The Maryland football team still is searching for their first Big Ten victory and the Terrapins return home to take on Wisconsin.
For the second consecutive week, Maryland will face one of the top teams in the West Division. The Badgers are coming off an impressive 48-10 win over Rutgers this past weekend.
For a more in-depth look at Wisconsin, we caught up with Jim Oxley, who is the editor over at FanSided’s Wisconsin site Badger Of Honor. We asked Jim five big picture questions about the Badgers and will be speaking with him later in the week for more questions.
Take a look at our Q&A session below:
TS: Is there a quarterback controversy in Madison?
BOH: There’s so much animosity toward Joel Stave despite the fact that the kid is one of the most prolific passers by the numbers in school history. He’s 26 yards away from becoming the fifth quarterback in school history to throw for 2,000 yards in multiple seasons, and he’s 78 yards away from becoming one of there QB’s in school history to throw for at least 7,000 career yards. The problem is, when he’s off, it looks really, really bad, even when the yardage is still there. That happened last week when one of his two interceptions was a poor throw that was intercepted and returned for Rutgers’ only touchdown of the game.
That being said, if you ask the fans who should start, you’ll probably get many who want to see Bart Houston get a chance to start after he helped the Badgers come back to win against Illinois when Stave was hurt. (Conveniently, those people talk up Houston’s 22 completions on 33 attempts for 232 yards and two touchdowns, but gloss over the two terrible decisions that led to red zone interceptions). If you ask the coaching staff, however, there isn’t and won’t be a quarterback change unless Stave is physically unable to play. Stave has been the starter since spring, and Paul Chryst doesn’t appear to have any interest in going elsewhere.
TS: What is the identity of the Badgers?
BOH: Defense, defense, and more defense.
This Badgers defense is a behemoth. Wisconsin leads the country in points allowed, and almost the entirety of points that have been scored against the Badgers — at least in Big Ten play — have come directly off of turnovers. The Badgers get after the quarterback and feature a fearsome outside linebacker duo of Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel who have more than 15 sacks between them. The inside backers are a true freshman in Chris Orr and a redshirt freshman in T.J. Edwards who stick their noses in the run game.
Wisconsin hasn’t given much to opposing offenses, and the defense is truly the story of the 2015 Badgers.
TS:Is 2015 being viewed as a down year for Wisconsin?
BOH: In a sense, yes. I think the expectations for this Wisconsin team were to win the Big Ten West again and get a crack at the top team from the east in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Badgers really have no chance at making that happen unless Iowa has a catastrophic collapse, which given their remaining schedule, seems highly unlikely.
The injuries throughout the offense have certainly hurt. The Badgers have been without two of their top three running backs for many weeks, have lost their top tight end and No. 2 wide receiver, and are throwing very young players onto an offensive line that is in flux without one of the best centers in the country, Dan Voltz. The defense has played well enough to keep the Badgers in every game this year outside of the Alabama matchup to open the season, but people definitely expected more.
TS:How much has Wisconsin missed Corey Clement?
BOH: Having Corey Clement back in the lineup was such a boost for the Badgers last week. Not to take anything away from the other guys who have filled in while he was out, but he’s just a different breed of football player. He looks different making cuts out of the hole and reads the defense much better than Wisconsin’s other running backs. The Badgers running game wasn’t shut out or anything while Clement was gone, and guys like Taiwan Deal, Dare Ogunbowale and Alec Ingold have proven they are important pieces in the overall running game. But they aren’t in the same class as Clement, and that was obvious on every carry Clement took against Rutgers.
TS: Why does Wisconsin seem like a running back factory?
BOH: I think this is the case for a couple of reasons. For one, Wisconsin has historically been a run-first offense, and recruits big time offensive linemen to get that done. The Badgers also utilize a fullback — sometimes two. Having a great offensive line and plenty of guys to block for you is a plus for a high school running back, so the Badgers have been able to capitalize on previous successes and keep talented running backs committed to UW.
The other reason is the Badgers are a successful running team even when they aren’t playing up to their standards. There are nearly 40 FBS schools averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry this season, and Wisconsin is averaging 4.2 yards per attempt this year on 338 carries without their No. 1 guy for most of that time. Corey Clement only has 19 of those 338 touches for the Badgers. Even without the best running back for most of the season, Wisconsin has made the running game work for them. Keep in mind that the primary ball carriers this season have been Taiwan Deal, a redshirt freshman who missed all of 2014 with an injury, Dare Ogunbowale, who was the third stringer last season after switching from defensive back to running back early in the year, and Alec Ingold, who is a true freshman who was a high school quarterback recruited to play linebacker who also switched positions during the season. Add in a few carries from Tanner McEvoy, who has started each game this year at wide receiver and most at safety, and was the Badgers starting quarterback part of last season, a few end-arounds to Alex Erickson and others, and some cleanup time from a few inexperienced players, and it’s impressive to think the Badgers have been able to run the ball at all.
If that group of players — none expected to be a big time running back or even a big part of the offense this season — can average 4.2 yards per carry for the season, it’s easy to see why Wisconsin can be in the conversation for a label like “Running Back U.”