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UW quarterback Tanner McEvoy didn't have the debut he was hoping for on Saturday night against LSU.
A look back: LSU
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON – Each week we’ll take a look back at Wisconsin’s game and pick some positives and negatives from it.
The following comes from the Badgers 28-24 loss to LSU on Saturday night.
1) Fast start
In a majority of their big games a year ago, Wisconsin came out flat and on their heals. That wasn’t the case on Saturday night. UW took their opening possession 76 yards in six plays and scored on a 45-yard run by wide receiver Reggie Love. They followed that up with a 6-play, 28-yard drive that resulted in a 51-yard field goal from Rafael Gaglianone.
While the offense got rolling early, the defense opened strong as well. They forced seven punts in the first half, and forced a fumble that setup Melvin Gordon’s 14-yard score to give UW a 17-7 lead at the half.
A strong start to the second half – a 6-play, 75-yard drive that Corey Clement capped off with a 2-yard – gave UW a 24-7 lead.
2) The linebackers
Things eventually broke down for the Badgers after injuries to their defensive line, and being on the field for long stretches of the second half, took their toll. But the new look linebacking core was fantastic for much of the game.
Wisconsin had nine tackles for loss in the game and the four starting linebackers accounted for 5 1/2 of them. Senior Marcus Trotter seemed to continually slice through the vaunted LSU offensive line to find a running back looking for room. He finished with 12 tackles, 2 1/2 for loss and also had a 1/2 sack.
It’s possible that junior Joe Schobert was even better than him. The outside linebacker had eight tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss. He also had a caused fumble that UW would turn into a touchdown.
“I thought the linebackers played really good,” Schobert said. “Played hard the whole time. That’s one thing I know our linebacking core will never do is take plays off. We play hard the whole game. It just didn’t roll our way.”
3) Michael Caputo
Usually it’s not a good thing that your safety is your leading tackler, but in Caputo’s case it was just fine. Most of his 15 tackles were around the line of scrimmage. And while many will only remember the final 12 minutes of the game, when LSU was able to have some success running the ball, Caputo was an animal for much of the contest.
He closed well on a deep pass to break it up in the first quarter, recovered the fumble forced by Joe Schobert in the second quarter and was likely at his best during UW’s goal line stand midway through the third quarter.
On first-and-goal at the 8-yard line, LSU ran a toss play to freshman phenom Leonard Fournette. He powered his way for a 4-yard gain, but without Caputo around his legs, it may have been a touchdown. On second-and-goal they went a near toss to Fournette again. With only the 6-foot-1, 212-pound, Caputo standing between him and the endzone, the 230-pound, Fournette lowered his head to run over the junior. Caputo was having nothing of it, up-ending the freshman for no gain.
UW would sack Anthony Jennings on the next play, forcing LSU to settle for a field goal.
1) The passing game
UW coach Gary Andersen talked after the Capital One Bowl loss in January about wanting to get better in the pass game. Not just at the quarterback position, but also in protecting the passer and catching the ball. After one game, they aren’t better than they were at the end of 2013, and in fact, appear worse.
“I talked to you (guys) many, many times about our ability to protect the passer and our ability to throw the ball down the field,” Andersen said. “Couldn’t do it again. Until we can find a way to do that, you’re going to get ganged up on the run.”
Tanner McEvoy, making his first start at quarterback in Division I, was just 8 of 24 on the night for 50 yards and a pair of interceptions. Save for the Indiana game in 2012, when UW ran for 605 yards but passed for just 41, the yardage total against LSU was the lowest since Mike Samuel threw for 45 yards in a 31-0 win over Iowa in 1998.
“We’ve got to complete some balls,” said McEvoy, who did rush for 40 yards. “You’ve got to complete them when it’s on the line, and we didn’t make a play when it needed to be made.”
It appeared several times there was some miscommunication with routes down the field, including two where it seemed McEvoy and wide receiver Reggie Love weren’t on the same page.
“We broke off the wrong route a couple times,” Andersen said. “Nothing to do with Tanner.”
Though McEvoy wasn’t sacked, Andersen wasn’t pleased with the protection he got. And when asked if he considered going to backup Joel Stave, who started 19 games over the past two seasons, the second-year coach was dismissive.
“No,” Andersen said. “We can’t protect the passer. It does not matter who your quarterback is. The guy is running for his life.”
2) The use of Melvin Gordon
There are plenty of theories going around as to why Gordon carried the ball just four times in the second half, and just three after breaking off a 63-yard run to open the third quarter. While the truth of what happened to UW’s Heisman Trophy candidate isn’t clear, here’s what we do know.
Gordon opened the second half with the long run, his 13th carry of the game. Understandably, he went to the sideline after that play. His backup, Corey Clement, carried it three times and punched in UW’s last touchdown of the day from 2-yards out. At that point, Clement had 10 carries and Gordon 13.
On UW’s next drive, with Clement at tailback, McEvoy threw incomplete down the field to George Rushing, Clement went for a loss of 1-yard, and a 6-yard rush on third down by the quarterback led to a punt.
“(We) went with Corey and we didn’t do what we needed to do on that drive,” Gordon said. “Which was OK, you know Corey is a great player. He could have gotten the job done. Things just didn’t go our way that drive.”
Gordon returned on the following drive, carried once and was stuffed for no gain. That carry came at 2:11 left in the third quarter, nearly 13 minutes after his last one. They’d end up punting two plays later.
After an LSU touchdown to cut it the lead to 24-21, Gordon bounced off left guard for a 3-yard gain, for his 15th carry of the game. McEvoy would be intercepted a play later, and LSU took the lead just three plays after that with a 28-yard run by Kenny Hilliard.
With UW needing a drive, their best player, Gordon, was sitting on the sideline the next series. He watched as Clement carried four times for 14 yards before another McEvoy interception ended that drive.
“I was good,” Gordon said when asked if he was injured. “Little sore. Obviously you get hit, big hits in the game. That’s what type of game it is. But I’m A-Okay, man.”
When Andersen was asked a similar question about his junior tailback’s health, he said no as well, though the coach did mention a situation at halftime that remains unclear.
“There was a little bit of a scenario with Melvin being completely ready to go at halftime, but I didn’t hear anything,” Andersen said. “He came out and hit the long run, seemed to be OK.”
So why didn’t UW get the ball to a guy that was averaging 10.7 yards per carry after the first run of the second half?
“(I) don’t know,” Andersen said.
Wisconsin was feeling really good coming into the game on the injury front. After a fall camp in which several key players missed time, they looked to have their full compliment of key guys on the field. It didn’t last long.
Konrad Zagzebski was taken off the field on a stretcher in the first quarter after the defensive end jammed his helmet into the side of Kenny Hilliard. The running back then fell on the senior. Zagzebski was done for a long time but gave a thumbs up to the crowd as he was being taken away.
A tweet from the UW Twitter account said that Zagzebski had been released from the hospital and traveled home with the team.
A potentially bigger and more severe injury occurred later in the game. Senior Warren Herring got rolled up on and suffered an apparent knee injury. He was helped off the field and couldn’t put any weight on his right leg. The nose guard was on crutches and had a large wrap on the leg after the game.
Meanwhile, it appeared punter Drew Meyer suffered some type of lower body injury, and fullback Derek Watt was in a walking boot as he left the locker room.
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin