With Corey Clement's return, Wisconsin was expected to get its running game mojo back. Unfortunately, Clement didn't make the trip to Maryland and an inconsistent Badgers team did just enough to hold off the Terrapins, 31-24.
Wisconsin was sparked by a kick return for a touchdown by Natrell Jamerson, a gutsy fake punt call in which Joe Schobert ran for 57 yards to be quickly followed by a Dare Ogunbowale touchdown run and Joel Stave's second-half passing performance -- some Maryland mistakes didn't hurt, either.
It wasn't pretty, in fact at times it was downright ugly, but the Badgers found a way to head home with a victory.
A recap of Saturday's game:
-- Whither the running game without Joe Schobert? Wisconsin tried and tried to establish the run game, but finished with just 89 yards on 34 carries (not counting sacks, a kneel-down and Joe Schobert's fake punt). That's not going to cut it. With two weeks until their next game, the Badgers better hope Clement gets healthy.
-- The Badgers were determined for much of the game to not kick the ball to Will Likely. That strategy backfired often, especially in the first quarter when Maryland got good field position (and the converse for Wisconsin). Likely finished with one punt return for minus-1 yards and three kick returns for 55 yards, with a long of 20.
-- Badgers head coach Paul Chryst admitted that the first-quarter call for a fake punt on 4th-and-1 from their own 22 could have easily come back to haunt him -- "that's the life we lead" -- but Schobert said he'd get the yards needed and he did, and some. The play was executed where Schobert easily had the first down, but D'Cota Dixon had a great block which opened a big hole, springing Schobert, who displayed his moves as a high school tailback on a 57-yard scamper.
-- Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. Maryland quarterback Perry Hills missed a wide-open receiver for a sure touchdown in the second quarter, which was then followed by a missed 46-yard field-goal attempt. Then in the fourth quarter, Maryland appeared to have a game-tying touchdown after recovering an onside kick and taking it all the way to the end zone, but Maryland's Jarrett Ross -- who was on the opposite side the ball where the ball was kicked -- was offsides. He will not enjoy the film session this week.
-- Maryland tried to take a lot of deep shots in the passing game, which seemed like a sound strategy as Wisconsin defensive backs continue to struggle to find the ball on such plays.
-- The Badgers gave up 24 points, but the defense was challenged by field position. Two of the Terrapins' three touchdown drives began in Wisconsin territory (going for 32 and 33 yards). Maryland also had drives start at the Wisconsin 28 (missed field goal) and Maryland 47 (punt).
-- Besides Clement, Wisconsin was also without linebacker Chris Orr, tight end Eric Steffes and kickoff specialist Andrew Endicott, not to mention those out with long-term injuries: linebacker Leon Jacobs, center Dan Voltz and wide receiver Rob Wheelwright.
-- Natrell Jamerson's 98-yard kick return for a touchdown was the fourth-longest in Wisconsin history, topped only by three 100-yard returns.
-- Tanner McEvoy had two interceptions, giving him four on the season. Wisconsin had only six interceptions in 14 games last season (UW has just eight in 2015).
-- Wisconsin's three offensive touchdowns all came on long drives: 87, 69 and 71 yards, albeit the first one was aided by Schobert's fake punt.
-- While the Badgers were just 3 of 13 on third-down conversions, they converted both of their fourth-down tries. Schobert's fake punt was one, the other came when Joel Stave clinched the game on 4th-and-1 late in the first quarter, thanks to some pushing from behind to help get the yard needed.
-- Believe it or not, Joel Stave had a 133.72 passer rating which is his fifth-best of the season and second-best in Big Ten play.
-- Offensive lineman Jacob Maxwell was wearing a different number -- 84 -- ostensibly to have him as a blocking tight end.
-- Dare Ogunbowale was uncovered on his touchdown reception, which was the first of his career.
-- McEvoy had just his fifth catch of the season and the first to come within the opponent's 40-yard line.
WHAT IT MEANT
With a rushing attack struggling without Corey Clement, a defense gashed at times by big plays and a non-existent passing game in the first half, Wisconsin somehow found a way to win. Being able to pull out close victories on the road is always a good experience, though you'd prefer not to have a close game against a team which is now 2-8. One thing seems clear with only a couple of games left in the season: UW needs Clement, badly, or else it has to rely on Joel Stave's arm and the defense stepping up.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
With the way Joe Schobert, Vince Biegel and T.J. Edwards have been playing this year, it is hard to outshine those linebackers. But Jack Cichy, starting for the second straight week for an injured Chris Orr, is doing just that. He had 10 tackles and three tackles for loss (including two sacks) to help set the tone for the defense.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
Joel Stave certainly has his detractors and surely they were howling after the first half when the quarterback completed just 3 of 8 passes for 20 yards and could have been intercepted three times (instead of just the once). But it was a different Stave in the second half and in particular the third quarter. With Wisconsin's running game stymied, Stave took over, completed 8 of 9 passes for 133 yards in the third quarter as the Badgers took the lead (overall in the second half he was 12 of 16 for 168 yards).
There were a lot of big plays in this one -- Schobert's run, the kick return for a touchdown, the offsides on the onside kick wiping away Maryland's apparent tying touchdown --- but the key play came in the third quarter. On 3rd-and-8 from the Maryland 47, Joel Stave hit Jazz Peavy for a 22-yard completion. It was just Wisconsin's second third-down conversion of the game and put the Badgers in scoring position. UW would get a 1-yard touchdown from Alec Ingold to go ahead 24-17, a lead it would never relinquish.
57 -- rushing yards by Joe Schobert, which not only came on a key play but also allowed Schobert to be the leading rusher in the game. This speaks to both the play itself and how pathetic both rushing attacks were.
THEY SAID IT
"I don't think any area, any group or any individual was perfect. But we found a way to fight and scratch and claw and get one." -- Chryst
"We were stopping them, and then they switched to a passing attack and we just failed to make some plays on the ball." -- Maryland safety A.J. Hendy via the Washington Post
It is a much-needed week of rest for Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten), which gets next weekend off before hosting Northwestern in the home finale. The Wildcats (7-2, 3-2) are coming off a late fourth-quarter win over Penn State and will be playing Purdue next week.