Badgers Pass Grueling Road Test

It seemed really odd.

Midway through the fourth quarter of what was a far more exciting game than the 13-10 final score would indicate, there was Badgers quarterback Allan Evridge, who, like the entire Badgers team, had turned in an impressively gritty performance, being carted off the field at Fresno State’s Bulldog Stadium.

Carted off the field for cramps. Not since Paul Pierce was infamously put in a wheelchair during this year’s NBA Finals has such a major precaution been taken for such a minor injury. At least it was a little worse than the ESPN2 analysts were theorizing; they seemed to believe that Evridge was mostly dehydrated, at which point I couldn’t help but think of The Office‘s Michael Scott, who also was had to be treated — by his pediatrician, who gave him a lollipop — after not drinking enough water during his charity run for rabies.

That Paul Pierce and Steve Carell made their way into my consciousness toward the end of Saturday’s Badgers/Bulldogs game can be partly explained away by the lateness of the hour that the game finished — about 1 AM CST — and the mind’s ability to fight the desire to sleep by conjuring up bizarre thoughts. One thought I had, however, seems just as sound after a few hours sleep: It’s too bad that this, and not the Ohio State/USC laugher, wasn’t ABC’s primetime game. Because it was a classic.

Wisconsin’s victory and move to 3-0 heading into this week’s bye as the frontrunner in the Big Ten was highlighted by some great (and not-so-great) individual performances. Here are some of the biggest:

Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham.The tight end tandem was huge for Evridge, pulling in nine of his twelve completions. It was especially nice to see Beckum back in the lineup for the first time this year, and he showed no rust coming off his injury. Graham of course was crucial on Wisconsin’s only touchdown-scoring drive (of just three plays), hauling in a 22-yarder and the two-yard score.

P.J. Hill and the offensive line.In a game in which Fresno State seemed to want to outmuscle Wisconsin (bad idea), Hill and his blockers up front completely dominated the Bulldogs’ defensive line. Hill finished with 26 carries for 112 yards — most of it right up the middle. Not gaudy numbers, but when Wisconsin needed the yards, Hill and the o-line more often than not got them.

Matt Shaughnessy.The Badgers’ defensive lineman tipped two crucial third-down passes off Bulldog quarterback Tom Brandstater, the first of which landed in DeAndre Levy’s arms for an interception. The turnover led to the Badgers’ only touchdown.

DeAndre Levy. Besides the interception, the Badgers linebacker was in on nine tackles and had a huge sack of Brandstater during Fresno State’s final drive. 

Jonathan Casillas.Despite playing with a knee brace, Casillas returned to the starting lineup and had an enormous impact, with seven total tackles.

Bill Rentmeester.The Badgers fullback only had one carry for eight yards, but it was a biggie: With less than two minutes to play and the Badgers pinned deep in their own territory, Rentmeester plowed his way through the line for an eight-yard, first-down run that effectively sealed the victory and ended the game.

Devon Wylie.A non-factor in the first half, the Bulldog wideout was huge in the second as the Bulldogs tried to mount their comeback. Wylie finished with 87 all-purpose yards, most significantly a 47-yard touchdown (Wylie made several Badgers miss tackles on the play) that cut the Badgers’ lead to three early in the third quarter. Wylie also had a 25-yard rush on that drive.  Unfortunately for Fresno State, Wiley was injuried and left the game in the fourth quarter.

Kevin Goessling.As tough as the Badgers played, they easily could have found themselves on the losing end had the Bulldogs’ freshman kicker not shanked three of the four field goals he attempted. Two of the three misses were admittedly from long distance, but the most crucial miss — a 35-yarder in the fourth quarter — was inexcusable.

A.J. Jefferson.At a time when the Badgers were struggling offensively, the Fresno State cornerback provided a much-needed spark when he fumbled a punt in the third quarter. The Badgers couldn’t do much on the ensuing drive — six plays for 17 yards — but it was enough to get them a field goal (their only points of the second half), which would prove to be the difference in the score.

WAC officials.They didn’t just blow a big call in the third quarter — they got it right but then reversed it, raising eyebrows and opening the door to allegations of impartiality. Late in the third quarter, Bulldog receiver Chastin West clearly fumbled a caught ball which was then recovered by Wisconsin linebacker DeAndre Levy. After Fresno State coach Pat Hill wisely threw the challenge flag, the call was inexplicably changed to an incompletion. Perhaps shell-shocked defensively, the Bulldogs immediately completed a 61-yard pass play — their longest of the game — before the Badgers’ defense stiffened, holding Fresno State to its only made field goal of the game. But the kick should never even have been allowed to be attempted.

After by far their most grueling and closest victory of the season — Fresno State outgained the Badgers as well as held the ball longer (underscoring the importance of the Bulldogs’ turnovers and missed field goals) — the Badgers now go to Michigan for their first conference game of the season, followed by a primetime Camp Randall showdown with Ohio State. But considering how Michigan (1-2 in non-conference play) and Ohio State (after a 35-3 pasting at USC on Saturday) have started the season, perhaps the Badgers’ toughest test is behind them.

Of course the Badgers have a week off first. Should be plenty of time for Evridge’s cramps to heal.

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