Jan. 1, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
ORLANDO, Fla. -- There was some creativity; a wildcat formation that produced one big play with James White handing off to Corey Clement in the first quarter of Wednesday’s Capital One Bowl between Wisconsin and South Carolina.
There was a fake field goal that was ideally timed but poorly executed.
There was a rejuvenated running game behind a refreshed offensive line that frequently sealed off Jadeveon Clowney and created sizable creases for White, who had his typical open-field wiggle, and Melvin Gordon, who had more burst than he had since early in the season.
There was some aggressive play-calling, especially on defense. The Badgers tried to give South Carolina QB Connor Shaw some different looks from snap to snap by varying the pressure. Blitzers came from different angles, including a handful of safety blitzes, but Shaw was more than up to the challenge, often anticipating the pressure and rolling away from it.
He was also maddeningly efficient. When he was off on those rare occasions, his receivers bailed him out with terrific catches. You could see why he’s only thrown one interception in his last 326 throws. It’s due in large part to his ability to put his passes in a spot where only his receivers could make a play on the ball and not the defender.
In the end, the Badgers had too few playmakers and too many squandered scoring opportunities.
One of the disappointments is that the senior class didn’t get a better send off, whether it be in their final game in Camp Randall Stadium or their final game as collegians. You walked away from this bowl feeling that they deserved more and better. And yet, their legacy will not end with their departure but be carried on by those returning players who have learned how to lead, in many cases, from those upperclassmen and will now be asked to perform on their own and fill the void left.
Looking ahead, Wisconsin has a major rebuilding assignment in its front seven and must find more answers in the back end defensively. The offensive line should be a strength of the team, along with the tailbacks, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. The quarterback position will be up for grabs in the spring, especially not knowing the physical status of Joel Stave.
All in all, it was an incredibly seamless transition from Bret Bielema to Gary Andersen. You really have credit Andersen, his assistants and those players who were more than willing to adjust and adapt to a little different coaching philosophy.
I’m not sure in all the year I’ve covered Badgers athletics, 40-plus, that I’ve seen a coach come in and win over the fan base to extent Andersen has. And you can see why the more you’re around him with how genuine he is in everything he says and how he treats people. That bodes well for the future, because this young group of players -- while feeling empty maybe today after another bowl loss -- will only get better under the tutelage of Andersen.
It’s hard to look ahead when you realize that this season fell short of expectations, but there are so many building blocks, and the faith in Andersen will carry a lot of these player through the spring and put them in position to succeed next year.
The program is in good hands with Andersen. The talent has to be replenished and built with more speed, but when he gets the type of player he needs to run his system on offense and defense, it will be a better measure than maybe now.
I don’t know that anyone could look at this season like it was a disappointment. It might not be the success that people hoped for, but surely not a disappointment.
There were enough positive signs this year to suggest that the program is surely in good hands. That was a conclusion you could have drawn even before the bowl game, and one remains valid even in light of the result.