I’ve seen this idea picking up steam after the semi-debacle on Saturday which the Badgers frankly had no business winning. I’ve also seen some revisionist history going around about the San Jose State game which was completely dominated by the Badgers, but ended up looking close-ish on the scoreboard. Let’s keep a few things in mind:
1. Nick Toon did not play on Saturday, nor did he play last week against SJSU.
2. Nick Toon is the best WR on the team.
3. David Gilreath did not play at all on Saturday, and missed most of last week after stupidly not calling for a fair catch.
4. David Gilreath, aside from being their 2nd best WR, is also an excellent special teams player.
5. Montee Ball isn’t very good, which the coaching staff finally seems to have figured out.
6. John Clay had off-season ankle surgery, and part of the game plan has been to use him sparingly. Montee Ball not being very good has compounded this problem.
7. J.J. Watt spent most of the game injured.
Wisconsin has been operating with a skeleton crew on offense all season, and some struggles were to be expected. The popular idea is that the ASU offense was far better than the Wisconsin offense on Saturday, but it’s actually pretty hard to make that case.
Steven Threet – 63%, 6.4 yards per pass, 0 TD, 0 INT
Scott Tolzien – 76%, 9.8 yards per pass, 1 TD, 0 INT
ASU RBs – 7.5 YPC
Wisconsin RBs Not Named Montee Ball – 5.8 YPC
There is no way to sugarcoat allowing 7.5 yards per carry, but the Badgers were almost as good when Montee wasn’t in the game, and the defense was fighting injuries all day. That said, Steven Threet wasn’t able to capitalize on his fantastic running attack with effective passing (though the refs admittedly helped out a little) while Tolzien and Kendricks used play-action with great effectiveness.
The previous Saturday, the San Jose State game was only close at all because James White fumbled the ball through the end zone when going in for a score. Statistically Wisconsin dominated that game, especially running, where they outgained SJSU 212 to 55 while averaging almost an extra 2 yards per carry. Tolzien again outplayed his competition outgaining the SJSU QBs 8.7 to 8.4, but the run game made a comeback impossible.
Rather than being overrated, it would be more accurate to say that the Badgers have weathered injuries early in the season. They should get Toon and Gilreath back for the start of the Big Ten schedule, which should open up the offense more. James White, I suspect, will move into the Terrell Fletcher role opposite John Clay’s Brent Moss. Tolzien will continue to be his extremely efficient self, and Lance Kendricks will continue to be one of the nation’s best TEs.
There are questions on defense, but when healthy they have looked pretty good. Rather than relying on what are essentially 3 preseason games to judge them, I’d rather take the long view of a team that was very good last season potentially becoming great with another year of experience. No one will know for sure until the Big Ten season actually gets underway, but calling them overrated at this point is premature.
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