some of the young guys? Maybe. But this team was good enough to get up by 17 so it should’ve been good enough to close the deal. Some stuff happened in the second half that prevented that from happening. And it wasn’t all on the players. The job of coaches is to put players in good position and I don’t believe the Badgers’ staff did that. No moral victory here. At all.
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