MADISON, Wis. (AP) Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen likes to use a basketball analogy when talking about what he would like to see from the offense in times of trouble.
In the case of Tanner McEvoy, the quarterback hit easy layups when he wasn’t open on the perimeter.
The 18th-ranked Badgers (1-1) head into an early-season bye week on a positive note after McEvoy shrugged off a slow start.
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Lower-division Western Illinois took away Melvin Gordon and the vaunted running game, so McEvoy had to show he could make a defense pay.
To Andersen, it’s all about hitting the easy shots.
”To be able to get out in that screen game, if they’re going to give you one … if they are going to give you layups, let’s make layups, not sit there and make jump shots all day long,” Andersen said.
It’s all part of the education of first-year starter McEvoy, who won a preseason competition for the job over incumbent Joel Stave.
McEvoy had a difficult debut in Week 1 against LSU. The struggles carried over into the first half against Western Illinois, when McEvoy started 1 of 3, including an interception that had some fans groaning. There were more boos after he overthrew open tight end Sam Arneson on a rollout left on a second-and-14.
McEvoy came right back to Arneson on the next play for a 22-yard completion for a first down. Soon enough, McEvoy was on a roll, completing 17 straight passes from midway in the second quarter to the end of the third.
”Oh wow,” said Arneson, who was unaware of the McEvoy’s streak. ”I thought he was really locked in.”
Western Illinois dared Wisconsin to throw, something that pretty much every other team will do until the Badgers prove they can throw on a consistent basis. And even then, foes may likely prefer to take their chances with McEvoy than Gordon anyway.
McEvoy and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig will have to adjust on the fly, like they did Saturday.
Wisconsin faked more handoffs to Gordon as the game progressed and used more screens. The screen game helped sophomore Alex Erickson get a touchdown and record career highs of 122 yards and 10 catches.
”They were giving us those screens, those bubbles,” McEvoy said. ”We’ve got to take whatever the defense gives us.”
The next step is to carry the success over week to week.
Gordon was held to 38 yards on 17 carries, while backup Corey Clement had 57 yards on nine carries – surprising figures for two talented runners against an FCS school.
The Fighting Leathernecks stacked the box against what is considered one of the top offensive lines in the Big Ten. Andersen also noted that the team sorely missed fullback Derek Watt, who is out for about two months following surgery for a right foot injury suffered against LSU.
”The loss of Derek is big for this offense. It’s unseen maybe to a lot of fans or people out there,” Andersen said.
Still right tackle Rob Havenstein placed blame for the running game struggles on the front five.
”You can put that squarely on the shoulders of the offensive line. ”No matter how many guys they put in the box – 10, 11, 13, 27 – it doesn’t matter,” Havenstein said. ”We’ve still got to get that run game going.”
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