Tom Oates: Big non-conference wins continue to prove elusive for UW

2014-08-31T06:00:00Z Tom Oates: Big non-conference wins continue to prove elusive for UWTOM OATES, 608-252-6172

HOUSTON — Gary Andersen notices it every time he leaves Madison.

After two decades of sustained success, the University of Wisconsin has become a household name in the world of college football.

“I don’t think anybody would sit back and say Wisconsin’s not an elite program in the Big Ten and, quite frankly, in the country,” UW’s second-year coach said recently. “I can walk any hallway — any assistant coach can — in any high school and nobody looks at the Motion W and says, ‘Where you from?’ It doesn’t happen.”

Never has the growing acceptance of UW as a national power been more evident than this season. The Badgers had new starters at 14 of the 22 positions, including the entire front seven on defense, when they played 13th-ranked LSU on national television Saturday night at NRG Stadium in Houston, yet they were still ranked 14th in the preseason poll.

But is UW also seen as a program that can beat the very best teams from the Deep South and Far West?

The answer is no. Going into its game against LSU, UW had proved it could compete with truly elite teams but not that it could beat them. That’s what made this game so compelling. If the Badgers could knock off an SEC powerhouse that won two national championships in the past 11 seasons and had 18 players drafted by the NFL the past two years, it would be a tremendous boost for their national reputation. If they could do it in the Tigers’ backyard, it would carry even greater weight.

Of course, no outcome against LSU was going to permanently alter anyone’s perception of UW. It would still be considered a program on the periphery of the national landscape until it can consistently win games like this. And this year, with major college football going to a playoff for the first time, style points matter more than ever.

Unfortunately for UW, the rare early season game against a strong opponent followed the pattern of so many before it. The Badgers seized control early, but just when it seemed like they could finally break through against an elite team, LSU scored the final 21 points to storm back for a 28-24 victory.

Outside of Big Ten play, UW hasn’t stepped onto the national stage that often. Usually, it only meets elite teams from other parts of the country in bowl games.

UW hasn’t fared well in those games. In high-profile bowl matchups over the past four years, the Badgers lost to No. 3 TCU by two points, to No. 6 Oregon by seven, to No. 6 Stanford by six and to No. 8 South Carolina by 10. None of those outcomes was decided until the final few minutes of the game, but none went in UW’s favor, either.

True, UW has scored some major victories in spotlight Big Ten games during that time. Beating No. 1-ranked Ohio State at home in 2010 and routing Nebraska in its first-ever Big Ten game in 2011 resonated across the land. So did victories over Michigan State and Nebraska in the first two Big Ten championship games.

Impressive as they were, however, those victories had little impact nationally. With the Big Ten’s national image at an all-time low, games matching its top teams are viewed as intramurals these days.

The only way Big Ten teams can boost their stock is to do some damage outside the conference. That hasn’t happened enough in recent years, not for UW and not for the Big Ten.

Even though UW had control of the game throughout the first half and zoomed to a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter, its loss qualified as a major disappointment. Once again, the Badgers couldn’t get over the top, and the discouraging part was the changes Andersen made to put UW on more equal footing with the big boys backfired in the second half.

Among other things, Andersen named dual-threat quarterback Tanner McEvoy the starter over incumbent Joel Stave in the hopes he can generate more big plays with his feet and also help get tailbacks Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement room to run on the edges. He also developed a smaller, faster, more aggressive defense, an approach designed to create more turnover plays and help the Badgers contend with speed on the perimeter.

Most of those changes worked against LSU — but only for awhile. UW’s running game was unstoppable early but LSU shut it off after Gordon’s 63-yard run to open the second half.

McEvoy was simply unable to make the Tigers pay for ganging up on the run, though LSU’s outstanding cornerbacks had something to do with that. He made some plays with his feet in the first half, but finished the game completing only eight of 24 passes for 50 yards with two interceptions.

UW’s defense also took control early, swarming to the ball and stuffing LSU’s vaunted power running game for three quarters. It even set up a touchdown when Joe Schobert forced a fumble. But after senior linemen Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring went out with injuries, UW’s small lineup wilted against LSU’s massive, experienced line and started giving up long runs. LSU scored the game’s final 21 points.

In the end, LSU wore down the Badgers, beating UW at its own game. Of course, that isn’t really UW’s game anymore.

Contact Tom Oates


or 608-252-6172.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(26) Comments

  1. w8rh3wk5
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    w8rh3wk5 - September 01, 2014 2:25 am
    @Richard. ... LSU game is in 2 yrs. Alabama game is next season
  2. shoelessjoe
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    shoelessjoe - September 01, 2014 1:52 am
    Our track record is intact. No Gordon = loss to LSU
    No Clay = down the stretch loss in Rose Bowl.
  3. Buckygobadger
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    Buckygobadger - August 31, 2014 9:51 pm
    It comes down to game management. This was not a well managed game in the second half.
    How does a head coach (of whom I have great respect) not know or question the whereabouts of Melvin Gordon for most of the second half? We got out-coached in some games we lost last year...and it happened again last night...that is even more disconcerting than losing a game we should have won. There was much uncertainty going into this season and not much, if any of that has been dispelled.
  4. idunoe
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    idunoe - August 31, 2014 9:51 pm
    My, My, didn't you people see the wheels fall off of the UW train (wreck) at the end of the first quarter? LSU started with an offensive blocking scheme that didn't work. Their OL blocked and went to the linebackers. Except they didn't block well and UW DL were able to make the tackle. LSU made an adjustment. UW was ok, but not dominant on the line against running. The fact that UW became quickly one dimensional, McEvoy not being able to long throw, not being able to throw on a left roll out and UW only being effective (except once) on the outside left LSU with an easy victory. I just hope Coach Anderson can withstand the Alvarez curse. Brett B. didn't drink when he first got to UW. BA has a long history of coaches taking up drink to their detriment. Well UW has a gravy schedule from here on out this season. Maybe a 10 win season.
  5. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - August 31, 2014 9:13 pm
    OK, let's take the long view here. After the final whistle blew down in Houston, the TV commentators made much of the fact that the Badgers' streak of opening-day victories had just been ended, but LSU's tops-in-the-nation run of wins over non-conference opponents had just increased by a notch.

    How many people here think that record will survive next season's jaunt to Lambeau Field?
  6. nudolfan
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    nudolfan - August 31, 2014 8:35 pm
    We replaced a coach who is an egotistical jerk with one who everyone says is a great guy and classy, but what difference has that made? Bret couldn't win his biggest games, and Gary has yet to win a big game too. I lost a lot of respect for Andersen when he said after the game that he didn't know why Gordon didn't get more carries in the second half. When a head coach doesn't understand why his best player is not being used, there is a word for that - CLUELESS!!! Give me a classless coach over a clueless one every time because a classless coach might win, but a clueless one won't.
  7. w8rh3wk5
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    w8rh3wk5 - August 31, 2014 6:38 pm
    This commonality is alarming from BB to GA. Last season losses to ASU, OSU, PSU, S Car werent good. And now LSU loss is tough.

    The rest of the season UW may be favored in every game and could still be in the big ten title game.
  8. Maui Jim
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    Maui Jim - August 31, 2014 5:06 pm
    You hit the nail on the head...while Alvarez is here we will never get a coach with anything but a run the ball first mentality. The ability to get a good QB starts with an offensive style that will showcase his talents. Penn St. has a possible 1st round QB because their previous coach was the OC for the New England Patriots and an offensive minded coach. USC has a promising young QB, because of their style. What good QB would come to Wis. with their "Barry Ball" philosophy?
  9. Steve_R
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    Steve_R - August 31, 2014 4:46 pm
    Bucky's "wheels" were loose at the end the Third Quarter. Something needed to be done.
    More runs from Gordon. Stave back in for a couldn't have hurt. Go for the jugular...try to grab a Big Win. Looked to me as though Bucky was just trying to hang on and you're not going beat LSU that way.
  10. somecleverscreenname
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    somecleverscreenname - August 31, 2014 4:40 pm
    Well almost, Bielema's Arkansas team led a much better LSU team in last years meeting until the final minute. LSU scored on a pass to Dural and won by 4.
  11. natcheztrace
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    natcheztrace - August 31, 2014 4:19 pm
    @blockhead: If you are waiting for Oates or any of the media class in this town to ask "the tough questions" when it comes to covering UW sports, you will be sorely disappointed indeed. Alvarez does not allow reporters to cover his programs if they don't drink the kool -aid first. Remember Vic Feuerherd?
  12. Runrunrun
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    Runrunrun - August 31, 2014 4:09 pm
    Coach GA is a great guy and a classy individual especially when compared to the social train wreck he replaced. However GA approach to go for more speed and lighter defense and offensive players is not going to work. We are already losing State players to MSU, MN, NEB. The last coach that tried this was Don Morton and we all know how that turned out. Time to return to our roots.
  13. nufsenuf
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    nufsenuf - August 31, 2014 4:03 pm
    Looked good for a quite a while and raised hopes, certainly a better showing than a Bielma team would have shown. However the reality is that the Badgers are still a 'Big Ten' team and have not yet escaped from Big Ten habits. A new coach with a new approach showed promise but still too much history dragging them down. There is still a constant (or is it anchor) of the past and that is constant is Alvarez. In spite of conference accomplishments (mostly tarnished or asterisked) in my opinion, the lack of success outside of the conference is linked directly with his tenure. The Badgers will never be a national power until Alvarez is gone.
  14. blockhead
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    blockhead - August 31, 2014 1:55 pm
    Thanks for asking the tough questions, Tom! (sarcasm)
  15. dave from monona
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    dave from monona - August 31, 2014 1:24 pm
    People ask me, why did GIVE up my 5 season tickets after 30 years. I finally was fed up with poor service at camp Randall, high prices in concession stands, fourth quarter, and bowl game destructions,, and excuses by our local radio show host , wow! What a surprise I lasted this long.
  16. dave from monona
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    dave from monona - August 31, 2014 1:15 pm
    WOW! Didn’t see that one coming, lack of discipline, tackling, and focus in crunch time. What were coaches doing on sidelines to change pattern of wr. . Running the wrong routs, play, after play?, and the d. coach playing nickel in crunch time? When LSU, was cramming it down our throats, it is frustrating to see an outstanding man, game, after game have his team self-destruct once again. The most frustrating part of the night was in the post-game when Coach A. was asked: what happen to M. Gordon? He replied that he didn’t know that Gordon only played 2 snaps in the second half, and maybe instead of rugby style of punting, just punt the dam ball and worry about it after fact. Mistakes, are the most frustrating, and do not use the fact of it being our first game, these mistakes are an ongoing problem with this program, and who do we look for to blame? Are famous king pin Elverez.
  17. ERobert5
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    ERobert5 - August 31, 2014 1:01 pm
    No conference, save for the Big Ten, goes into "don't lose" lose mode so quickly. You're up 24-7 and you're dominating? Why go to the nickel D for most of the 2nd half? Oh, you mean the "hey, let's just not give up a big play" defense?

    It's a mindset, and one that needs to change if the outcome of these games are going to change. Most other schools look at a 24-7 dominating lead and think "more more more, let's win by 30+". Big difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. The latter is this team's and, for the most part, the Big Ten's MO.

    I had to laugh that Shelton was chosen as an impact player...just 'cos you play as a freshman, and get beat like a drum by WRs flying by you, doesn't mean you're automatically going to be better the next year. McEvoy and Stave had 6 months to get better, 6 months to throw the rock over and over and over again until you CAN actually hit the broadside of the barn. Not sure what they did instead over the last 6 months, doesn't appear the coaches did much with them either. Terrible coaching.

    You choose your starter 'cos he gives you more options offensively and then you run exactly one play which highlights his skills over the guy you benched. Terrible coaching.

    I can punt the ball 20-30 yards. I had no idea that could get me a scholarship on a Big Ten football team.

    Start a freshman at QB, he couldn't have played worse than McEvoy. Not sure i've ever watched a QB with so little interest in throwing the ball. Let me change that, not sure i've ever watched a QB who was so scared to the throw the ball. McEvoy and Stave had all offseason to be grown men and TAKE the job. No one did. Neither wants it that bad. Please have both of them holding clipboards the rest of their careers and find someone on this dadgum team who WANTS to play quarterback.

  18. StormeeATL
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    StormeeATL - August 31, 2014 11:33 am
    We beat Miami in the 2009 Champs Sports, Bowl, they were #15 and we were #22. In the regular season, not sure when we beat someone as strong as LSU from a power conference. May have to go back to the BA Rose Bowl years when we seemed to play a lot of Pac-10 teams
  19. Whazzat
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    Whazzat - August 31, 2014 11:24 am
    Very perceptive of Andersen that high school kids and coaches know that W stands for either Washington or Wisconsin. Hope he doesn't waste too much time working on this obstacle with his recruiters.
  20. Harvey
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    Harvey - August 31, 2014 10:50 am
    The quarterback who can run is passing to receivers who evidently have no idea what the play is (or the QB doesn't - take your pick).. Meanwhile the quarterback who is the passer is on the sidelines. Probably the best back in the country is on the sideline. The punter can't. Defensive backs is an oxymoron.
  21. jenzut
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    jenzut - August 31, 2014 10:43 am
    Blah blah blah...we pay you to WIN. If your STAR doesn't agree with your QB choice, you play him anyway! Further evidence that football coaches are control freaks. Melvin Gordon is NFL ready now. He should have left this sorry group and gone last spring. Poo poo on the damn score up, don't be a bunch of panzies!
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    BUCKYUAZ - August 31, 2014 9:46 am
    You can't coach speed. LSU has it and UW doesn't. I agree we got out coached as well but LSU wins this game most of the time regardless.
  23. squirrel
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    squirrel - August 31, 2014 9:07 am
    if this is the best we could come up with after the off season, we are in big trouble. So many holes to fill, poor defense, defensive backs are terrible other than Caputo. Huge holes for LSU to run through after they made some halftime adjustments. Finally, we were out coached again BIG TIME. This team has a long journey ahead.
  24. BLG
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    BLG - August 31, 2014 8:16 am
    Boy oh boy is our cupboard that bare?
  25. w8rh3wk5
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    w8rh3wk5 - August 31, 2014 7:12 am
    Tell me the last quality nonconference win for UW??? Its been a long time
  26. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - August 31, 2014 1:04 am
    If you're an OC vs. the Badgers, go for the long pass. Usually the worst that happens is you get 15 yards for PI.

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