Notebook: McEvoy without a position but proves he belongs on field

Auburn Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall gets tackled by Wisconsin Badgers defensive back Tanner McEvoy in the second half of the 2015 Outback Bowl.

Jonathan Dyer/Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA, Fla. — The way Tanner McEvoy sees it, he’s a man without a position.

But given the way McEvoy performed during Wisconsin’s 34-31 overtime victory against Auburn on Thursday at Raymond James Stadium, he may already have his answer.

McEvoy played sparingly in his role as the team’s backup quarterback, as he has for the latter part of this season. However, he played his first game at safety since the Badgers’ last bowl game and tallied five tackles. The move was made in an effort to give McEvoy more time on the field, and it just may become permanent.

"Whatever the coaches want, I’ll do," McEvoy said after the game. "I’ve got to talk to coach (Paul) Chryst about it obviously. I want to play. We have some players. I’m not sure exactly where my position is. Right now, I’m just going to enjoy the bowl win and take it from there."

McEvoy would seem to provide the most likely lift at safety, particularly given Chryst’s propensity for a more pro-style drop-back passer. That system better fits incumbent starter Joel Stave, who made his 28th career start against Auburn.

"I played the position last year and I got a lot better at it as the season went on," McEvoy said of safety. "So this year I was practicing a lot during bowl prep. We had a few weeks, which is always nice. A few of my tackles were just open-field tackles. Just making sure they don’t get past you and my goal was to bring them down and play the next play."

Badgers interim head coach Barry Alvarez said he was pleased with McEvoy’s performance Thursday, which could bode well for the future.

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"He made a lot of plays," Alvarez said. "He saved some touchdowns. A year ago, I didn’t think he was a very good tackler. But he tackled well in this game. We got some plays out of him. I told Paul already, Tanner’s a big, fast, good athlete. We’ve got to get some mileage out of him some place. Whether you use him sparingly at quarterback or you use him as a wide receiver, you use him at safety. Some place, you’ve got to use him. He’s too good not to be on the field."

McEvoy became the first Badgers player to play on both sides of the ball since Jared Abbrederis lined up at wide receiver and then defensive back for one play against Michigan State on Oct. 22, 2011.

McEvoy earned the starting quarterback job out of fall camp but was replaced by Stave before halftime of the team’s fifth game against Northwestern. This season, McEvoy completed 65 of 112 passes (58.0 percent) for 709 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions. But he also did not attempt a single pass over the team’s final four games (he had one attempt vs. Auburn, but a Tiger penalty nullified the play), used instead specifically in read-option scenarios.

O-line steps up: Wisconsin’s banged-up offensive line persevered through a difficult day that included losing starting center Dan Voltz to a broken left leg late in the first quarter. Left guard Dallas Lewallen moved over to center, while Ray Ball took over at left guard for the remainder of the game.

Alvarez also noted that right guard Kyle Costigan, who has battled an assortment of injuries all season, was nowhere near 100 percent throughout the game.

"Ray’s a good run blocker, and he’s physical and he’s a tough guy," Alvarez said. "I thought we could have some trouble with combinations. It was almost impossible. Costigan was coming out of the huddle, he was hobbling on one leg. That’s how legends are made. They hung in there. They did what they had to do."

Badgers right tackle Rob Havenstein said the public did not know about many of the injuries with which Costigan was working through, and he credited his teammate for demonstrating so much toughness.

"You can’t kill Kyle," Havenstein said. "Kyle’s always going to come back. You can actually take off his leg, he’s going to beat you with it and keep playing. The respect I have for Kyle is just out of this world. I played next to him for three years. I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else."

Gordon’s big day: Badgers tailback Melvin Gordon was named the Outback Bowl’s most valuable player after rushing for 251 yards and three touchdowns. He closed the season with 2,587 yards, which ranks second only to Barry Sanders’ 2,628 yards on the single-season FBS rushing list.

Outback Bowl: Badgers 34, Tigers 31 (OT)

Gordon also put his name on several other team record lists. His 251 yards represented the most on the ground by a Wisconsin tailback in a bowl game, surpassing Ron Dayne’s mark of 246 yards in the 1996 Copper Bowl and the 1999 Rose Bowl. Gordon also broke the school record with his sixth 200-yard game of the season, breaking Dayne’s previous record of five.

Gordon, who will enter the NFL Draft and would have been among the top tailbacks taken last season, said he had no regrets about coming back this year.

"Looking back, a lot of people probably thought it was the wrong decision and a lot of people thought I should have left," Gordon said. "I feel I get better every year, and I felt like I was going to be a better player than I was last year. There were some things I wanted to achieve. I didn’t get the Big Ten championship, but I got the bowl game out of it. I think I became a better player overall, so I did the things I needed to do and I feel lie this year was a success."

Badgers sophomore tailback Corey Clement, who added 105 yards on 15 carries, praised Gordon for being a leader and offered a hilarious bit of draft advice."Melvin’s just something different," Clement said. "They don’t come around too often. Just to say I got a chance to play with Melvin and I get to see him on Sundays, it’s one of the greatest things I could ask for. I just wish him luck. I hope he doesn’t go to the Raiders. That’d be horrible."

Last go: Alvarez officially won his 119th career game on Thursday and will finish his coaching career 119-74-4. The last two games, of course, came only after he came out of retirement to coach in bowl games after the previous head coach left for a different job.

So, would Alvarez ever consider returning to coach for a fourth time under the right circumstances? Don’t count on it.

"That’s it," he said. "No mas. People down here in Tampa understand that. No mas."

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