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Wisconsin Badgers tight end Jacob Pedersen drops a pass while defended by Utah State Aggies safety Frankie Sutera in the first quarter at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison on Saturday evening, Sept. 15, 2012.

M.P. KING - State Journal

While some growing pains were to be expected this season due to the massive turnover in talent and coaches, you didn't expect the University of Wisconsin football team to be forced to win this ugly, did you?

After two years of producing video game numbers offensively, the Badgers often struggle just to move the chains, with 15 of their 35 "meaningful" possessions -- that is, those that don't come with scant seconds remaining in the half -- failing to produce a first down.

Contrast that to last season, when Wisconsin had just 26 such fruitless possessions all season and were held under 30 points just twice.

Shortcomings in recruiting at the receiver position have been exposed, as a case can be made that the most important player on the roster is former walk-on Jared Abbrederis, due to the lack of playmakers behind him.

And while consistently high-level specialists are something of a birthright at UW -- from Kevin Stemke to Brad Nortman at punter, Matt Davenport to Philip Welch at kicker -- the outcomes have been erratic to date.

Freshman punter Drew Meyer has a booming leg but the Badgers were forced to overcome his untimely shank with 5 minutes left in the game, and kicker Kyle French not only left four points on the board -- including an extra point that didn't clear the line, and could have been the difference had Utah State's Josh Thompson not returned the favor with his wide right field goal attempt from 37 yards with 6 seconds left.

With turmoil at quarterback, questions at kicker and something still not clicking on the offensive line -- which definitely carved out more space in the hole Saturday but for the most part has been feeble in short-yardage situations -- this season promises to be a rollercoaster ride offensively.

Tweetable

Count New Orleans Saints rookie receiver Nick Toon among those who were pleased to see Joel Stave get his shot at quarterback Saturday night. The former Middleton and UW athlete, whose Twitter handle is nick2oon, expressed his support soon after Stave relieved Danny O'Brien to start the second half.

>> Glad to see they finally gave a different QB a shot. #badgers

Asked why he's a Stave fan, Toon replied:

>> I think he is a great player. Throws a nice ball, good size, good arm strength, smart, good swag/pocket presence.

Then, following the game, another shout -- and a look forward to the Saints' game Sunday against Carolina:

>> Happy for the #badgers and my boy #stave. Still gotta step it up tho! Now it's time for #WHODATNATION to get this W tomorrow! #WhoDat

And the winner is ...

We asked readers starting Monday for their thoughts on Bielema's decision to fire offensive line coach Mike Markuson in favor of graduate assistant Bart Miller.

While the majority of you felt that for one reason or another, the move was legit, the No. 2 answer was "only time will tell."

By the way, if you want to put a face to Miller's name, check out WSJ photographer M.P. King's image of the new hire in our gallery from Saturday's game.

Here are the full results:

560: yes, something had to change

504: only time will tell

394: yes, it was clear the team wasn’t responding to his leadership

199: no, Markuson should have been given the rest of the year

118: I’m not sure

110: no, they should have hired someone with more experience

This week's poll question

Who should start at quarterback against UTEP this week? You make the call in our poll, which is displayed to the right. (Mobile users vote here).

Notable numbers

3.5: Average yards per rush by the Badgers against Utah State.

6: quarters in which UW has been outscored this season, out of 12 (50 percent)

8: quarters in which UW was outscored last season, out of 54 (14 percent)

7: Rushing first downs allowed by the Badgers against Utah State, after giving up just four in their first two games combined 

15: possessions without a first down through first three games of 2012

18: consecutive home victories for the Badgers, dating to a loss to Iowa on Oct. 17, 2009

26: possessions without a first down in the entire 2011 season

38: home games since the Badgers were outscored in each of the first two quarters, dating to a 30-24 win over Illinois on Oct. 28, 2006. That's not counting a 48-7 loss to Penn State at Camp Randall in 2008, which was wiped off the historical record as part of the NCAA punishments levied in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

63: career touchdowns for Montee Ball 

How foes fared

Northern Iowa (1-2). For the second time in three weeks, UNI faced a Big Ten school. Once again, the Panthers put up a decent fight, but coach Mark Farley was less pleased with a 27-16 loss at Iowa on Saturday than the close call in Madison in the season opener. “We didn’t play that well here,” Farley said. “We played good at Wisconsin. We didn’t play that good today. We had a couple of moments.” Up next: Saturday at Youngstown State.

Oregon State (1-0). The Beavers had a bye week. Up next: Saturday at UCLA.

Utah State (2-1). A week after benefiting from an offensive pass interference call in overtime of a huge win against Utah, the Aggies were burned in the closing minute against the Badgers when Kellen Bartlett was flagged for that same infraction on first-and-10 at the UW 15. While Utah State still was in position for a makeable field goal, Josh Thompson probably would have been looking at a 30-yarder compared to a 37-yarder for the game-winner. “I didn’t see it; I don’t know what the call was,” Andersen said. “It is what it is now. Whatever I say isn’t going to change anything, but we were going to try to score there and see if we could get a touchdown. If not, we would get to third down, get up and spike it and kick the field goal.” Up next: Saturday at Colorado State.

Texas-El Paso (1-2). The Miners, who were limited to 17 points combined in their first two games, exploded offensively in a 41-28 victory over New Mexico State, with Nick Lamaison throwing for 300 yards and four touchdowns while completing 21-of-32 passes. This was the one non-conference game UTEP was supposed to win; it was the Miners' fourth straight win in what is dubbed the I-10 series. Still, the manner in which they dominated, by storming to a 27-0 lead and then answering the Aggies' one challenge, generated confidence heading into Saturday's game in Madison. "We were expecting to do big things," tailback Autrey Golden, whose kickoff return to the UTEP 45 stole back momentum after NMSU had closed to within 27-14. "When you expect it, it's not as exciting. We wanted to show killer instinct and get it done." Up next: 11 a.m. Saturday at UW.

Sept. 29, at Nebraska (2-1), 7 p.m. Relying heavily on the power toss to Ameer Abdullah, the Cornhuskers pounded Arkansas State 42-13 in Lincoln on Saturday, even as coach Bo Pelini headed to the hospital at halftime to undergo tests. The nature of Pelini's ailment has not been made public, but he returned to work on Sunday, a school spokesperson said. With workhorse running back Rex Burkhead still sidelined by an MCL sprain in his left knee, Abdullah rushed 30 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns, with no carries for negative yardage. Up next: Saturday vs. Idaho State.

Oct. 6, vs. Illinois (2-1), 2:30 p.m. The Illini faced one of the worst teams in FCS and not only were able to hand Charleston Southern its 16th straight defeat — by a 44-0 count — they did so while resting injured quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (ankle), running back Josh Ferguson (concussion), offensive lineman Graham Pocic (knee) and linebacker Houston Bates (leg). Up next: Saturday vs. Louisiana Tech.

Oct. 13, at Purdue (2-1), 11 a.m. The Boilermakers demonstrated big-play and quick-scoring ability in easily overwhelming Eastern Michigan 54-16, amassing 576 total yards and at one point scoring 27 unanswered points in an 11-minute span. Up next: bye, before hosting Marshall on Sept. 29.

Oct. 20, vs. Minnesota (3-0), time TBA. There's a quarterback controversy brewing in Minneapolis, too. Max Shortell directed three touchdown drives in relief of MarQueis Gray, who left on a cart before halftime after injuring his left ankle, energizing the Gophers en route to a 28-23 victory over Western Michigan for their first 3-0 start since 2008. "I thought (Max Shortell) came in and really provided a spark. He was probably the difference," Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit said. Up next: Saturday vs. Syracuse.

Oct. 27, vs. Michigan State (2-1), 2:30 p.m. There's a hangover in the post-Kirk Cousins era, as the Spartans can't seem to get the passing game going with Andrew Maxwell. The Spartans had seven drops and no completion longer than 23 yards in a 20-3 loss to Notre Dame that represented Michigan State's worst offensive output at home in more than two decades. Up next: Saturday vs. Eastern Michigan.

Nov. 3, bye

Nov. 10, at Indiana (2-1), time TBA. Not only did the Hoosiers lose to Ball State for the third straight time — including two in a row in Bloomington — but less than 10,000 people were around at the end to witness a dramatic comeback that went for naught. Indiana lost 41-39 on a 42-yard field goal by Steven Schott after the Hoosiers had rallied from a 13-point deficit in the final four minutes with true freshman quarterback Nate Sudfield at the helm. Up next: bye before playing at Northwestern on Sept. 29.

Nov. 17, vs. Ohio State (3-0), time TBA. The Buckeyes survived a scare from Cal at home, prevailing 35-28 on Braxton Miller's tiebreaking 72-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith with 3:26 remaining. Ohio State committed four personal fouls and benefited from three missed field goals by the Bears. Up next: Saturday vs. Alabama-Birmingham.

Nov. 24, at Penn State (1-2), time TBA. The Nittany Lions earned the first victory of the Bill O'Brien era, a 34-7 decision over Navy, as sophomore Allen Robinson emerged as a threat at receiver following the departure of the top two returnees in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. Robinson grabbed three touchdowns and had 136 receiving yards. Up next: Saturday vs. Temple.

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