Wisconsin is a very good football team. Penn State is less so. Andrew Rosin, of Bucky's 5th Quarter was generous enough to take some time away from his Thanksgiving holiday to enlighten us all on just how good the Badgers are. We are thankful for his time.
BSD: From an outsider's perspective, it seems like Wisconsin has been hideously underranked all season long, considering its only losses were thanks to an officiating failure at Arizona State and by a TD at Ohio State. How have Badger fans been handling the disrespect?
B5Q: How good do you think this team really is? Badger fans have been handling the disrespect with the same grumbling stoicism that happens when a winter just won't go away or a driver from another state does something to impede your progress much less kill you. It's the choice you make when you willfully schedule UMass and a below .500 FCS team. Sometimes the rankings are slow to recognize your greatness and are going to give you a bad time. And as for how good I think this team really is? I think they somehow got a rematch with Ohio State, they could beat them. Jacob Pederson and a couple of offensive linemen didn't play, and the secondary's improved by leaps and bounds since. So you know, I like them a little.
BSD: It seems like the first year of the Gary Andersen era couldn't be going much better. How does he differ from Bret Bielema, aside from lacking the propensity to be photographed shirtless? (#karma?)
B5Q: For one, he's recruiting on a national level and it seems to be working. The Badgers have a potential starter from day one at receiver from Georgia for the 2014 class as well as getting a running back from South Carolina. They're in on major recruits in California and Oregon as well. Most Badger fans have been in a lassiez-faire "let's see how they develop" sort of attitude with the recruiting classes under the previous regime. This year? There's expectations for 2014. This may be the BEST RECRUITING CLASS EVER for whatever that's worth. On the field, the smartest thing Gary Andersen did was very little. The Badgers are passing more, but it's still a team that lives by the run. In fact, you might say the only thing that changed from what made the Badgers successful is that they'll attack on defense more and they use a running back semi-heavily in the passing game.
BSD: Another year, another two (maybe three?) Wisconsin running backs putting together breakout seasons. Give us a scouting report on James White and Melvin Gordon, and an explanation as to how UW just keeps churning out star rushers.
James White is severely underrated. He helped keep defenders off of Jared Abbrederis almost by himself at the start of the year with his hands in the receiving game. He's not as physically gifted as Melvin Gordon, but he gives you a little bit of everything running wise. Good vision, a decent amount of power for his size, and he'll hit the hole hard. He's been climbing up the draft boards every week since the Iowa game with the way he's been running. Melvin Gordon: I've said he's the most physically gifted running back the Badgers have had in the modern era, and it's true for a reason. You saw a flash of it on that shovel pass last year. He has good speed that seems great because he gets to top speed quickly. He's also a fluid runner that won't shy away from between the tackles work when teams start selling out to not look so foolish on the jet sweeps. Explanation? There's no major secret. The Badgers have been developing professional level offensive linemen for the past two decades, and the Badgers level of brutal efficiency is based on the running backs they get. Right now? It's pretty close to optimal.
BSD: Joel Stave won the QB job in the offseason, and hasn't looked back since. In a run-heavy offense, what has he been asked to do, and is he the QB of the future, or will top--JuCo-QB-turned-safety Tanner McEvoy give him a run for his money?
B5Q: The expectations are basically that he has to be efficient. Scott Tolzien levels off efficiency work best, but if you can keep the defense thinking that someone's going to be able to go over the top. That can be enough to pull the defense off of selling out to stop the run. The second question can be tricky to answer. Gary Andersen has a propensity to desire a mobile quarterback, which Stave isn't. But Tanner McEvoy has become an integral piece of the secondary in the off time. He might be out of the race. I'd say yes, but the future could well change right quick if D.J. Gillins or Austin Kafentzis seem ready.
BSD: Outside of Chris Borland. the defense doesn't get as much credit as the Badgers offense. Who are some other players key to the Big Ten's #2 total and scoring defense? And how has the transition to a 3-4 defense been going?
B5Q: Beau Allen is the perfect two-gap nose guard. He can collapse a pocket if he goes one-on-one, but he fronts the defensive line, which has allowed Chris Borland to shine. Brendan Kelly's been disruptive and scary good this month off the edge, he's someone you need to watch out for. Three pieces in the secondary warrant mentioning. Sojourn Shelton's a true freshman who's shown himself as a worthy starter from moment one as a Badger. He will be a star barring injury or mistake. Michael Caputo has been almost a fifth linebacker with his performance at safety. He's second on the team in tackles, but he's playing downhill and he's just a sophomore. Tanner McEvoy's doing stuff at safety that well, and when you're that big and athletic, that just plain causes havoc. The good news was that the front seven was kind of tailor-made to make the transition easy. Kelly was the other defensive end in the 4-3, and he was the only position switch. Otherwise, look at the numbers. It's going pretty well.
BSD: In order for Penn State to win, what has to go wrong for Wisconsin, aside from "everything"?
B5Q: Two things will help Penn State spoil. One, you need a major sequence to shake the Badgers. A deep touchdown to Allen Robinson plus a pick six. Two, your running backs can't put the ball on the carpet. If you can win the push in the trenches, and yes that's easier said than done, you cannot fumble. Do this, and you can make this a game instead of what Vegas thinks its going to be.
BSD: How do you see this one shaping up?
B5Q: I think this is going to be a game that shows ChristIan Hackenberg that there are still steps he has to take to improve. I think the Badgers are going to effectively stifle the running game, and contain Allen Robinson, at least for a while. You will keep it closer than you expect at halftime, but the Badgers pull away in the second half. Badgers 35, Penn State 7.
Thanks again, Andrew! Happy Black Friday everyone! Read Bucky's 5th Quarter!