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Season report card: Wisconsin

1/30/2015

Let's put a bow on this full week of 2014 Big Ten report cards. The final review goes to the Wisconsin Badgers.

Offense: B

What a wild ride. The journey of the Wisconsin offense mirrored the overall drama of the Badgers’ season – from a strange start to the dominance of late October and November and the wild swings of their final two games. Melvin Gordon, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, served as the steadying force en route to an amazing 2,587 rushing yards and 32 total touchdowns. The quarterback situation was simply bizarre as converted safety Tanner McEvoy started the first five games in place of Joel Stave, out with a mental block. Stave was quietly effective at times, though never spectacular, in the shadow of Gordon and backup running back Corey Clement, who rushed for 949 yards. Alex Erickson had a nice season at receiver, and the line play was solid behind Kyle Costigan and Rob Havenstein.

Defense: A-minus

Here’s where the Badgers shined. Well, there was the Big Ten title game disaster; aside from that miserable night against Ohio State in Indy, though, Dave Aranda’s group played about as well the coordinator could have hoped, considering the curveballs dealt on the other side of the ball. Linebackers Derek Landisch and Joe Schobert, lineman Vince Biegel and Darius Hillary and Michael Caputo in the secondary shined in important roles. Defensively, Wisconsin played its best in a stretch against Maryland, Rutgers, Purdue and Nebraska, allowing 181 yards per game. Even after surrendering nearly 1,000 yards to Ohio State and Auburn in a 34-31 Outback Bowl win, the Badgers finished fourth nationally in total defense and third in first downs allowed and third-down conversion rate.

Special teams: B-minus

Brazilian place-kicker Rafael Gaglianone looked like a future pro as a freshman. He made 19 of 22 field goals, including 5 of 7 from 40 yards and beyond. Kenzel Doe performed well in returning punts and kickoffs. The Badgers did a nice job in covering kickoffs but struggled some against punt returns, which led to a ranking of 116th nationally in net punting as Drew Meyer averaged 37.4 yards per attempt and placed 18 of 54 punts inside the 20.

Coaching: B-plus

So many directions to go with this category. Coach Gary Andersen and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig deserve much credit for handling an unusual and delicate situation, after Andersen fumbled the early explanation on Stave. Aranda, who kept his spot on Paul Chryst’s staff after Andersen’s December departure, cemented his place as one of the nation’s top coordinators for his work with a defense that consistently played better than the sum of its parts. Just to keep this team together through the second-half mess against LSU and a bad loss at Northwestern showed great leadership from the staff. And tip your cap to Barry Alvarez for his influence in guiding the Badgers to a rebound victory in Tampa, Florida.

Overall: B

Wisconsin’s season was the most perplexing, with more peaks and valleys of any team in the Big Ten. Even Gordon experienced disappointment early, though his greatness in 2014 – highlighted by a 408-yard rushing day against Nebraska – will stand the test of time. Considering the obstacles, a Big Ten West title, earned with consecutive November victories over Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota, rates as a major accomplishment. The Ohio State game, as mentioned, got away from the Badgers. Unpredictably, in keeping with the theme, struck after the regular season as Andersen bolted for Oregon State.