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Lucas' Last Word: Season's best drive comes at critical time

<b>QB Joel Stave helped the Badgers' offense come up big in the late stages of Saturday's win.</b>

QB Joel Stave helped the Badgers' offense come up big in the late stages of Saturday's win.

Sept. 22, 2012

After turning off the microphone as the analyst for the Badger Radio Network, UWBadgers.com Insider Mike Lucas offers some final thoughts on Wisconsin’s 37-26 win over UTEP at Camp Randall Stadium.


MADISON, Wis. -- When we look back on Wisconsin’s season, it might be a defining possession on several layers, after UTEP scored to cut its deficit to 23-19.

The Badgers had to find a way to answer in the fourth quarter.

The first play exhibited the confidence that offensive coordinator Matt Canada had in Joel Stave, making his first collegiate start. Canada dialed up a pass and Stave clicked with Jared Abbrederis for a 14-yard gain.

Maybe more telling of Stave's poise on this day was a second-and-8 throw to James White, the check-down receiver. Stave took a look at Abbrederis on a vertical route, but realized that he had drawn double coverage and then coolly got the ball to James White on the near boundary for another gain of 14 yards.

Overall on the drive, Stave was 4-for-4 and utilized his tailback tandem of White and Melvin Gordon, as the Badgers did find their answer. This was a big-boy type of drive that good football teams have to make in the clutch, and for this day, it worked.

Getting Stave into the game last week, that one half of experience, even though the numbers weren't overwhelming -- probably underwhelming more than anything else -- really helped prepare Stave for this game and his first start.

If nothing else, it gave him a feel for the speed of the game or the tempo. We saw Wisconsin's ability today to throw the ball down the field with Stave, which just opens up the entire offense.

Mike Lucas
UWBadgers.com Insider

Rolling in the deep (backfield)
Despite the loss of Montee Ball to a head injury in the first half, Wisconsin’s depth at tailback really paid dividends with White utilized as a runner and a receiver and with Melvin Gordon, who showed off the explosiveness we’d seen throughout training camp.

Stave will only get better, there were a couple of throws that I'm sure he would love to have back, but any quarterback in the country would be able to say that after a game.

Peyton Manning  had three throws in the first quarter of Denver’s Monday night game at Atlanta that were all picked off that I'm sure he would love to have back.

I'm not comparing Stave, by any stretch of the imagination, to Manning. I'm just saying that he can learn from some of the mistakes that he made and only get better. His ability to protect the ball after getting crushed on three sacks, to me, spoke volumes about his toughness.

Health a question mark for defense
Defensively, the Badgers seemingly had the game under control late in the first half when UTEP was finally able to generate some momentum. A long field goal, more than anything else, seemed to change the game for the Miners. In the third and fourth quarter they were able to chunk out yardage -- nothing spectacular and nothing flashy, but they kept moving the chains, and it was a credit to them.

You have to be near perfect on those long drives, and the Miners were.

What the Badgers need more than anything else right now is a healthy defense. It starts with the defensive end position, where they were short Saturday, especially now that they're getting ready to go into Big Ten play and run into a team like Nebraska.

There's probably hope in the Wisconsin locker room that a late takeaway -- a fumble recovered by Jake Stengel -- will open the door to more turnovers, because that's what happened a year ago. UW had one turnover through the first three games but then found a way to routinely get the ball back to the Badgers’ offense over their final 11 contests.

That also is going to be critical against league opponents, to shorten the field and really to reverse momentum.

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