September 27, 2008

Offense fails to put away Wolverines

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - What has to be one of the most disheartening and disappointing losses in recent Badger history, UW blew a 19-point halftime lead and succumbed to Michigan 27-25 Saturday afternoon.

The following is an offensive UW positional breakdown of Saturday's Big Ten opener:

Quarterback:

To be fair, both interceptions thrown by Allan Evridge were a direct result of the Badger receivers. Still, for a redshirt senior that has been through the college football grind in the past, this game had to be one of the worst performances of his career.

Still, anytime a team is on the road and the home team, in this case Michigan, coughs the ball up five times, the visiting team has to take advantage of it. The Badgers had great starting field position throughout the entire first half and were only able to score one touchdown.

Had the Badgers found the end zone more often in the early going of the game, the end result may have been different.

Twice during the course of the game, Evridge (20-37, 226 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) was hit and fumbled the ball when UW had a great chance to pounce on Michigan. Whether or not his receivers were open downfield should not have prevented Evridge from throwing the ball away.

No matter how good an offensive line is, if the quarterback hangs out in the pocket for long enough, defenders will eventually get to him so it is his responsibility to take care of the ball. In short, Evridge lacked basic fundamental disciplines throughout the game, constantly threw behind receivers, and displayed little if any leadership, and that in turn, cost the Badger offense and allowed the Wolverines back into the game.

Not all the blame can be placed on Evridge though, as multiple, well-thrown balls were dropped by open receivers. However, once the Wolverine defense slowed the UW running game, the Badgers were exposed.

While play calling was conservative to say the least, the Badgers simply were unable to finish off the Wolverines when they had the chance and much of that falls on the shoulders of the quarterback.

To his credit, he did lead a six play, 64-yard touchdown drive to give the Badgers an opportunity to tie the game at the end, but the Badgers should have never been in that situation.

Grade: D+

Running backs:

When John Clay was in the game, all he did was rack up 52 yards on three rushes en route to scoring a touchdown. However, the freshman tailback never got back into the game and watched the Badgers surrender the largest comeback in the history of Michigan Stadium to a Wolverine squad that was dead in the water during the first half. His vision and bruising style could have provided a much-needed burst the Badger backs could have used, especially in the second half.

In the first half, the Badgers were able to run the ball on the Big Ten's leading rush defense. But once the second frame started, the Wolverine defense figured out a way to slow UW's attack and forced the Badger's to take the air.

P.J. Hill, who finished with 70 yards on 22 carries, once again struggled against Michigan. Whenever he was in the game, the Wolverines loaded the box and made it difficult for the junior to muster anything more than 3.2 yards per carry.

Zach Brown picked up crucial first downs through the game and seemed to be a mismatch for the Michigan defense. However, he, like Clay, was grossly under-utilized. He finished the game with 45 yards on eight carries.

The Badgers provided a blueprint for the rest of their Big Ten opponents on Saturday as they showed their vulnerability when this portion of UW's game plan is stopped.

Grade: C-

Tight Ends:

A peculiar thing happened when Travis Beckum stepped onto the field late in the game- the Badgers started to move the ball. UW did not want to use Beckum in Saturday's game unless they needed to, and as the wide receivers continually dropped balls, Beckum was definitely needed. His ability to stretch a defense at the H-back position is important, and missing both him and Garrett Graham really hampered the Badger offense.

Both Mickey Turner and [/db]Lance Kendricks[/db] were playing in their first conference showdown, and lacked the experience of the two primary tight ends UW showcases. Along with the wide receivers, Kendricks was responsible for a couple of dropped balls that should have been caught.

It was obvious Michigan was not concerned with Evridge's ability to find his inexperienced tight ends as they continually loaded the box. Having Graham in the game, especially on third and short situations would have been huge for the Badgers as it would have provided a major target for the quarterback. One of the more questionable decisions of the entire game was pulling Beckum on the second try at the tying two-point conversion.

In the end, UW worked with what they had and for the first half at least, it seemed they would be fine in the tight end department.

Grade: C-

Wide receivers:

UW's receivers were simply atrocious. Both interceptions Evridge threw, including the go ahead "pick six" in the fourth quarter, were a direct result of David Gilreath and Kyle Jefferson's inabilities to hold on to well thrown balls.

It was obvious without Beckum and Graham that the Badger wide receivers were unable to pick up the offensive slack. Balls were dropped all game long, and routes were not run sharp to help out UW's struggling rushing game.

Against a secondary that consistently got torched at Notre Dame, the Badgers should have had better output from their wide receivers. In four games, the UW receivers have underperformed, and frankly, they have not shown anything for opponents to be concerned about in the early season.

Grade: F

Offensive line:

Entering the game, the best match-up of the game was UW's offensive line against Michigan's defensive line. In the first half, the Badgers were better, but the Wolverine defense totally dominated UW in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter. In the running game, Michigan only allowed 3.6 yards per attempt for Badger backs.

When the Badgers were in obvious passing situations, Evridge had zero time to deliver the ball. Granted, Michigan was bringing multiple blitz packages and loading the box, but the line has to find a way protect the quarterback and open holes for the running backs.

Frankly, in the fourth quarter, they did not live up to heightened expectations when they were at their greatest.

Grade: D

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