College football: QB McEvoy helps Badgers overcome slow start
MADISON -- Quarterback Tanner McEvoy's stellar performance and a stingy Wisconsin defense soothed the sting of a rough week after the Badgers' season-opening college football loss against Louisiana State.
MADISON - Quarterback Tanner McEvoy‘s stellar performance and a stingy Wisconsin defense soothed the sting of a rough week after the Badgers’ season-opening college football loss against Louisiana State.
McEvoy found a comfort zone at Camp Randall Stadium in his first start in front of the home crowd, passing for 283 yards and three touchdowns and running for another score as No. 18 Wisconsin trounced Western Illinois 37-3 in its home opener Saturday.
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said he was pleased to see McEvoy get into a groove with the passing game, considering the Leathernecks contained the Badgers’ running game. Wisconsin was held to 167 yards on the ground, with running back Melvin Gordon gaining just 51 yards on 17 rushes.
Gordon caught an 8-yard pass from McEvoy that pushed Wisconsin’s lead to 23-3 with 57 seconds left in the third quarter.
McEvoy was the rushing leader in the victory, with 61 yards on nine attempts. He also threw 17 consecutive passes from the second through third quarters.
The effort was an improvement over last week’s 28-24 loss against LSU, in which McEvoy completed 8 of 24 for 50 yards and two interceptions.
“Tanner did what we thought he could do,” Andersen said. “He did some nice things with his legs, had good command of the offense and threw the ball really, really well. He seemed to be poised. When there wasn’t something there, he got out of it.”
McEvoy, a community college transfer who played 10 games at safety last season, won the starting quarterback job over incumbent Joel Stave. McEvoy said he received a boost of confidence with his performance, but he wasn’t surprised by it.
“It was great to get the bad taste out of my mouth from last week and go out there and execute,” McEvoy said. “They were making us throw it, and we know we can throw it. We just have to go out there and execute what the coaches have been telling us all spring, all fall camp and the whole summer.”
The Badgers (1-1) scored immediately on a safety after a muffed kickoff return by the Leathernecks (1-1), who are in their second season of being coached by former Minnesota Duluth head coach and athletic director Bob Nielson.
Nielson and his staff came up with a plan to stop the run and, for the most part, the Leathernecks were able to execute it. Linebacker J.J. Raffelson said the Leathernecks couldn’t handle Wisconsin’s tempo in the second half.
“We wanted to make sure (Gordon) wasn’t getting any creases in there and we definitely accomplished that,” Raffelson said. “Especially in the first half, we were getting downhill, the linebackers. In the long run, we stopped the run. We need to get better and stay focused.”
Nielson said the Leathernecks couldn’t contend with Wisconsin‘s size and talent. And Western Illinois couldn’t handle the rush when it needed to in the second half.
“When you play a team as big and physical in the (offensive) line, and as talented as the skill players they have are, that’s not a recipe for success,” Nielson said. “We played consistently against the rush in the first half. We found a way to move the ball a little bit. Then they came out and took control in the third quarter.”
After pounding Valparaiso 45-6 in their season opener last week, the Leathernecks mustered just 162 yards - 2.7 per play - against Wisconsin.
Wisconsin received key contributions from several underclassmen, including sophomore wide receiver Alex Erickson, who caught 11 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown as Wisconsin extended its winning streak to 30 games against nonconference opponents and earned its 19th consecutive win in a home opener.