If we just copied and pasted last week's writeup and changed every UMass reference to Tennessee Tech would anyone notice? Another game in the books and little changed week over week. The Badgers had three running backs exceed 100 yards rushing, again. The defense looked stifling, again. The kicking game was rough...again.
Despite the uncannily similarities between the two games - right down to the near-identical final scores - patterns emerge hinting at where this team can excel - and struggle - as they get into the meat of the schedule.
Another week, another solid performance by the offensive line. The group looks more cohesive in the run game than it did at any point last year. Pulling offensive linemen set up the big runs by Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement; in both instances they weren't challenged - let alone touched - until well into the 3rd level of the defenses. While lingering issues exist (we will get into this later) this isn't an offensive line whose ineffectiveness will grind the offense to a halt as it did at certain times last season.
Another good fit for the offense thus far has been Joel Stave. While most of his damage was done with the deep ball last week, this week he looked very strong working short and intermediate routes. Completing over 80% of his passes, Stave looked sharp for the most part if occasionally helped by receivers scooping short passes thrown at their feet . Perhaps most impressive was his 90-odd yard touchdown drive at the end of the 1st half. Stave was a perfect 10 for 10 running the hurry up two minute offense.
While there are still questions in his game. His interception is a testament to his tendency to lock onto receivers at times. He holds onto the ball far too long to avoid sacks versus better defenses. But as a player eight starts into his college career he can do enough to keep his team in the game. Iron out a few of his mistakes and he's a very efficient quarterback in very balanced attack.
After another dominating performance the running backs have established themselves as arguably the best in the conference. Two games into the season Melvin Gordon looks like the leader of the pack. Of the three he looks the most capable between the tackles and most likely to break off big plays. White is still a solid back and a good change of pace to Gordon but against better tacklers and faster defenders he won't be able to bounce off and/or run around them like he has these first two competitions.
Defensively things looked much the same. The Badger defense controlled the line of scrimmage as it did against, UMass and the front seven looked impressive. Conor O'Neill's strong performance hints at depth at middle linebacker. Schematically they continue to confuse their opposition. Tennessee Tech's hurry up offense was ground to a halt by the Badgers' ever changing defensive front. Players insist we've only seen a small fraction of the defensive playbook; if that's the case this defense may have enough versatility to confuse defenses throughout the season.
While much of "the good" as been a continuation of what was seen in week one, there were new positives in this game. Chief among them was improved punt and kick coverage. After several close calls last week the defense simply shut down Tennessee Tech's return game. Gary Andersen focused on improving this over the week and it showed on the field.
As a whole it appears the coaching staff has taken full advantage of what amounts to two exhibition games. In Bielema's time with the Badgers these games unfolded in a predictable way: Wisconsin would rack up huge points with their running game, where his team was most comfortable.
Andersen has taken a different approach. In two games they've thrown the ball more than they ever would against weaker non-conference opponents. Stave has been test in the two-minute drill. All in all these games feel very well coached. Going into their first real challenge in Tempe this team feels more prepared and confident than it has been in previous years.
As mentioned earlier there were still issues getting the ball snapped cleanly between Stave and Dallas Lewallen. The problem seems to fall on Lewallen as it's come on plays where they expect pressure; in Saturday's game he had the ball snapped and was on his way to blocking a defender before Stave was even expecting the ball. It looks like a clear case of trying to do too much too quickly. Opposing defenses will no doubt try and exploit this going forward. If Lewallen can't iron out his issues this team may have problems dealing with pressure.
The questions at wide receiver are largely answered at this point; it's just not the answer Badger fans want to get. Outside of Jared Abbrederis and his eight catches Saturday, the rest of the receiving corps was ineffective.
Jordan Fredrick caught three passes but had some bad mistakes in his game. Abbrederis was hammered behind the line of scrimmage on a bubble screen when Fredrick missed his block. Fredrick committed a hold on a similar play later in the game negating a big gain. Fredrick won the starting job on the strength of his blocking, but wasn't present Saturday. The Badgers won't have a major threat to compliment Abbrederis at receiver this year but need to make sure whoever is out there isn't hurting productivity.
Gary Andersen said after the UMass game special teams will cost this team victories if not improved. He is right. While coverage issues seem mostly ironed out, and Drew Meyer look like he's building on his very successful freshman campaign, huge questions exist with the kicker.
Even before missing an extra points and getting pulled for Jack Russell, Kyle French was knuckleballing his extra points through the uprights; his game looks off and at least as inconsistent as last year. Jack Russell performance in relief wasn't any better missing from short range himself. The Badgers have a problem: kicking issues with the same personnel stretch back to last year. The stark reality is simply neither kicker is all good. The Badgers will be in some close games this year and need a field goal to win; neither player looks able to do that right now.
These first two weeks felt more like an NFL preseason than the start of the college football season. The quality of opponents combined with a new head coach have given Badger fans great confidence going into the meat of the schedule. There will be a more extensive preview on the site this week, but fans can't get overly excited just yet. This team has clear questions - some perhaps without answers - that could hold this team back in close games. Badger fans should stay optimistic, but don't ignore the realistic.