Five big questions about the Badgers vs. the Fighting Illini at Camp Randall Stadium…
1. Can Joel Stave bounce back?
Maybe a better question would be “Does Joel Stave HAVE to bounce back?” He played pretty well for the most part against Nebraska. He did everything that was asked of him. He took care of the ball. He hit some deep stuff. He filled the role. But things sort of fell apart for him in the second half and you have to wonder about his confidence. I’ve said I think they should go with Danny O’Brien and try to throw it more, forget the ball control stuff, but I can see the logic behind sticking with Stave. He’s your future. And O’Brien didn’t do himself any favors with the way he bungled the final play last Saturday. Stave just needs to remember the way he played in the early stages against Nebraska and forget about late in the game when the blitz started really rattling him. If the Badgers can protect him and find a run game, he should be fine.
2. How will the Badgers handle Illinois’ spread attack?
Once upon a time I would’ve been worried about the Badgers against the no-huddle spread approach but not really anymore. I think they handle that kind of offense pretty well these days with the linebackers they have and the discipline they show on defense. I don’t think Illinois does anything they can’t deal with. In fact I think it’s going to be a long day for Illinois. They got only seven points at home against Penn State. I know I know…trap game. But not this week. Not with the Badgers all lathered up coming off that Nebraska debacle. This defense was battered in the second half but that was mostly on the offense for not getting them off the field. This won’t be an issue against Illinois.
3. How will Matt Canada distribute the reps to his running backs?
Bret Bielema tried to explain why Montee Ball got such a lopsided number of touches against Nebraska compared to the other two running backs (32 for Ball, 3 combined for Melvin Gordon and James White). He said it was because Montee looked “amped up” early. And late after everything was falling apart it was because Montee has more experience in big games. Got that? But Bielema did concede that James White needs to see the ball more, if for no other reason than to keep Ball fresh. I still think if you’re running Ball more than 25 times you’re doing yourself a disservice. And I don’t care about James White in this rotation. James White is a guy. The one I want to see is Melvin Gordon. My ideal mix is 20 carries for Ball, 8 for White to spell ball and 5-10 for Gordon. Get some different looks in there. Mix things up.
4. Will we see Danny O’Brien in the two-minute?
Bret Bielema sounds like he’s about done with Danny O’Brien. He did say O’Brien could still get reps in the two-minute depending on how things go in practice this week. Yeah okay. How’s life in that doghouse Danny? That blanket nice and smelly? Look, I’m not defending O’Brien. He screwed up. But a lot of stuff went wrong in that game that wasn’t O’Brien’s fault. Making him the scapegoat is a mistake. The Badgers will probably roll Illinois with Joel Stave and everything will look great again. But what about when they face some real teams down the road. Maybe I’m alone but I still think O’Brien gives them a better chance to win. Not because I think he’s a better QB than Stave per se but because I think they need to employ a more pass-heavy style if they hope to produce points with this team. And I think O’Brien’s experience helps him there. Though I concede O’Brien has sometimes looked more clueless than a green freshman. I don’t know. Maybe it’s time to go to Curt Phillips.
5. How big a blow-out will this be?
I’m convinced this will be a big blow-out. I’m calling the final score at 44-10. Illinois just looks like a bad team right now. They can’t protect their quarterback, they turn the ball over, their defense looks dreadful. This is going to be an old-fashioned butt-whupping. It will feel good after all the disappointments.
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