2014 Review: The Badgers were able to put together another double-digit win season and reached their third Big Ten championship game in the event’s four-year history. Residing in the Big Ten West, Wisconsin was a heavy favorite to reach the conference championship last season, but Gary Andersen and company had a few miscues along the way.
The Badgers were unable to close out the season opener against LSU despite a 24-7 lead in the third quarter. The struggle at quarterback was a hindrance for the Badgers in that game and proved to be an issue all season long. Before the Badgers finished the season strong with a seven-game win streak, they suffered a disappointing loss at the hands of Northwestern, a game that should’ve been an easy victory.
Even with the struggles at quarterback, a stellar season from Melvin Gordon and a strong defense led the way to a 10-win regular season mark for Wisconsin. For a team that relied so heavily on the ground game offensively, it was impressive to see the Badgers continue to run the football with such ease. Defensively the Badgers were fantastic as well, ranking 17th nationally in points allowed per game.
The championship game at the end of the conference slate wasn’t pretty for the folks in Madison, but an Outback Bowl victory over SEC foe Auburn under the direction of interim head coach Barry Alvarez was a great moment for one of the nation’s most underrated teams.
High Point: Against division foe and potential Big Ten contender Nebraska, Wisconsin put together one of its top performances of the season, and so did the team’s most valuable player. The Badgers were dominating in nearly every aspect of a 59-24 drubbing of Nebraska in mid-November, with the highlight of the weekend being Gordon’s 408-yard performance to break Ladainian Tomlinson’s FBS rushing record.
At the time, each team was 4-1 in conference play with Big Ten championship implications on the line. The Badgers defense forced five turnovers, only allowed Nebraska to convert three of its 14 third downs and held the Huskers to just 180 yards of total offense in the victory.
Trailing 17-3 early in the second quarter, the Badgers scored 56 unanswered points to prove they were the best team in the west. In addition to his record-breaking performance, Gordon scored four touchdowns on the ground to lead his team to a blowout win.
Low Point: The worst loss of the season came in the opening weekend of conference play when Wisconsin was stunned by Northwestern at Ryan Field. The most embarrassing performance came in the Big Ten Championship game, when the Badgers were obliterated by Ohio State 59-0.
The Buckeyes taking home the national championships lessens the pain from that loss, but the scoreboard is still hard to look at in Madison.
Either way you choose, the Badgers were unable to get effective quarterback play or get bailed out by their star in those contests. There may only be one column for low points, but those to losses were equally as discouraging.
Best Player: An argument for anyone other than Gordon would be invalid. The Kenosha, WI native galloped for 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns on 343 attempts in 2014, totaling a 7.5 yards per carry average for the year. What made his accomplishment even more impressive was the fact that the Badgers were one of the most one-dimensional units in all of college football.
With struggling quarterback play, opposing teams knew exactly what the Badgers would do offensively and still, the 6’1, 210 lbs. running back couldn’t be slowed down. Without his presence, it’s hard to imagine Wisconsin dominating the west with as much ease as they did.
Much of the credit of Gordon’s success from a season ago will be credited to the offensive line, and with good reason. But good line play or not, the runner-up to the Heisman trophy was impressive to watch in his final year at Wisconsin, as his numbers reflected.
2015 Outlook: Under the new direction of Paul Chryst, it’ll be interesting to see how the Badgers perform next season. Chryst has a strong relationship with the university, having played with Wisconsin and serving as its offensive coordinator under Bret Bielema. His familiarity with the success of Wisconsin and his run-heavy approach should fit in quite nicely.
With Gordon gone, the Badgers will take a slight step backward, but running back Corey Clement should be able to fill the role as another top Badger back. Behind Gordon, Clement ran for more than 900 yards and nine touchdowns. Not too shabby for a back-up, but the Badgers will still have trouble if they can’t figure out the quarterback situation.
Flip-flopping between Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave didn’t work well for Andersen last season and it’ll certainly present problems this year if nobody steps up. That will be an interesting aspect to watch for the Badgers next season.
With a solid ground attack and a traditionally stout defense in a less-than-impressive division, Wisconsin will be a strong contender in the Big Ten West again in 2015. The season’s end could potentially see a rematch between the Buckeyes and the Badgers in Indianapolis.