A Come-From-Behind 37-Point Victory?

What is it with the 2008 Wisconsin Badgers football team taking one quarter off each game? Last week they let Akron back in the game with a sloppy second quarter, and this week they started horribly against Marshall, letting the Thundering Herd dominate for the first fifteen minutes (OK, 16:30) on their way to falling behind 14-0.

But let’s face it, if Wisconsin continues to play like they have for the other three quarters, no one will have many complaints.

In proceeding to outscore Marshall 51-0 over the last 43:30, the Wisconsin Badgers put to quick rest a couple of big doubts that had suddenly been triggered in the minds of the 80,396 Badger fans at Camp Randall: One, are the Badgers simply not as good as advertised? And two, can Allan Evridge compete? Uh, for those distracted over the weekend by US Open Tennis rainouts and the BMW Championship, that would be a definite “no” and an even more definite “yes.”

Against a defense that was clearly designed to stop UW’s potent running attack (408 yards against Akron) and force Evridge to win the game, Wisconsin’s new quarterback proved that he was more than up to the challenge, completing 17 of 26 passes for a stellar 308 yards.

This coming-out party for Wisconsin’s passing game is huge for Bucky; as the Badgers’ schedule gets tougher (starting this week at Fresno State), opponents now need to be prepared for a more balanced offensive attack, and Evridge needed the confidence he could do more than just hand the ball off.

Of course Evridge can’t take the credit for the dominating win alone. His receivers, still minus Travis Beckum, stepped up huge — five different receivers caught at least three balls, and no receiver stepped up bigger than Lance Hendricks, who not only led all Badgers with 94 receiving yards, but hauled in perhaps the biggest catch of the game, a 36-yarder in the second quarter that sparked Wisconsin’s first scoring drive at a time when the overall mood at Camp Randall was threatening to shift from surprised confusion to outright anger. Also contributing big was sophomore Kyle Jefferson — three catches for 66 yards, including a beautiful 42-yarder in the second quarter as Wisconsin  was continuing its comeback —  who is quickly shaking off his disappointing training camp.

And lest anyone assert that it was only through the air that Wisconsin got it done on Saturday, I would point out that no fewer than six of Wisconsin’s seven touchdowns were on the ground. Certainly the team’s overall ground game was less spectacular against Marshall than it was against Akron, but 158 net yards and six touchdowns is hardly the same as getting shut out.

Of course, no recount of Saturday’s game would be complete without mentioning the three Badger interceptions, including two by sophomore Niles Brinkley, on three consecutive Marshall second half drives that played no small part in snuffing any Thundering Herd hopes of a comeback. Just as importantly as the interceptions themselves was the fact that Wisconsin turned two of those turnovers into touchdown drives, turning a still-close game into a rout.

Looking for negatives from Saturday’s game? Well, if you must, four Badger fumbles aren’t great (although only one resulted in a turnover), and Marshall did win the crucial (at least to some) time of possession battle (31:31 to 28:29). But really, anytime a team wins by 37 points, it’s a good day.

Wisconsin’s pasting of Marshall resulted in the Badgers being promoted to tenth place in both the AP and Coaches’ Poll. How the Badgers handle their next challenge, Saturday’s road game against number 21 Fresno State, will go a lot way in determining how long they remain in that elite company. For a change, they’ll likely have to play four good quarters to be 3-0 going into conference play September 27 at Michigan.

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