Football with big opportunity to bounce back against Illinois

first_imgFor the second-straight year under head coach Gary Andersen, the Wisconsin football team has started the season off with a 3-2 record including a loss in the first Big Ten game of the season.The losses to start the Big Ten season both came on the road, last year at Ohio State and last week at Northwestern. But this Saturday, the Badgers have the opportunity to rebound at home for the second consecutive year, as they host Illinois.But unlike last season at this juncture, when redshirt junior Joel Stave had solidified his spot as starting quarterback and the offense as a whole had relatively few questions, this season’s week six brings about many possibilities.Those possibilities include, but are not limited to, both Stave and redshirt junior Tanner McEvoy playing quarterback against the Illini (3-3 overall, 0-2 Big Ten).Andersen said he is now a “firm believer” in the offense as a whole, particularly in their ability to support either McEvoy or Stave. He added the offense would be “best-served to be able to play both quarterbacks.”After McEvoy started in the 20-14 loss to the Wildcats this past Saturday, Stave came on in as relief in the second quarter, finishing 8-19 for 114 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.Although he struggled in his first game back, and what was his first full week back after being sidelined with throwing issues, Stave said that getting his first game action of the season proved beneficial.“I think that helped a lot, just getting back in there in a game, getting the feel for the speed of the game and everything like that again,” Stave said. “Just getting those first couple snaps for this season under my belt really helped.”Despite Andersen disclosing that both quarterbacks will see the field Saturday, Stave admitted that he doesn’t know how exactly he or McEvoy would be used throughout the game.Regardless of how the two are used and how their time on the field is split, Stave and McEvoy will both need to be ready to go. Both Andersen and Ludwig said this past week the quarterback with the hot hand could receive the majority of the snaps against Illinois.The quarterback position isn’t the only one in flux right now. At the beginning of the week Andersen said that younger players on the offensive side of the ball could see more playing time, specifically wide receivers. Through the first five games, only Alex Erickson, Kenzel Doe and Jordan Fredrick have more than two catches in the group of wide receivers. Doe has five grabs with four of those coming against Northwestern, while Fredrick has just two all season. Meanwhile, freshmen George Rushing and Natrell Jamerson have one total catch combined, and sophomore Reggie Love’s only big play was a 45-yard run against LSU with no receptions yet this season.Andersen didn’t point to specific players, but did say younger players could contribute more this weekend.“It is a complex offense, but these kids should be in a spot to where they know the offense now and they should be able to get out there and be involved,” Andersen said. “It’s getting better. I said it a week ago, you’ve got to show it in practice to get on the field, and that is improving. So our ability to get those kids in those moments … Saturday is hopefully close to [that] happening. I like them.”As far as the defense is concerned, senior inside linebacker Marcus Trotter will miss after suffering a groin injury against Northwestern. Cornerbacks Devin Gaulden and Derek Tindal are questionable for Saturday, sustaining injuries against Northwestern as well. With those three players out against the Wildcats, the Wisconsin defense suffered through its worst performance of the season, allowing 385 yards of total offense while having their worst tackling game of the season, according to Andersen.The absence of Trotter, and possibly Gaulden and Tindal, will certainly hurt Wisconsin as they try to slow down an Illinois offense that is averaging 28 points per game.“He’s one of the key assets of our defense now,” safety redshirt junior Michael Caputo said of Trotter. “Nothing to take away from the guys who came in and played their hearts out, came in when he went out, but he’s a very good player. He always communicates. He knows what he’s doing out there. It definitely hurt us when he was missing.”Injuries have been an issue for the Illini as well, who this week lost their starting quarterback Wes Lunt to a broken leg. If there are any positives from the situation, it’s that backup quarterback Reilly O’Toole has played in all six games this season. But O’Toole has thrown only one touchdown this season against four interceptions and has a completion percentage of 52.6 in limited time this year.However, the big weakness for the Illini is its defense that, outside of allowing over 35 points per game, has been torched by opposing rushing attacks. Illinois has surrendered almost 250 rushing yards per game, including 349 to Purdue last weekend.That’s good news for Wisconsin’s star running back Melvin Gordon, who rushed for 142 yards and three scores a season ago in a win at Illinois.Regardless of the shaky quarterback situation, Gordon will dictate much of what happens Saturday at Camp Randall, and most likely, the outcome.“I’m sure there’s more to come. [I’m] excited about the level of play and where he is and the situations that he’s putting us in to be able to have an opportunity to win games,” Andersen said of Gordon.The Badgers and Illini will kickoff from Camp Randall Stadium 11 a.m. Saturday.last_img