Badgers report card: Kicking game main concern

After posting back-to-back shutouts for the first time in 55 years, how did the Badgers grade out?

MADISON, Wis. -- Another cupcake, another blowout victory for Wisconsin on Saturday. This time, the Badgers dismantled FCS foe Tennessee Tech 48-0 at Camp Randall Stadium. The Golden Eagles fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, and it was all but over from there.

Wisconsin fans clamoring for a tougher opponent will get their wish next week against Arizona State. But first, let's hand out grades for Saturday's game:

Rushing offense: A 

How else can you grade a game in which three running backs gain at least 100 yards for the second consecutive week? This is the stuff of video game legends. Yes, the opponents haven't exactly been of power-six quality, but Badgers fans should take the opportunity to appreciate just how dominant the run game and offensive line have been. 

On Saturday, freshman Corey Clement once again produced a marvelous performance in mop-up duty during the second half. He rushed for 149 yards with two touchdowns, and the more he excels on the field -- even in low-pressure situations -- the more he figures to wiggle his way into a rotation that features James White and Melvin Gordon.

Gordon finished Saturday's game with 140 yards and a touchdown on only nine carries -- a yards-per-carry average of 15.6. Gordon has rushed for 551 yards on 40 carries over his last four games, averaging 13.8 per rush in that span and rushing for at least 140 yards in three of those games.

White carried 22 times for 109 yards and a touchdown for his 11th career 100-yard rushing game. Each of his 100-yard performances has come in games in which UW has had at least two 100-yard rushers. The Badgers are undefeated when White rushes for at least 100 yards.

It seems highly unlikely the Badgers will produce three 100-yard rushers the rest of the season as defenses get tougher. But it doesn't get much better than Saturday against Tennessee Tech.

Wisconsin and 2004 Rice (Oct. 2-9, 2004) are the only FBS teams since 1996 to feature three 100-yard rushers in consecutive games. 

Passing offense: B+

If you look strictly at the stat line, you'd have to say quarterback Joel Stave had a pretty good day: 24 of 29 for 219 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. At one point, Stave completed 13 consecutive passes, including a 10-for-10 stretch on a touchdown drive in the final two minutes of the first half.

All in all, Stave demonstrated growth over his first game against UMass, which featured a 4-for-11 first half for 36 yards. Still, he and head coach Gary Andersen saw enough room for improvement not to be satisfied.

Andersen, in fact, didn't sound all that thrilled after Saturday's game.

"Our ability to pitch it and catch it, not very good stuff," Andersen said. "We have to improve in the throwing game. If we don't, it's going to bite us here pretty quick."

Specifically, Stave threw a second ill-advised interception in as many games when he appeared to stare down Jared Abbrederis on the left side of the field and throw into double coverage. Stave also short-hopped a few of his incompletions, not even providing his receivers with an opportunity to catch the pass.

But Stave also completed passes to eight different wide receivers and showed there are other guys aside from Abbrederis who can be threats in the passing game. Tight end Jacob Pedersen caught three passes for 54 yards, and receiver Jordan Fredrick added three catches for 31 yards. Fullback Derek Straus and tight end Brian Wozniak each caught touchdown passes.

"I feel we've got a lot of good guys who can go out and catch the ball," Stave said. "Tight ends. Running backs. And also the other receivers. There's a lot of guys who can catch the ball and make plays. Abby is obviously a good player, he's fun to throw to, but he's not the only guy that we can throw to."

There are always going to be reasons to complain. Stave, however, deserves credit for responding from his interception to complete a career-high 24 passes. Most quarterbacks would take 24 for 29 any day.

Rushing defense: A

Five players carried the ball at least twice for Tennessee Tech against Wisconsin. None averaged better than 2.5 yards per carry. That should tell you all you need to know about the Badgers' defensive dominance.

It began on the first play from scrimmage, when cornerback Darius Hillary knocked the ball loose from running back Stephen Bush. Safety Dezmen Southward recovered to set the tone for the game.

In total, Tennessee Tech rushed 30 times for 44 yards -- an average yards-per-carry of 1.5. Golden Eagles quarterback Darian Stone, who entered the game hyped for his dual threat ability, carried seven times for 16 yards.

After two weeks, Wisconsin ranks No. 12 nationally in rushing defense (72.0 yards per game.).

Passing defense: A

One reason Tennessee Tech was supposed to provide a challenge was because of its ability to complete quick passes to multiple receivers in space. But the Golden Eagles' spread offense accomplished next to nothing in the passing game against Wisconsin.

Quarterback Darian Stone finished 8 of 19 for 69 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. In two games, opposing quarterbacks have completed 22 of 49 passes (44.8 percent) for 181 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Wisconsin's 91.5 yards passing allowed per game ranks eighth nationally. And the Badgers rank No. 1 in the country in total defense (162.5 yards per game)

"They had some guys that can make you miss," safety Dezmen Southward said. "We did a good job of tackling them, wrapping them up. Didn't give them a chance to be in the open field, which we don't want to do. It's not so much on them as it is how much we were getting stops, how much we were in the right places and we were doing the right things."

Next Saturday should be different. Arizona State passed for 365 yards in its 55-0 victory against Sacramento State in the season opener.

Special teams: C-

This area figures to be Wisconsin's biggest bugaboo the rest of the season, and there doesn't seem to be anything the Badgers can do about it. They are stuck with Kyle French and Jack Russell as their kickers, and fans can only hope one gets untracked before it costs Wisconsin a big game.

On Saturday, French doinked an extra point off the upright, which led to him being benched for the remainder of the second half. Russell saw his first action of the season and made both of his extra-point tries. But he also missed a 31-yard field goal attempt in the final minute -- a distance that should be close to automatic for a kicker at the FBS level.

"It's just not crisp," Andersen said afterward of the kicking game. "We've got to continue to improve. It all starts with me. I'm not pointing fingers at any kid. I'm not pointing a finger at any assistant coaches."

Andersen added there would continue to be a week to week competition among the kickers. 

There were positives to be found on special teams. Once again, punter Drew Meyer was excellent. Meyer punted three times for an average of 48.7 yards. In the punt return game, Kenzel Doe showed his quickness and elusiveness. And Andersen also was pleased that the kickoff team struggles against UMass were better against Tennessee Tech.

Still, a missed extra point and a missed field goal loom as big concerns moving forward. And those miscues overshadowed a lot of the positives.

Overall: A-

Two games into the season, and Wisconsin has outscored its opponents 93-0. What's not to like about that? 

The Badgers' defense pitched back-to-back shutouts for the first time in 55 years, and the offense is proving it has multiple weapons to move the ball downfield. There are certainly reasons to wonder about Wisconsin's ability to beat better teams: the kicking game and an occasional poor decision from quarterback Joel Stave come to mind.

But Wisconsin got what it wanted out of its first two opponents. The Gary Andersen era is off to a rousing start, and we'll see what is in store the rest of the way.

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