While most will see the loss to No. 3 Alabama as doom and gloom, the reality is the Crimson Tide were the better team coming in and going out of AT&T Stadium. Losing to ‘Bama is no shocker, at least no one without extremely Cardinal and White glasses on shouldâ€™ve expected anything less.
The thing that maybe shocked most was the inability of the Badgers to find anything in the run game. It didnâ€™t help that star running back Corey Clement got just eight carries and was apparently nursing a strained groin the entire week leading up to this contest. Without him in the lineup this team is just simply not the same, and the lack of consistency killed this team in the end.
“Well, there were — we couldnâ€™t run the football with any consistency,” said Chryst following the game. “We had a couple runs, but nothing consistent. There was a couple times they got their hands up and the ball went down and had some pressures. Itâ€™s a good defense. But we just — I just didnâ€™t feel like we were able to kind of be consistent.”
However, with Clement out, and the run game wholly ineffective (just 40 yards on 21 attempts), it also gave us a chance to see what quarterback Joel Stave has in his final year at the helm of the Badgers offense.
Judging by what he did against a tough Alabama front seven, Stave is more like his old self and less like the 2014 version. That alone is reason to be positive, because we got to see that the passing game isnâ€™t going to be an Achilles heel for UW this season, like it was last year.
Stave finished the game 26-of-39 for 228 yards and two touchdowns to one interception. His 228 yards topped any performance he put on in the 2014 season and was the fourth-highest passing total of his career.
All of that against one of the most talented and deep front sevenâ€™s the Badgers have faced or will face all season long. On Saturday night, Stave gave the Badgers their best chance to win this ballgame â€” and when was the lat time anyone said that?
He was decisive with the football, made smart reads and never gave up on the game. With no run game, and some shaky pass protection, it couldâ€™ve been easy to fold in the tent during the second half, but Stave fought and fought hard.
That caught the eye of Chryst following the game as well.
“I thought Joel — I love the way he competed, and I thought he did some good things,” Chryst said. “I think he was seeing the field well. A couple throws, they did a nice job. And the windows closed pretty quick with this group.
“I thought he was decisive. And I thought he did some good things, you know. Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ll look back and there will be some areas, like everyone, where we can get better. But I thought that — I loved his demeanor throughout the game, you know.”
About the only complaint one could have with Staveâ€™s throwing performance was the number of passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage. However, that had way more to do with the offensive line and its inability to sustain blocks in pass protection than Staveâ€™s sight or throwing ability.
While these may all be consolation prizes to a W, not everything about this game was negative for the Badgers. Going forward it will be key to pick apart this loss, learn from the negative moments and grow on the positive ones.
Once the issue of pass protection is addressed, this team appears to have enough weapons for a varied and competent passing attack.
Stave got a ton of his teammates involved in the passing game, with eight different players recording receptions on Saturday night.
Alex Erickson continued to be the favorite target, putting up six receptions for 73 yards and one touchdown, but UWâ€™s passing attack showcased much more variety last night than it did at any point last season.
Running back Dare Ogunbowale picked up six receptions for 39 yards, while fullback Derek Watt became a great outlet for Stave when under pressure and it showed in his five-reception, 22-yard night as well.
Rob Wheelwright, who got the start over Tanner McEvoy thanks to a knock picked up in practice, showed promise as well, recording his second career touchdown and picking up another reception as well.
Then again, with Paul Chryst at the helm of the offense and this team, should we expect anything less?
Letâ€™s see if more balance over the next few weeks can equate to even better results for Stave and this team. After one week though, it is clear something is different with this passing attack, and that only bodes well for the Badgers potential down the road.
With games against Miami (OH), Troy and Hawaii on the docket, there was plenty to show Wisconsin is more than capable of competing at a very high level on the offensive side of the ball. Putting it all together against opponents not named Alabama will be the key over the next three weeks.