Wisconsin Badgers ace quizzes, have bigger test upcoming
MADISON—Now that Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen and his players have devoured the two hors d’oeuvres on their non-conference schedule, the level of competition increases significantly, as will the need for more efficient execution.
The 21st-ranked Badgers kept Andersen’s UW record unblemished with a 48-0 victory over Tennessee Tech in front of an announced crowd of 77,785 Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium.
UW, which has outscored its first two opponents by a combined 93-0, now prepares for what should be a demanding test Saturday at Arizona State before Big Ten play opens one week later.
No more Football Championship Subdivision programs (Tennessee Tech) on the schedule. No more teams in the second year in the Football Bowl Subdivision (UMass).
“Obviously this is where the true season begins,” said senior inside linebacker Conor O’Neill, who recorded a team-high nine tackles Saturday in his first college start. “We have ASU next week. We have to give them our best, give them our all.”
Senior linebacker Chris Borland chuckled when asked if it is accurate to say the level of UW’s competition will rise beginning this week.
“It is more than safe to say,” Borland said. “Arizona State is a really good team. I think they are top-25 or top-15 caliber team.
“At home, their first test. It will be a great environment.”
Perhaps the most encouraging development for UW Saturday was the overall performance of redshirt sophomore quarterback Joel Stave, who shook off an ugly interception with his hottest stretch in college.
The interception came on UW’s third series, when Stave threw the ball into double coverage trying to hit Jared Abbrederis near the sideline early in the second quarter.
“I wasn’t happy,” said Stave. “You’re never thrilled about throwing interceptions. That’s something that as a quarterback you never want to do.”
Stave got on the headset with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who preached long breaths and a short memory.
“He never gets too high or too low,” said Stave, who was upset afterward about several balls he underthrew when he had receivers open. “Just stay calm. Forget about that one. Keep moving forward.
“There’s a lot of game left. You don’t want to worry about one play and let it take the rest of your game down.”
Stave raised his game after the turnover.
He completed his final 12 passes of the second quarter to finish the half 18 of 20 for 160 yards and three touchdowns.
The lead was 21-0 when UW took over at its 6-yard line with 1 minute 49 seconds left in the half and three timeouts available. Stave completed 10 of 10 passes for 87 yards on the 11-play, 94-yard drive. He capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Brian Wozniak, his first touchdown in 37 games at UW, with 19 seconds left in the half.
Stave extended the streak to 13 consecutive completions in the second half before a drop by Abbrederis and finished 24 of 29 for 219 yards and three touchdowns.
“Joel is coming around,” Andersen said. “I will say this. There were times where the leadership appeared to be even better today than it has been throughout camp and last game. I was proud to see that.
“He made a mistake and threw the ball in the wrong spot. It’s the ones where they’re wide open. We’ve got to get some of those cleaned up.
“He’s moving in the right direction.”
Ditto for UW’s defense and the running backs.
UW recorded shutouts in its first two games for the first time since the 1958 season. That team, coached by Milt Bruhn, opened with a 20-0 victory at No. 15 Miami (Fla.) and then crushed visiting Marquette, 50-0.
Andersen, 49, wasn’t born yet.
“They prepared great both times,” said Andersen, whose team recorded a 45-0 shutout of UMass in the opener. “Again, it’s going to get tougher, we all know that. All you can do is play the people that are in front of you.”
UW’s tailback trio of Corey Clement, Melvin Gordon and James White predictably ran over the Golden Eagles (1-1).
Clement didn’t have a carry in the first half but carried 13 times for 149 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
Gordon played only in the first half and rushed nine times for 140 yards and a touchdown.
White carried 22 times for 109 yards and a touchdown as UW pushed its two-game rushing total to 780 yards and eight touchdowns.
“It’s been fun, just big competition with those guys to see who’s next,” Gordon said. “We’ve probably got the fans just sitting there like: ‘Who’s next?’
“It’s fun to go out there and compete and make those plays.”
Next up for the 2013 Badgers is a road test against an Arizona State team picked to contend for the Pacific 12 South Division title. The Sun Devils opened their season with a 55-0 victory Thursday over Sacramento State, another FCS program.
The UW players know the appetizers are gone and the main course is on its way.
“We know that,” senior linebacker Ethan Armstrong said, “so we’re just going to have to take the preparation to another level. …
“We know that Arizona (State) is a whole new monster. We know we’ve got to go in there ready to go because they have a lot of talented athletes.”