Every week Herald Sports will take a look back at the Wisconsin football game and grade the position groups on a scale of zero to five.
Here is how they fared in week four’s Big Ten opener versus Michigan State:
Quarterbacks — 5 of 5
It is hard to argue with Scott Tolzien’s performance after the junior was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week. Wisconsin’s signal caller completed 19-of-31 passes for 243 yards, four touchdowns and no turnovers Saturday en route to the Badgers’ 38-30 victory.
Tolzien also was especially effective in spreading the ball around, completing his first four passes to four different receivers and finding seven different Badgers at least once.
Running backs — 4.5 of 5
Much like Tolzien, running back John Clay had a near flawless performance Saturday at Camp Randall. He carried the ball a career-high 32 times, picking up 142 yards and one touchdown. His performance was exceptional for other reasons, however.
The sophomore proved against the Spartans he was not fumble-prone (he did not put the ball on the ground once after three fumbles against Wofford) and showed he can be an every-down back for Wisconsin. He also provided a balanced attack for the Badgers, leading Bret Bielema’s squad to 193 yards rushing to complement Tolzien’s 243 through the air.
Not everyone in the backfield impressed, though. Starter Zach Brown took the ball just 11 times for 18 yards against MSU, including a fumble lost early in the third quarter.
Wide Receivers — 4 of 5
The receiving corps did not exactly have a poor game, but unfortunately for them, it was a tight end who stole the show. Receivers Nick Toon and Isaac Anderson each grabbed three balls for 45 and 66 yards, respectively.
Anderson picked up most of his 66 yards on a 45-yard bomb late in the third quarter. Toon capped off that drive with one of his three receptions, a 19-yard touchdown to open the fourth quarter. David Gilreath also got involved in the passing game, pulling down two passes for 21 yards.
Tight Ends — 5 of 5
After Tolzien and Clay, tight end Garrett Graham was the star of the show Saturday against Michigan State. The senior appeared to be Tolzien’s go-to guy in the passing game, leading the team with five receptions for 58 yards.
Most impressively, Graham was on the receiving end of three of Tolzien’s four touchdown passes, including the Badgers’ first two scores of the game. Graham became the sixth player in school history to catch at least three touchdowns in a game, with the last being fellow tight end Owen Daniels in 2005.
Lance Kendricks was second to Graham in catches with four, picking up 35 yards. Mickey Turner also caught one pass for six yards.
Offensive Line — 4.5 of 5
It is hard to have a good rushing or pass attack without a good offensive line and the Badgers had both Saturday against the Spartans. Statistically speaking, the Wisconsin offensive line did not allow a sack in the game — the third time they have done so in four games — keeping the team’s season total to an NCAA-leading two sacks allowed.
Defensive Line — 4 of 5
When the opposing team rushes for just 90 yards, the defensive line must be doing something right. And when you put pressure on a quarterback — even when rushing just four defenders — that has not been hurried much this season, the D line is at least part of the answer. Add a fumble recovery for defensive end J. J. Watt, and that makes for a strong game up front. Fellow defensive end O’Brien Schofield also earned co-defensive MVP honors from the coaches for his efforts.
Linebackers — 4 of 5
Saturday also was a good day to be a Wisconsin linebacker. Freshman Mike Taylor led the team with eight tackles Saturday and fellow linebackers Culmer St. Jean and Jaevery McFadden were tied for fourth with four apiece. Taylor also had an interception in the first quarter that led to Wisconsin’s first touchdown.
Secondary — 3.5 of 5
The game plan was to shut down MSU receiver Blair White and they did just that, holding him to one catch for eight yards. Free safety Chris Maragos also added a pair of interceptions, giving him the team lead at three and putting him one back of the Big Ten lead. Strong safety Jay Valai also earned co-defensive MVP honors from the coaches .
Yet, it was a 91-yard late touchdown that stands out as a glaring mistake. It was a result of miscommunication and blown coverage, but it still happened and allowed MSU to get back in the game late.
Specialists — 3 of 5
This unit really did not do anything wrong , but they didn’t doing anything spectacular either. Philip Welch connected on seven extra points and a 41-yard field goal, earning him team MVP honors on special teams, but really did nothing to restore anyone’s confidence in his abilities as he still came close to missing a few times.
Gilreath only took the ball on three kickoff returns and managed to pick up 71 yards, but he hesitated once coming out of the end zone and the closest he came to breaking off a big return was a 32-yarder in the third quarter.
Perhaps most impressive on special teams was punter Brad Nortman. He punted five times and though he averaged just 37 yards per attempt, three of the five were inside the 20.