UW benefits from lack of turnovers in defeat of Illini

first_imgWhile a dominating rushing attack can almost always be counted on for the Wisconsin football team, it only means so much when turnovers start to rack up. Following a four-interception performance in their loss against Northwestern last weekend, the Badgers bounced back with a clean slate, not turning the ball over once in their 38-28 defeat of Illinois this Saturday.Per usual for a game in the comfortable confines of Camp Randall, the Badgers’ rushing attack of Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement was relentless, bashing the Illini’s front seven to the tune of 401 yards rushing. Wasting no time, the Badgers stormed out of the gate with a six-play, 80-yard touchdown drive consisting of all rushes and no passes to take the 7-0 lead.Due to the effectiveness of the run-game early, it wasn’t until a third and long on the Badgers third drive of the game that quarterback Joel Stave’s number was called to drop back and pass, which resulted in an incompletion and the subsequent punt. However, on the Badgers fourth possession, Stave was instrumental to the team’s second touchdown drive of the game, completing a key 10-yard pass to Alex Erickson on a 3rd and 9 and another 22-yard strike to Sam Arneson that set up the tying touchdown by Gordon early in the second quarter.Looking back at the offense’s performance against Northwestern, Gordon credited the improvement of ball control in the Badgers’ 38-point bounce-back effort, as the team had zero giveaways during the day. Despite racking up 259 yards against the Wildcats last weekend, Gordon was limited to just one score, and the team as a whole to a measly 14 points.“It’s big because when you turn over the ball like that, it’s hard to win ball games,” Gordon said. “So you have to do your best to keep the ball in your possession and try to score, but when you turn over the ball, it’s just hard to win. You give them a short field and it’s just tough in this conference.”While turnovers weren’t the cause, the Badgers still had issues with giving the Illinois offense short fields in the beginning of the game. The combination of two short drives with poor starting field position and ineffective punts gave the Illini two different starting drives inside the Wisconsin 50 in the first quarter alone. On both occasions, Illinois marched down the field with two short drives that ended in touchdown passes from quarterback Reilly O’Toole.The Badgers front seven didn’t have an answer for the Illini rushing attack early in the game, as O’Toole and running back Josh Ferguson combined for seven carries and 59 yards in the first quarter. With the score tied at 14 late in the second quarter, the Badgers had forced the Illini into a fourth and two from the Wisconsin 36. The Illini’s decision to go for it set up what was the defining play of the afternoon.The play call was a standard run up the middle with Ferguson, and a battle of sheer strength between the offensive and defensive fronts. Recognizing the play early, outside linebacker Vince Biegel immediately stuffed the lane and stopped Ferguson for no gain. Immediately following the turnover on downs was a 34 yard-rush from receiver Kenzel Doe, and a 30-yard touchdown run from Gordon to seal the deal. In more than 35 seconds, the Badgers went from being in danger of trailing the Illini to taking a 7-point lead.Biegel’s fourth down stop was one of six tackles he had on the day in what Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen believed was one of his best days as a Badger. Biegel’s teammate, safety Michael Caputo, said that drive stood out above the rest in dictating the direction of the game.“That was the momentum shift for the game I really thought,” Caputo said. “It was big, every drive counts, but I feel like that one was very significant in the momentum turn and just turning the whole morale in our direction.”Although the rushing attack lead the way on both of Wisconsin’s second half scoring drives, Stave showed an improved presence in the pocket and didn’t try to force any throws into coverage. While his numbers weren’t spectacular by any means, finishing the game 7-14 with 73 yards and no touchdown passes, Stave helped the Badgers maintain their lead and didn’t make it easy for the Illini offense to move down the field, as he didn’t turn the ball over once all game. Last week against Northwestern, Stave had three interceptions with one of them coming in the end zone and another deep in Wisconsin’s own territory.Stave, who didn’t start for the first five games of the season, noted the importance of preparing as if he was the starter no matter where he found himself on the depth chart. While the general thought going in he would split time with fellow quarterback Tanner McEvoy, Stave ultimately played all but one series on offense in what he described as a nice return to the field at Camp Randall.“It was exciting, it was a very familiar feeling for me, but it never gets old,” Stave said. “Walking over to the stadium on Friday afternoons, going through the game plan one more time, waking up on Saturday mornings, it’s a fun feeling.”While he missed some opportunities for big plays down the field, Andersen emphasized the importance of Stave getting back on the field and experiencing the atmosphere of conference-level competition for his development going forward.“I think Joel’s ability to be in the moment in these Big Ten games is a feel right now that is a positive situation, and I think it’s good to know that he’s been in those moments,” Andersen said. “I think the throws down the field, even though not connected, it’s invaluable.”last_img

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