Jesse Temple's Oct. 2 Badgers mailbag
OCT 02, 2013 9:33a ET
We'll be taking a break from the mailbag next week. But it will return after the Northwestern game, and we'll post answers to your questions on Wednesday, Oct. 16. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions this week. Let's get to it:
Q: Why were the Badgers not prepared for a one-minute drill in the fourth quarter? They seemed confused and not ready to do a hurry-up offense. They should have practiced this because it cost them the Arizona State game as well.-- Brandon, Milwaukee, WI
A: I wouldn't say the Badgers were unprepared for the late-game situation that took place against Ohio State. I'd say Wisconsin faced a pretty darn good Ohio State team and had 89 seconds to go 90 yards to tie the game. That's pretty hard to do against anybody, let alone a team that will be a national championship contender into November.
Certainly, the drive did not go as Badgers fans would have hoped. Joel Stave threw an incomplete pass to Alex Erickson, then faced pressure and had to get rid of the ball on a dumpoff to running back James White. White had nowhere to go and lost 3 yards, but Stave did find White for a 13-yard gain on the next play.
At that point, Wisconsin faced a fourth-and-4 from its own 16-yard line with 26 seconds left. Stave could have heaved a long pass down the sideline, but Ohio State had plenty of help on the back end. Most teams in the country would have been hard-pressed to make something happen in that scenario.
As for the idea Wisconsin wasn't ready for the two-minute drill in past games, that's just nonsense. Perhaps you've forgotten Stave drove the Badgers 70 yards down the field in about 80 seconds against Arizona State two weeks ago. Yes, controversy erupted when Stave took a quick knee, but officials were ultimately responsible for blowing those final 15 seconds.
Wisconsin has practiced the two-minute drill numerous times over the past two months, so I don't think it was a matter of the Badgers being unprepared. Stave also led a 94-yard touchdown drive against Tennessee Tech to close the first half after taking the ball with just 1:49 remaining.
Sometimes, you simply have to give credit to the opponent. Ohio State is that good.
Q: Is grabbing the back of the helmet a penalty or not? I can't seem to find out what the correct call is. That play sure would have helped the Badgers!-- Jeron, Madison, WI
A: For starters, officials got the call wrong on the field. Badgers linebacker Conor O'Neill sacked Braxton Miller for a five-yard loss, and Miller fumbled the ball away. Officials declared O'Neill grabbed Miller's facemask for a 15-yard penalty that negated the fumble.
Replays showed O'Neill in fact got the back of Miller's helmet, but the play looked so violent in real-time with Miller's head yanking to the side that a flag was thrown.
If anything, referees could have flagged O'Neill for a horse-collar tackle, though the official definition is when a defender tackles another player by grabbing the back of his shoulder pads and pulling him down. Such a tackle only became illegal in the NCAA in 2008. On the slow-motion replay of O'Neill's play, though, I'm not even sure that would have been the right call.
Either way, there's no doubt a fumble recovery for Wisconsin would have been huge. Wisconsin trailed 14-7 in the second quarter at the time and would have taken possession at Ohio State's 15-yard line.
Q: Does Wisconsin really have a chance to win the Big Ten? Who has a shot to beat Ohio State now? The Wolverines?-- Kyle, Wisconsin
A: It's still very early in the Big Ten season, so it's not like Wisconsin has somehow been mathematically eliminated. But if we're being realistic here, no, Wisconsin's chances are not good to make a third straight trip to the Big Ten championship game.
Saturday's loss against Ohio State basically represented a two-game swing. Even if Ohio State loses once, the Buckeyes still will hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against Wisconsin, so they would have to lose twice.
Ohio State really only has two games remaining on its schedule that could pose problems: Saturday at Northwestern and Nov. 30 at Michigan. If Ohio State loses both games and Wisconsin somehow runs the table in Big Ten play, only then would the Badgers slide into the championship as Leaders Division winners. Considering Ohio State has won 17 consecutive games under Urban Meyer, don't count on that happening.
Which team has the best chance to beat Ohio State in the Big Ten title game? Right now, it looks like either Northwestern or Michigan. Both teams are 4-0, though Michigan has hardly been impressive in victories against Akron and UConn. I would still expect either the Wildcats or Wolverines to wind up in their first Big Ten championship against Ohio State.
Q: If the Wildcats beat the Buckeyes, Wisconsin's bowl possibilities take a hit, but Pasadena becomes not so farfetched. Who do I root for this weekend, Ohio State or Northwestern?-- Claire, Clearwater, FL
A: This is actually a tough question to answer, and I'll address both sides:
1) Why Badgers fans should be rooting for Northwestern.
The goal every year for Wisconsin is to reach the Big Ten championship and compete for a spot in the Rose Bowl. If the Buckeyes beat the Wildcats, you can basically kiss that opportunity goodbye. If Ohio State loses, then perhaps the Buckeyes could lose at Michigan, too.
Of course, Wisconsin would then have to turn around and beat Northwestern one week later at Camp Randall Stadium and win the rest of its Big Ten games. The way I see it is most of these bowl games are basically like glorified exhibitions in a sense. Unless your team is playing for the national championship, what's really at stake?
There's really no difference between the Capital One Bowl or the Outback Bowl or the Gator Bowl other than the ranking of the SEC team on the other side. The game that matters most outside of the national championship is the Rose Bowl. Some may be tired of Wisconsin playing in three straight Rose Bowls, but most programs would sell their souls for the opportunity to play in one.
That's where Wisconsin wants to be at the end of the year, and it's going to take a Northwestern victory against Ohio State to provide a glimmer of hope.
2) Why Badgers fans should be rooting for Ohio State.
If Ohio State beats Northwestern and wins the rest of its games, the Buckeyes will more than likely wind up in the national championship. That frees up a spot in the Rose Bowl for another team, which could potentially be Wisconsin. The likelihood of this taking place, however, seems slim.
Ohio State would need to pummel its opponent in the Big Ten title game -- a team already with a loss or two on its resume -- and Wisconsin would need to win out. If the Badgers finish 10-2 overall and 7-1 in Big Ten play, that could be enough to sneak into the Rose Bowl again as an at-large pick, provided teams such as Northwestern, Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan State beat each other up and wind up with multiple conference losses.
There's a long way to go for that scenario to take place. So it seems the best method is for Ohio State to somehow lose twice, which would give Wisconsin an opportunity to win the Big Ten title and control its own fate.
Q: Stave had an OK game, but it's apparent that he can't be the guy. With the Big Ten title out of reach, is it time to play Bart Houston?-- Ian, Madison
A: I'm not sure what game you were watching Saturday because Stave played arguably the best game of his brief Wisconsin career against Ohio State. The guy threw for 295 yards, which is the most a Badgers quarterback has amassed since Russell Wilson's 296 yards in the 2012 Rose Bowl against Oregon.
Yes, Stave threw an interception at an inopportune time to cornerback Bradley Roby on a corner route, but he also was hit as he threw. Stave led Wisconsin on key touchdown drives with scoring passes to Jared Abbrederis and Sam Arneson to keep the Badgers close.
The Big Ten title game isn't officially out of reach, and there's still seven games left in the season. As I've said before, the backup quarterback is always the fans' favorite choice. But if Bart Houston were the best option, then he would already be the starting quarterback. Throwing a redshirt freshman into the middle of the Big Ten season is hardly an ideal plan of attack the rest of the way.
Stave has started all of 11 games as a college quarterback -- not quite a full season worth of games -- and Wisconsin's coaches intend to let him continue to develop. Gary Andersen likes the poise he is showing under pressure and his improved leadership skills.
If the coaching staff is going to reevaluate the quarterback situation, it won't come until the offseason. Houston will have every opportunity to earn the job then.
Q: How do I keep my team focused and motivated after two early-season losses?-- Gary Andersen, Madison
A: Well, Gary (wink, wink), don't fret. Wisconsin's players have been involved with so many tough losses in their careers that this will hardly faze them. The Big Ten championship appears far off, but if the Badgers continue to win games and worry about themselves, they'll wind up in a good spot.
Here's what Andersen said he told his team in the locker room after the Ohio State loss:
"The bottom line is there's no magic fairy dust. Everybody is in it this time. These guys are in it. Where they end up this time, it matters where Ohio State is. At the end, they're all ready to roll.
"They're in position if they obviously run the table to go this year. Something's got to happen. We don’t completely control our own destiny. If we take care of business one game at a time, I like our chances. It'll come down to in some way out there, there will be another big game for us to play to put ourselves in a position to do some special things with this season. What those are, I don’t know, but these kids will come back. They'll be ready to roll."
When Andersen was at Utah State last season, the Aggies suffered a tough 6-3 loss against rival BYU, which dropped Utah State to 4-2. All the Aggies did was win seven consecutive games to wind up ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 1961.
Granted, Wisconsin's schedule is much tougher than anything Utah State faced during that stretch. But Andersen will have his players prepared.
Q: Liked what I saw from Tanner (McEvoy). He should be on the field every play. Offense/Defense /Special teams. What do you think?-- Robert W., Madison, WI
A: Considering McEvoy still has a small cast wrapped around his left wrist, playing offense right now is basically out of the question. McEvoy broke his scaphoid bone during the team's second scrimmage of fall camp. He tried wide receiver, but catching passes was simply too uncomfortable. If he should be pain free down the road this season, it's worth a shot, though.
As for defense and special teams, why not? He already is playing safety for the first time since his junior year of high school. Against Ohio State he recorded four tackles. Safeties coach Bill Busch told me McEvoy actually played 41 of the 68 defensive plays against the Buckeyes, which is pretty amazing for a guy who hadn't been in that role for four years.
I'm not sure how McEvoy would be used on special teams, but it was great for him to see the field with some regularity against Ohio State, and that should continue moving forward. The guy is 6-foot-6 and 223 pounds with speed and athleticism. Those are some of the traits this coaching staff values most, and he's talented enough to make plays wherever coaches put him.
Q: Is Andersen in over his head now that conference play is starting and big boy football?-- Peter W., Chicago, IL
A: The guy loses one game by seven points on the road against a team that will likely play for the national championship, and he's in over his head? No, I don't think so. Andersen has been around college football for a long time, and the job he did in turning around a terrible Utah State program should prove he knows what he is doing. Barry Alvarez wouldn't hire a coach who would ever be in over his head.
This is Andersen's first time through the Big Ten grind, and everything is still somewhat new: the travel plans, how he and his coaching staff prepares for each opponent. Those aren't excuses. They're simply meant to suggest Andersen, like any new coach, will be even better the more experience he gains in the conference.
It's also worth pointing out that Andersen is essentially coaching a group of players that were recruited by former coach Bret Bielema. Now, these guys are awfully talented. But a more accurate determination of Andersen's effect will come in three or four years when he has had a chance to bring in his own players to fit his style of play.
Q: The offense naturally will look at the QB for leadership, but Stave is young still. Who in that huddle is the one to take command when the game is on the line?-- Mikey T., Aurora, IL
A: Stave may be young, but he's still the one taking command when the game is on the line. That is the quarterback's job, and his teammates look to him for guidance in those situations. Stave really showed something in leading Wisconsin down the field against Arizona State in a hostile environment. He also played quite well against Ohio State.
Andersen has been especially impressed with Stave's improvement as a calming influence in the huddle. And he acknowledged he wasn't always sold on Stave being able to pull that off. Here's what Andersen said during his weekly Monday news conference:
"The most important thing is Joel appears to be preparing very well and he's functioning in the moment very well," Andersen said. "He seems a lot less nervous. Nervous is not even the right word. I don’t believe he was nervous He reacts to adversity in a calm and cool way now as a quarterback. That’s impressive. And I didn’t really feel that in spring and sometimes in fall camp I didn’t feel like that. But he's just, 'OK, here we go.' And that'll continue to improve."
Q: What's the status on Melvin Gordon?-- Bill S., Lakeland, MN
A: On Tuesday, Andersen said, "Melvin will be absolutely fine for the game against Northwestern." That's about the best news Badgers fans could have hoped for.
Gordon could have seriously injured his knee when he went down at the end of the third quarter against Ohio State. But he was fortunate, and so was Wisconsin's offense.
Gordon dropped from the No. 1 rushing leader in the country to No. 8 (139.6 yards per game) following his performance against the Buckeyes. Still, he's a special player and it's great to see he'll get a chance to showcase his skills for more games this season.
Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter