Another edition of the Badgers mailbag is in the books, but we’ve got some great questions (and hopefully adequate answers) listed below. In this week’s edition, we talk about quarterback play, the perception of the Big Ten, Melvin Gordon’s potential pro career and stopping Nebraska tailback Ameer Abdullah. We also play armchair quarterback and revisit one of coach Gary Andersen’s in-game decisions against Purdue last Saturday.
Thanks to all for submitting questions. We’ll post a link to next week’s mailbag Saturday following Wisconsin’s game against Nebraska.
And now, on to the questions.
Q: Just a thought . . . wouldn’t it be great fun to see Tanner McEvoy as the spin back in an old single-wing backfield with this team? Keep Joel Stave as the primary passer but have a backfield of McEvoy under center, Watt as the blocking back, Melvin and Clement as the wingbacks. Let them stack all they want, but with this huge offensive line how much fun would that be, and probably really productive. — B. Gailbreath, Madison, Wis.
A: Andy Ludwig is a pretty progressive thinker, and I just don’t see him reverting to a scheme that’s been mostly out of date since World War II. At this stage of the season, how about we all just look for more consistency out of the current two-quarterback system?
Saturday’s game against Purdue really was the very best we’ve seen of the Joel Stave-Tanner McEvoy combination. Stave has to be in there to throw and keep defenses honest. And he did so in the second quarter by completing 12 of 13 passes and throwing two touchdown passes. McEvoy, meanwhile, is no longer being asked to control an entire series, which ultimately would force him into throwing situations. He recorded just one pass against the Boilermakers but ran four times for 42 yards, which included a 13-yard touchdown run to give Wisconsin a 31-16 third-quarter lead.
It will be interesting to see what Ludwig does with his two quarterbacks for the final three games of the regular season. But based on what we saw against Purdue, there is plenty of reason for optimism.
Q: What is your favorite Bo Ryan quote of all-time? I bet there are some doozies . . . — Morgan, Eden Prairie, Minn.
A: Wow, this is a good question, and I wish I had one answer to give. Bo can be such an entertaining guy, and his ability to veer off topic occurs maybe once every press conference. He loves to share stories about growing up in Chester, Pa., but that doesn’t provide an actual quote. Just a few weeks ago in practice, he reminded forward Vitto Brown that the basketball wasn’t a grenade and wouldn’t go off in his hand — Bo’s way of telling Brown not to throw the ball away to the other team.
I’m going to tell you I don’t know how accurate this link to Bo Ryan quotes really is, but they all seem plausible. That link could provide a good idea of what Ryan is about.
Q: Jesse, let’s be honest: The Big Ten is down this year. REALLY down. But, in your opinion, how bad is the league this year compared to past years? What other years were this bad? Any? — K.B., Minneapolis, Minn.
A: You know what’s funny to me? People are talking about how down the Big Ten is this year because the conference isn’t likely to be included in the four-team College Football Playoff. But compared to recent years, I actually think the Big Ten is slightly better than it has been.
In the East division, Ohio State is ranked No. 8 in the AP top-25 poll and has one bad loss to Virginia Tech at home. Michigan State is ranked No. 12 with losses to No. 3 Oregon and No. 8 Ohio State. The West’s two premier programs — Wisconsin and Nebraska — are about to play in one of the most important Big Ten games of the season. Nebraska is ranked No. 11 and Wisconsin is at No. 22. Throw in Minnesota, which is 7-2 overall and in the hunt for the West title, and I think this is a pretty compelling Big Ten race.
Now, this answer isn’t meant as a defense of the Big Ten in relation to other conferences. The true measure of a conference’s greatness seems to be how good the very best in the league are, and right now the very best aren’t good enough for the playoff.
As for comparisons to previous years, last year only three Big Ten teams finished the season in the AP top 25: Michigan State (3), Ohio State (12) and Wisconsin (22). In 2012, four teams finished in the top 25: Ohio State (3), Northwestern (17), Michigan (24) and Nebraska (25). In 2011, there again were four Big Ten teams in the final poll: Wisconsin (10), Michigan State (11), Michigan (12) and Nebraska (24).
So this year’s Big Ten is really about the same in terms of national stature based on the rankings, if not a tad better.
Q: I was upset that Wisconsin didn’t take a timeout at the end of the first quarter with Purdue facing a fourth down and long, forcing them to decide on punting instead of attempting an improbable field goal into a stiff wind. I thought that would be a better use of a timeout. Your thoughts on the matter are appreciated. — Buck72, New London, Wis.
A: This is absolutely a valid concern, and I remember thinking the same thing during the second quarter. As a refresher for other readers, Purdue faced fourth-and-7 from the Wisconsin 36 and wound up drilling a wind-aided 53-yard field goal to open the second quarter, which trimmed its deficit to 7-6. If UW had used a timeout before the first quarter ended, there was no way Purdue kicker Paul Griggs would have even attempted such a long kick without the wind.
I’m willing to bet Gary Andersen simply wanted to save his timeouts for later in the half. It’s also possible he didn’t think A) Purdue would attempt a field goal or B) Griggs would make a career-long kick if the Boilermakers did try for it.
Ultimately, the Badgers used two timeouts on their final offensive drive of the first half, which came in quite handy because Joel Stave hit receiver Alex Erickson for a nine-yard touchdown with 32 seconds remaining. Still, Wisconsin went to the locker room having not used one of its timeouts. Hindsight is always 20/20, but it seemed like it would’ve been a wise decision to make Purdue punt.
Q: Wisconsin’s defense has good numbers, but they haven’t faced a running back like Abdullah and an offense like Nebraska. How do you think they’ll fare? What’s the over/under on points? — Eric, Sheboygan, Wis.
A: I certainly don’t expect Wisconsin’s defense to pitch a shutout against a Cornhuskers team that is averaging 40.4 points per game. But I do expect the Badgers to play at a high level (I picked Wisconsin to beat Nebraska 31-17 back in the summer, for what it’s worth). There’s no question Abdullah brings a different dynamic — the kind members of Wisconsin’s defense probably only see in practice against Melvin Gordon. Still, if UW wants to achieve something special this season, it has to play its best on Saturday.
As for the over/under, I’ll cede to the experts in Las Vegas, who list it at 57 points between the two teams. I’d say if Wisconsin can hold Nebraska to 21 points or fewer, that’s pretty incredible. Nebraska has scored fewer than 31 points only once this season — and it came in a 27-22 loss to Michigan State.
Q: Wisconsin has had many great running backs in the last 20 years, but I am continually amazed by Melvin Gordon! How do you think he will translate to the pro game? — G. Zampanti, Austin, Texas
A: Honestly, I think he’s the most pro-ready running back Wisconsin has had during that entire stretch, which includes Ron Dayne and Montee Ball. Gordon has all the tools necessary to be a star in the NFL. He has the speed to zip past defenders with even a minimal crease and the strength to drag would-be tacklers with him up the field. And he has excelled in all the areas he wanted to improve by coming back to Wisconsin for his junior season.
His pass protection is markedly better, and his pass-catching skills have been on display, as well. Gordon has caught 11 passes for 83 yards with two touchdowns, including that incredible 27-yard score against Purdue in which he hurdled a defender at the goal line. Before this year, he had caught all of one pass for 10 yards in his career.
Wisconsin fans should hope he remains healthy for a long time because he’s going to be special in the NFL.
Q: Tanner McEvoy seems to have completely figured out the offense. Any chance we get to see him play both sides of the ball as . . . just kidding. You have been stranded on an island not unlike the one Tom Hanks floated to in Cast Away. However, only three packages wash ashore. What three items would you want most if the only goal was to stay alive the longest? Not get rescued. Just staying alive. Also, go Badgers. — J. Arens, Chicago, Ill.
A: From the man who brought you a question last week about superpowers comes this one. First and foremost, you can’t survive without food. The first question here is, what would I want to eat? All I can say for certain is that it would have to be one of those oversized five-pound bags of something non-perishable from Costco or Sam’s Club. Second, you must have water. So, I’ll go with some kind of 100-gallon bottle of water. They make those, right?
As for item No. 3, you’ve got to have some form of entertainment. Let’s just say, since this is a hypothetical world, that the third package was a Fisher-Price basketball hoop set — the kind used at halftime of Badgers basketball games during those kids dunk contests. Yeah, that sounds like a good time.
Well, my friend, I think I’m all set. Are we going to make this a reality TV series?