Every week Herald Sports will analyze the most recent Wisconsin football game and hand out grades for each position group on a scale from zero to five. Let’s take a look at how the Badgers fared in their homecoming game against border-rival Minnesota.
Quarterbacks: 3.5 out of 5
It was a steady, efficient game for quarterback Scott Tolzien. The senior captain completed 17 of his 23 pass attempts and fired a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jared Abbrederis for the first score of the game. Tolzien threw for a respectable 223 yards and helped the Badgers’ cause by avoiding any turnovers. There were a couple arid throws that were tipped and nearly resulted in interceptions but luckily for UW those balls fell harmlessly to the ground. Tolzien showed off great accuracy on deep throws to Lance Kendricks and David Gilreath and Wisconsin is going to need to see more of those plays to stretch the defense.
Running backs – 5 out of 5
250 yards and 5 total touchdowns on the ground are deserving of a perfect score. The Badgers went into the game looking to attack the weak Minnesota rush defense and they did exactly that. Freshman tailback James White ran for 119 yards and scored two touchdowns. He also showed off his impressive agility with a juke that wowed everyone at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday and set up a one-yard score. White also made his presence known in pass protection as he picked up a number of blitzes to give Tolzien the time he needed to survey the field. Clay ran for 111 yards and racked up three touchdowns and both he and White averaged over five yards a carry.
Tight ends – 4 out of 5
Kendricks didn’t have a monster day on the stat sheet – 5 receptions for 75 yards – but the senior tight end continues to make an impact in the running game. When Kendricks leads the way on an outside run, opposing defenders don’t seem to stand a chance as evidenced by two pancake blocks from Kendricks on one play. Kendricks’ 75 receiving yards did lead the team and he continues to be the most reliable target for Tolzien. Jacob Pedersen, who made some nice plays over the past couple weeks, was held without a catch.
Wide receivers – 3.5 out of 5
Abbrederis finally got the wide receivers started in the touchdown category. The redshirt freshman’s short touchdown grab in the first quarter was the first by a UW wide receiver in 2010. Nick Toon took a step forward with six receptions for 52 yards, but all of his production came on quick, safe passes. The Badger wideouts came into this season with an eagerness to make big plays downfield and so far we are still waiting to see them on gameday,
Offensive line – 5 out of 5
The highly regarded Wisconsin offensive line finally dominated the way their reputation suggests they should. Against a Gopher defense that loaded the box to stop the run, UW ran the ball at will and opened up plenty of holes for the Badger running backs. Tolzien also got terrific pass protection from the big boys up front throughout as the Gophers failed to register a sack. In fact, Wisconsin only had two plays that resulted in negative yardage on the day.
Defensive line – 3.5 out of 5
UW’s defensive line put in a solid performance against the Gophers. Junior defensive end J.J. Watt picked up an explosive sack and tallied six total tackles on the day. Minnesota was held to just 96 rushing yards on 32 carries, and that’s a credit to the D-line who kept DeLeon Eskridge under wraps. UM quarterback Adam Weber was able to get free on a couple designed sneaks and the defensive line better adjust to that quickly with the elusive Terrelle Pryor coming to town this week.
Linebackers – 4 out of 5
Head coach Bret Bielema awarded defensive MVP honors to linebacker Mike Taylor after the game and for good reason. Taylor was unblockable at times and the UM rushing attack suffered dearly. The sophomore had three tackles for loss (a career high) and was constantly disrupting plays in the Gopher backfield. Senior captain Culmer St. Jean did his part as well, recording a team-high 10 tackles. The linebackers were extremely effective against the run but there were some breakdowns in pass coverage that still need to be addressed
Secondary – 2.5 out of 5
The Badger secondary played without senior captain Jay Valai Saturday and if not for a couple late breakdowns it would have graded out as a stellar performance. Unfortunately, UM wide receiver Da’Jon McKnight victimized UW’s secondary with two highlight-reel catches that resulted in touchdowns. Bryant Allen was also able to find plenty of space on a 60-yard reception, and Eric Lair came down with a 33-yard catch as well. The Badgers know they have to limit big plays to be successful and they didn’t do that Saturday.
Specialists – 1 out of 5
With the Badgers only up by five after a late second quarter Gopher score, UW quickly marched down the field to set up a last-second 49-yard field goal attempt. A conversion would have been a nice momentum boost heading into halftime but Philip Welch’s attempt was off line as soon as it left his foot. That was Welch’s only attempt and it’s a field goal he has to make when UW squares off against stiffer competition. Punter Brad Nortman had another subpar day with just a 39.5 average.