The Wisconsin Badgers finally put the pieces together on Saturday and completely dominated the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday in their 52-7 victory. The Badgers managed to create a bit of a vertical passing game for the first time all year and combined it with a powerful rushing attack and a suffocating defense.
It was the Badgers' homecoming and the stars were out. Bradie Ewing, Chris Borland, and Ron Dayne were in attendance in addition to Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke. Your humble correspondent walked right past Ms. Burke on my way into Camp Randall, but chickened out on shaking her hand. The Badgers defense in particular seemed to feed of the star power as they put in their best performance of the season.
Entering the season, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda spoke of how Wisconsin had been getting progressively less pressure on the quarterback in his tenure, and how he would need to devise unique blitz packages to get pressure. We saw that on Saturday as Wisconsin physically manhandled Maryland. Twice, Michael Caputo came completely unblocked on delayed safety blitzes and got great quarterback pressure.
On several other occasions, Aranda devised blitzes that truly were not apparent until after the snap. The Badgers overloaded on each side, set up decoy blitzes, and when needed bullrushed right up the middle. They did not allow Maryland to score until there were 0:57 seconds on the clock in the fourth quarter and the Terps did not have 100 yards of total offense or 10 yards rushing until the fourth quarter. If Wisconsin can dominate like this on defense going forward, there is no reason why they are not win the Big Ten.
Meanwhile on offense, they did not put in their best rushing performance but did not need to. Head coach Gary Anderson pulled out all of the stops in the playbook, namely when they pulled off a fake punt. On fourth and 9 from the Maryland 36, punter Drew Meyer took the space and raced at the line of scrimmage. Just before contact, he pulled up and threw a Tebow-esque jump pass, which was completed for a 19 yard pass.
While they did not convert that for a touchdown, Brazilian kicker Rafael Gaglianone converted the field goal and it gave the student section the opportunity to sing, "Ole, ole, ole, ole, ole".
What the Badgers lacked in the running game from the running backs, they made up for throwing the ball. Neither Tanner McEvoy nor Joel Stave has convinced this year, but on Saturday Stave completed two long, vertical play action passes. One went for 38 yards on the first drive and the second went for a 47 yard touchdown pass.
In addition to Stave's exploits throwing, McEvoy made the play of the day going on a slaloming 60 yard touchdown run. He bounced off four defenders and juked several others on his way to scoring, and Badgers fans are left with the distinct hope that they have now found the balance they've been searching for all year.
Wisconsin will look to replicate this performance next week when they travel to Rutgers for another match-up with a Big Ten newcomer. Maryland, meanwhile, will travel to Penn State and will need a vastly different performance if they are to win next week. Looking forward, Wisconsin will take on Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa over the last three weeks of the season. All four teams are competing to win the West Division title.