Wisconsin Badgers manhandle Massachusetts Minutemen
MADISON—Gary Andersen’s coaching debut at Wisconsin was ultimately successful for several reasons.
First, UW was paired against an overmatched Massachusetts team and rolled to a 45-0 victory Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium despite fashioning an ugly offensive performance for most of the first half.
Second, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig played to UW’s strengths from the opening series. He relied on a revamped offensive line to open holes for a trio of talented tailbacks and then expected quarterback Joel Stave to utilize play-action passes for big hits down the field.
Redshirt sophomore Melvin Gordon (13 carries, 144 yards, one touchdown), senior James White (11-143-1) and freshman Corey Clement (16-101-1) combined to rush for 388 yards on 40 carries, an average of 9.7.
Stave overcame a shaky first half (4 of 11 for 36 yards, one interception) to complete 5 of 6 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns, covering 65 and 57 yards to senior wide Jared Abbrederis. Stave posted the latter set of numbers during a 21-point third-quarter outburst that allowed UW to turn a 17-0 lead into a 38-0 cushion.
“When the offensive line is making holes like that and we can run the ball like that it makes it so much easier to be a quarterback and play-action pass,” said Stave, whose two touchdown passes came off play-action fakes. “They have big-play ability. We’ve just got to give them creases and I think the offensive line has done a good job of that.”
If anyone in the announced crowed of 76,306 wondered whether UW would stray too far from its offensive identity under Andersen and Ludwig, those concerns should be quashed or at least eased significantly.
“Their running game has been honed over two decades,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said. “Recruiting a certain profile, offensive lineman, running back, tight ends.
“You honestly could’ve been watching the Badgers with Coach Alvarez with the same plays, just different guys doing the same things.”
Andersen, who acknowledged he tends to focus on the negative, liked what he saw from the running game all day.
“I thought the offensive line was definitely worth noting in the protections and the run,” he said. “Tight ends were also involved in that. Fullbacks were involved in that.
“The backs ran hard. They ran very, very well. We threw the ball good in the second half, which is great to see.”
Gordon, thanks to outstanding blocking on the right side, made the first critical big play for UW.
With the Badgers’ lead only 10-0, thanks in part to a red-zone interception thrown by Stave, Gordon broke off a 70-yard touchdown with 3 minutes 33 seconds left in the first half.
Fullback Derek Watt, left guard Ryan Groy, who pulled on the play, and tight end Jacob Pedersen got critical blocks to allow Gordon to score untouched.
“Those guys were really pushing things around today,” Gordon said. “They set us up right and left us with a lot of one-on-one matchups. That is what you ask for as a back.”
Stave, who finished 9 of 17 for 197 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception, took advantage of Ludwig’s confidence to produce the first big play of the second half.
After UW’s defense forced a three-and-out, Ludwig called for a play-action pass to Abbrederis.
Stave faked the handoff to White and lofted a strike to Abbrederis, who got behind cornerback Trey Dudley-Giles near the UMass 20 and found no safety help in the middle of the field.
Dudley-Giles tripped while trying to catch up to Abbrederis, who caught the ball easily and coasted into the end zone to cap a 12-second drive.
According to Andersen, he offered no input during halftime to Ludwig. Both the head coach and quarterback loved the call.
“That was a play we worked on a lot in practice,” Stave said. “I’m just checking the safeties. If they are low, I can throw it over the top to Jared. They both bit on the fake and we were able to do that.
“We didn’t play as well as we had liked to in the first half. To start out like that was great for us.”
White added a 51-yard touchdown run on the next series, a three-play, 65-yard drive. Stave capped his day with the 57-yard bomb to Abbrederis to cap a five-play, 78-yard drive.
Four of UW’s six touchdowns came on plays of 51 yards or more — runs of 70 and 51 yards and pass plays of 65 and 57.
“Big plays are huge,” Andersen said. “If you can take them in the run game or get them in the throw game…obviously, that’s a big part of the offense….
“Grinding long drives are kind of an identity who we want to be at times and kind of wear people down. That allows you to be able to run time off the clock, do all the things you want to do. (But) those big plays are big for us.”
The only other drama in the second half involved whether White stepped out of bounds on his touchdown run and whether Dave Aranda’s defense would record the shutout.
White’s touchdown withstood a review by the replay official.
“I didn’t step out of bounds,” White said, chuckling. “I tried my hardest not to step out.”
Freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton intercepted a pass at the UW 22 with 6:55 left in the third quarter to end a promising drive and help preserve the shutout.
“Dave is the same way as I am,” Andersen said. “He wants to get that zero for the kids. That’s something that’s a statement to hold a team to no points. I’m sure they’re proud of it as a defensive group of kids, and they should be.”
Andersen, unbeaten as UW’s head coach, acknowledged afterward the walk through the tunnel with his players before the game and the vibe he felt in the stadium as he took a moment to savor the victory were memorable.
“Today was the first game,” he said. “It was special to me and will be forever.”