Grades: Receivers, linebackers thrive against Coyotes
Linebacker Mike Taylor led Wisconsin with 10 tackles Saturday against South Dakota. Taylor has recorded 30 tackls this season, second only to Chris Borland’s 35.[/media-credit]Every week, Herald Sports will look back at the most recent Wisconsin football game and award grades to each position group on a scale from zero to five. Here is a look at how the Badgers fared in Saturday’s 59-10 victory over South Dakota.Quarterbacks – 4.5 out of 5Perhaps if the Badgers’ No. 1 offense was needed for a full four quarters, this grade would be a perfect 5 out of 5. But with UW leading USD 52-3 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter Saturday, there was zero need for quarterback Russell Wilson & co. to still be on the field. Redshirt freshman Joe Brennan led the second-team offense onto the field and went 0-for-2 with one interception.Brennan’s failure to complete a pass in two attempts certainly didn’t scar the Badger offense’s sparkling performance Saturday, as Wilson completed 19 of his 25 passes for 345 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Wilson suffered his worst game on the ground as a Badger, rushing five times for negative-two yards, though it was hardly a complaint for a Wisconsin offense that racked up 612 yards against South Dakota.Running Backs – 4.5 out of 5Despite not having a single 100-yard rusher, the Badgers gained 267 rushing yards against the Coyotes. James White was by far the most productive, gaining 95 yards and one touchdown on nine carries (10.6 yards per). Montee Ball started slow but finished with 88 yards on 15 carries (5.9 yards per) and two touchdowns.One of the most promising aspects of UW’s running game Saturday was seeing its two freshman running backs, Jeffrey Lewis and Melvin Gordon, continue to find success in their limited roles. Both scored their first career touchdowns, and Lewis rushed for 49 yards on five attempts (9.8 yards per). Gordon, meanwhile, gained 32 yards on eight carries.Wide Receivers – 5 out of 5Perhaps Wisconsin still lacks a true solution at the No. 3 receiver spot, but with the way Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis played Saturday, it might not matter. Toon tied his career-high with seven catches and set a career-high with 155 receiving yards, while also scoring twice. His one-handed grab early in the game was good enough to make ESPN’s “Sportscenter” Top 10 Monday, and his diving catch for his second touchdown was an example of the play-making potential a healthy Toon provides the UW offense.Abbrederis, meanwhile, caught five passes for a career-high 101 yards. He also scored a touchdown, and it was his first game with 100 or more receiving yards. Abbrederis also made an excellent hustle play on White’s 49-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, sprinting from across the field to get ahead of his running back and set up the score with a great block at the five-yard line. Manasseh Garner also finally saw some action, making a tremendous 27-yard leaping catch.Tight Ends – 3.5 out of 5UW’s tight ends were relatively quiet Saturday, as only Jacob Pedersen caught a pass for 11 yards. Neither he nor Jake Byrne was a liability, in any regard, and it’s safe to assume Wilson will continue to look their away – and especially to Pedersen, who has caught 11 passes for 175 yards and four touchdowns so far this season.Offensive Line – 3.5 out of 5Wilson was sacked twice Saturday, costing the Badgers 15 yards, though neither was necessarily a drive-killer. Interestingly enough, Wisconsin has had six penalties in every game thus far, with several coming along the offensive line in the form of either false starts or holds. While the flags have yet to be a legitimate concern for the Badgers, head coach Bret Bielema certainly won’t stand for six per game against Big Ten competition.Defensive Line – 4.5 out of 5Wisconsin entered Saturday with seven sacks, and they left the Camp Randall Stadium field with three more after dispatching South Dakota. Defensive end David Gilbert and defensive tackles Beau Allen and Patrick Butrym each had one apiece, totaling a loss of 15 yards for the Coyotes. South Dakota rushed for only 124 yards, a clear testament to the strong play up front by Wisconsin.Linebackers – 5 out of 5Regardless of the fact that South Dakota, a Football Championship Subdivision program, was arguably the weakest opponent Wisconsin has faced this season, the Badger linebackers had arguably their greatest collective effort of the season Saturday. Mike Taylor led all players with 10 tackles, one of which went for a loss of three yards. Chris Borland continues to impress as he makes the transition to middle linebacker, recording eight tackles (two for loss) and also returning an interception 29 yards downfield. Kevin Claxton returned to action after fracturing his wrist in the season opener and finished third in tackles with six.Secondary – 5 out of 5The Coyotes had a devilish time passing against the Badgers’ secondary. Quarterback Dante Warren completed eight of his 15 passes for 41 yards and two interceptions (to Borland and safety Shelton Johnson). Freshman reserve quarterback Josh Vander Maten completed both of his two passes for eight yards and did throw a touchdown in garbage time. Antonio Fenelus continued to be stellar in coverage as the team’s top cornerback, while Marcus Cromartie continues to prove himself an able replacement for Devin Smith, who is out for the remainder of the season with a leg injury.Specialists – 3 out of 5For whatever reason, redshirt sophomore kicker Alec Lerner continues to struggle with consistency on kickoffs. Saturday, he kicked two out of bounds and had a few others fall a bit short of the desired range. He did recover to kick two out the back of the endzone for touchbacks, but his consistency has been a season-long question. Phillip Welch is finally healthy, and Bielema indicated that he could take some kicks Saturday against Nebraska. In his place, redshirt freshman Kyle French has converted two of his four attempts. Against South Dakota, French was 1-for-2, missing a 50-yarder way short.