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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, March 24, 2023
Rushad Machhi

Column: Poor red zone playcalling, bad quarterbacks doom Wisconsin offense

Madison, we have a problem. For the first time in distant memory, that problem is the Wisconsin Badgers’ offense. It looked anemic in a 20-14 loss at Northwestern, breaking a streak of 17 straight games of 20 or more points.

Usually when a player runs for over 250 yards and averages nine yards per carry, as redshirt junior Melvin Gordon did Saturday, it signals a healthy offensive performance, unless of course that team’s quarterbacks combine to complete 41 percent of their passes with four interceptions, the exact tallies of redshirt juniors Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave.

While a lot of the problem lies with the mediocre quarterback play, the finger also deserves to be pointed at offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig’s bland playcalling.

Do not get me wrong, Stave and McEvoy looked terrible against the Wildcats. McEvoy looked hesitant on almost all of his drop backs, with questionable accuracy whenever he got the ball out. His terrible first quarter interception in Northwestern’s end zone set a bad tone for the game, and he just never found a rhythm.

Stave did not fare any better as his replacement, as his last two interceptions were about as bad as any that I have seen. His second pick ended a crucial drive as the Badgers had first and goal at the Northwestern 3-yard line.

With Stave being flushed out of the pocket rolling to his right, he should have just thrown the ball away to live another day, but instead threw it straight at a Wildcat.

His final pick came when he had loads of time (thanks to a declined holding call) and he still threw it straight to a purple jersey. Clearly Stave still has not figured out that he should be throwing to the dudes in red and white.

Let’s revisit Stave’s disastrous second pick. So in one corner you have a Heisman contender running back named Melvin Gordon who had been tearing up the Wildcats all day, and in the other, you have a quarterback named Joel Stave seeing his first action this season who had already thrown a pick.

On first and goal from the three, do you A) run the ball with said prolific running back, or B) throw the ball with said shaky quarterback?

I think it would be safe to say everyone except a guy named Andy Ludwig would choose option A. Unfortunately, it was Ludwig making the play calls on Saturday, and his effort to be cute and pass on first on goal failed and arguably cost the Badgers a chance to win. It was a truly terrible and inexcusable call.

While that was one play, overall Ludwig has had a suspect season thus far as offensive coordinator, as he has so far failed to design a system to utilize McEvoy’s strengths. McEvoy runs a 4.6 second 40-yard dash, similar to Cam Newton’s time of 4.58.

News flash, Coach Ludwig, that’s fast. Against Northwestern, McEvoy ran only once for eight yards, not on a called running play, but on a broken pass play. For a talented runner like McEvoy, that is not enough.

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Ludwig is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with McEvoy. He is not a traditional pocket passer, but a pure dual-threat quarterback who could thrive utilizing the read option, a play the Badgers rarely used to open the season.

While Ludwig’s system is more of a traditional pro-style, he has shown the knack to be creative in the past, and it would really benefit the Badgers if he started dialing up more zone reads and spread option type plays to take advantage of McEvoy’s mobility.

We all know what Newton did in his lone season with Auburn with that kind of system in place, and many experts compared McEvoy to the former Heisman winner when he too came out of junior college. If Ludwig does not adapt to what he has in McEvoy’s running ability, his offense will continue to suffer and his job security will come into question.

Wisconsin’s quarterback situation is clearly a mess, and if it does not get fixed soon, a once promising season could end disastrously. Head coach Gary Andersen has indicated that the team will utilize both McEvoy and Stave this upcoming week against Illinois, similar to how Northwestern used Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian last season.

However, unless both quarterbacks improve their throwing ability and Ludwig innovates his play calling with McEvoy, the Badgers’ offense could be in for a long year.

Should Wisconsin use a two-quarterback system? Should D.J. Gillins get a chance? Email to discuss.

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