Wisconsin fans had many gripes and complaints through the beginning of the non-conference season. As fans we've pretty much seen it all already, the good, the bad, and the flat out ugly. But, perhaps the biggest and maybe most deserved gripe was how the offense played under the leadership of Matt Canada and QB Danny O'Brien.
What we were seeing from the Badgers was clearly not what we had seen in the past and what was promised to the fans when Canada was hired.
Seemingly gone were the deep throws to wide receivers, something we documented last week in the absence of Jared Abbrederis. Also gone was any sort of play-action passing or imagination to the passing game period.
That all changed on Saturday as Joel Stave made his first career start in just his redshirt freshman season for the Badgers. Almost immediately you could tell this was a different offense. The Badgers came out firing early and often in how they ran and passed the ball - the exact thing that was missing in the previous three weeks.
On the first two passes of the game Stave connected on a 13 yarder to Jacob Pedersen and followed it up with a 19 yard completion to Jared Abbrederis. Those passes were on roll outs and play fakes and many Badger fans couldn't believe their eyes.
True, the drive stalled out on Montee Ball's first lost fumble in the 711 carries of his career to that point, but the Badgers offense had shown they could at least move the ball, gaining two first downs.
We were all about to witness an offense that better resembled what we've come to know as "Wisconsin football" over the past five years or so. It sure was a heck of a difference from the first three weeks.
In the previous three games the Badgers managed to complete just 7 passes for more than 15 yards in total. Against UTEP the Badgers nearly doubled that total alone, with 6 completions of 15 yards or longer. Three of them went to the returning Jared Abbrederis (60, 47, 19 yards). Unscientifically, Stave was 6 of 7 on deep balls in the game.
That was perhaps the biggest positive to take away from Saturday's game. Abbrederis and Stave clearly have chemistry and know how to use each other's strengths to make things happen for the Badgers. As long as both are healthy and connecting like they did on Saturday we could be seeing the start of the return of the explosive offense we have become accustomed to seeing.
Stave was 12 of 17 passing for 210 yards in the game and while those numbers are great, the most encouraging of them had to be his averages - 12.4 yards per attempt and 17.5 yards per completion. Numbers like that will open up a defense big time.
With the passing game involving roll outs, play action passes, and deep throws it also aided the running game as well. Wisconsin finally got going a bit as a team, rushing for 213 yards and averaging 5.5 yards a carry. Those are numbers than can help you win games as a team.
Wisconsin found a healthy balance between passing (210yds) and rushing (213yds) and the results were the best performance of the season on that side of the ball.
The one caution has to be the fact that this was done against a bad defense and the step up is significant moving forward. However, showing that a balanced and open offensive approach can work with Stave behind center has to have Canada, Bielema and the rest of the offense feeling a bit of confidence and that can go a long way towards helping a team looking to break out.
For as much as everyone wanted to #BlameCanada you have to also give him credit for the game plan and faith he showed in Stave to execute that plan. Going forward and improving off of this could see Wisconsin returning to "Wisconsin football" on a regular basis, or so we as fans can hope, right?