By TOM LEA
MADISON – Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada has engineered an offensive unit that ranks amongst the nation's worst in three major offensive categories (passing offense, total offense and scoring offense), but how much of that responsibility should be put on him?
When fall camp started, remember, Canada didn’t have his best player at his disposal. Instead, Montee Ball spent the first two weeks sidelined — and most of camp limited — while recovering from a concussion suffered during a late-night attack just days before training camp opened.
He had a quarterback competition that wasn’t settled until the team was approximately 12 days away from opening its season against Northern Iowa, meaning Danny O’Brien only got a handful of practices to work with his offensive line as the No. 1 starter.
Canada, then, watched idly by as head coach Bret Bielema decided to fire offensive line coach Mike Markuson just two games into the season.
On top of that, he had to call plays for an offense that didn’t have its top receiving threat against a team that was receiving votes in the AP top-25 poll for the first time in 1966 (Utah State) and had to roll with a redshirt freshman former walk-on (Joel Stave) after previous starter Danny O’Brien was pulled at the break.
It hasn’t exactly been a smooth transition for Canada as he’s started his Wisconsin career as the man in charge of the 114th ranked passing offense (156.33 yards per game), 116th ranked total offense (276 yards per game) and 113th ranked scoring offense (16.33 points per game) in the nation.
“There was definite improvement,” head coach Bret Bielema said during his Monday press conference when asked to analyze the Badgers struggles offensively. “If we had not as a collective offensive group had transition last week we wouldn’t have had success on Saturday. I’m pretty sure of that.
“I think everybody that’s involved on that side of the ball, players included, would tell you that.”
They’d probably also tell you that there are some glaring issues on that side of the ball, too. The offensive line is still not operating at a high level, helping the Badgers rush for just 119.67 yards per game (94th nationally). The quarterbacks have been very inconsistent and Montee Ball has become a bit of a shell of his former self.
There have been just four touchdown-scoring drives of more than 50 yards throughout the course of three games and only five plays (one rush, four passes) that have gone for more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage.
The offense that was one of the Big Ten’s most efficient, productive and explosive units over the past few years is now one of the ugliest, one that relies on giving the ball to Ball an average of 28 times per game.
“I think Matt had success everywhere he’s (been), with moving the football and being balanced with run and pass,” Bielema said. “Obviously a lot’s been noted about his background coming back to this (pro-style offense), but he broke his teeth in a pro-style offense. So I felt comfortable with that.
“I sit with him every day. I think his finest hours are yet to come for us at the University of Wisconsin, obviously.”
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