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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Monday, August 15, 2022

Five things to watch

1. The return of Melvin Gordon

After a subpar showing against Western Illinois, one of the biggest questions facing the Badgers heading into last week’s game was how redshirt junior running back Melvin Gordon and the rest of the rushing attack would fare against Bowling Green.

Well, Gordon and the Badgers responded in a big way with a record-breaking performance on offense in their blowout victory over the Falcons.

Gordon overcame an early fumble to set career highs with 253 yards and five touchdowns. And, oh by the way, he did all that on just 13 carries.

South Florida’s defense has been fairly mediocre against the run so far this season, giving up 142 yards per game on the ground and allowing 3.84 yards per carry to its opponents. This could allow for another outstanding game by Gordon and the Badgers’ offense.

2. Tanner McEvoy’s inconsistent passing

Despite the fact that Wisconsin set a school record with 756 yards of total offense last Saturday, quarterback Tanner McEvoy wasn’t exactly impressive through the air.

The redshirt junior completed just nine of his 16 passes for one touchdown and one interception, and was off the mark on several passes. It was a disappointing showing from McEvoy after he had completed a school-record 17 consecutive passes against Western Illinois.

There’s no question that McEvoy’s mobility adds another dynamic to the UW offense, and his 158 yards rushing against the Falcons was a big reason why the Badgers set the modern era Big Ten record with 644 yards on the ground.

It also doesn’t help that his receiving corps isn’t loaded with a ton of talent, but McEvoy needs to start limiting his mistakes and hitting open receivers on a more consistent basis.

3. Finding a go-to wide receiver

Speaking of the Badgers’ wide receivers, someone needs to step up to be a reliable target for Tanner McEvoy.

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Senior tight end Sam Arneson has done a nice job of filling Jake Pedersen’s shoes, recording eights catches for 155 yards and a touchdown through three games. However, Wisconsin still needs one or two wide receivers to become go-to guys that can at least somewhat make up for the void left by Jared Abbrederis.

The Badgers’ best bet might be redshirt junior wide receiver Alex Erickson, who has already become McEvoy’s favorite target early on in the season. Erickson has caught 15 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown, including a tremendous performance against Western Illinois where he recorded 10 catches for 122 yards and a touchdown.

If McEvoy is to have a solid game against South Florida, Erickson and the receiving corps will have to continue to improve and limit their dropped passes.

4. South Florida’s lackluster offense

Through four games, the Bulls are averaging just 293 yards of total offense and haven’t looked like much of a threat on the ground or through the air. They have averaged just under 142 passing yards thus far in 2014, which is 116th in the FBS, one spot behind Wisconsin.

But unlike the Badgers, they don’t have a strong running game to make up for their passing deficiencies. South Florida has put up 605 rushing yards in four games, which isn’t terrible, but really isn’t enough to offset its poor passing.

The one bright spot of the Bulls’ offense has been freshman running back Marlon Mack, who has rushed for five touchdowns this year. While four of those did come against Western Carolina, an FCS foe, it’s a big step up for a team that scored just four touchdowns on the ground during the entire 2013 season.

5. Will South Florida be able to make stops on defense?

Since their offense isn’t going to be lighting up any scoreboards, the Bulls’ success relies heavily on their defense. Though they were able to make enough stops to get the wins against Western Carolina and UConn, their performance against North Carolina State is a different story.

The Wolfpack eviscerated South Florida’s defense in their 49-17 win, putting up 315 rushing yards and 589 yards of total offense. North Carolina State also went 11 for 16 on third down conversions.

This has been an area of concern for the Bulls, as they’ve allowed opposing offenses to convert 28 of their 58 third downs this season, a success rate of 48.3 percent.

If South Florida wants to compete with the Badgers, its defense has to make more stops on third down. Otherwise, it could get ugly very quickly.

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