Every week, Herald Sports will take a look back at how the Wisconsin football team did in its most recent game and grade the performance accordingly. Here’s how the Badgers fared on the road against Michigan State.
Quarterbacks – 2 out of 5
Scott Tolzien wasn’t great for the Badgers, going just 11-of-25 for 127 yards and a touchdown pass. A few of his throws weren’t on the mark, but a few were just plain dropped. His over-the-shoulder toss to Jacob Pedersen for a first down and the lack of interceptions were positives. Also, consider Tolzien often had no time to throw and was hit or hurried on most of his chances. Although it may not have mattered, it would have been nice to see Tolzien look crisper on that last desperation drive.
Running backs – 2.5 out of 5
It was pretty easy to see who won the John Clay-Greg Jones matchup this time. Clay was hit in the backfield a number of times and almost never had any holes to run through en route to his mediocre 85-yard day. Freshman James White was a bright spot, with two touchdown runs he bounced to the outside. Overall, Wisconsin was unable to establish its running game, which led to an inability to establish rhythm on offense.
Wide receivers – 1 out of 5
What wide receivers? Nick Toon, David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Jared Abbrederis combined for four catches and 62 yards. Toon, despite his insistence otherwise after the game, looked rusty and was a non-factor. Gilreath didn’t get in until late in the game and Anderson had his usual up and down performance. Abbrederis, who had been so good for the Badgers in Toon and Gilreath’s absence, was hardly used.
Tight ends – 2 out of 5
Lance Kendricks led the team with three catches, but only got 17 yards out of them. He was fairly invisible the whole game, from a blocking and receiving standpoint and all he can really take from the road trip is a dislocated middle finger. Pedersen did a nice job, scoring a touchdown and making a pretty grab on the run for a first down.
Offensive line – 1 out of 5
For all the talk of how talented the Wisconsin offensive line is, they were bullied around on the line of scrimmage all game. Aside from UW’s two touchdown drives in the second half, the Badgers’ big guys didn’t play very big. Tolzien almost never had adequate time to throw, and was hit on a consistent basis. There were seldom holes for the running backs, and if UW can’t establish its ground game, it means trouble. White’s two touchdown runs came only after there was nothing in the middle, and he was forced to bounce it to the outside.
Defensive line – 2.5 out of 5
Two problems with the line in this game: first, they had trouble stopping the run, and second, they had trouble getting to MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins in time. The first problem is the bigger one, as the Spartans were able to pound the ball on the ground well enough to set up play-action passes and know they could pick up yardage. The Badgers sacked Cousins twice, and were in his face throughout the game; the problem was, they seemed just a second late or a step too slow in crucial situations. Credit Cousins for performing under pressure and throwing the ball away in time, but it would be nice to see J.J. Watt’s supporting cast take the quarterback down when they’re that close to him. Watt did all he could, finishing with 10 tackles, and 2.5 tackles for loss, including a sack.
Linebackers – 2 out of 5
The linebackers didn’t seem to be much of a factor in the game. Mike Taylor, Blake Sorenson and Culmer St. Jean all had at least six tackles, but time and again, were challenged by MSU’s Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell. When the Spartan running backs got through the line, they more often than not found a way to get extra yards at the expense of UW’s linebackers. The play wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t outstanding, either. Someone needs to step up in Chris Borland’s absence and become a difference-maker.
Secondary – 3 out of 5
While UW’s linebackers didn’t go above and beyond, the Badgers’ defensive backs did what they could to impact the game. Devin Smith and Antonio Fenelus had interceptions, while Niles Brinkley forced a fumble that UW recovered. Still, some short to mid-range passes were turned into big gains, and four different Spartans receivers had a reception go at least 30 yards. The defensive backs need to be able to close quickly when the other team uses screen passes, like the one to Larry Caper that essentially clinched the game for MSU.
Specialists – 2 out of 5
Kicker Phillip Welch hit the one field goal he was asked to, connecting from 49 yards out. He averaged 67.6 yards on his kickoffs and did a better job of hitting the ball far enough, and to the right people. Punter Brad Nortman had two of the worst punts of his career, one mishit line drive that allowed Keshawn Martin to return the ball for a score, and a 14-yard unintentional pooch punt on his next attempt. The return was a big turning point in the game and there were still some issues on kickoff coverage, one that led to a facemask penalty on Smith, giving MSU a short field, and eventually, a field goal.