Wisconsin doesn’t often struggle to run the ball.
But with an inexperienced offensive line that hasn’t had much time to jell while battling injuries during training camp, new No. 1 back Corey Clement banged up on Saturday night and going up against a routinely terrific Alabama defense, the Badgers couldn’t get anything going on the ground in the season-opener. And that rare occurrence meant no chance to knock off the No. 3 team in the country as No. 20 Wisconsin fell, 35-17.
Clement, entering the season with a lot of hype after the departure of all-history running back Melvin Gordon, was bothered by a groin injury Saturday night and carried the ball just eight times for 16 yards, a virtual non-factor as Wisconsin’s perennially potent rushing attack mustered just 40 yards during a blowout loss.
That meant a lot of attention on the Badgers’ passing game in its first game under new head coach Paul Chryst. Quarterback Joel Stave looked like a new man in the first half after last season’s well-documented battle with the yips. He passed for 149 yards and a touchdown in the first half and finished completing 25 of his 37 passing attempts for 216 yards and two touchdowns.
But the Badgers offense in general was ineffective, especially in the second half, as they gained just 97 total yards after halftime.
Alabama got on the board first, with running back Derrick Henry rushing 37 yards for the Tide’s first touchdown. After Stave answered with his first touchdown pass, Jake Coker put the Tide back in front by seven with a touchdown pass.
Wisconsin kicker Rafael Galianone missed a field goal right before halftime, a big moment that could have brought the Badgers within four. Instead, they went to the break down seven and quickly saw that deficit grow thanks to a pair of third-quarter touchdown runs by Henry of 56 and two yards, respectively.
Once Gaglianone converted a field goal with a minute left in the third quarter, it was too late for the Badgers to come back, and another long touchdown run for Alabama — this one 43 yards — sealed things ahead of Stave’s second touchdown pass late in the game.
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The Wisconsin defense started the game in great fashion, with linebacker Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel and defensive back Sojourn Shelton making some great plays. But safety Michael Caputo, a team captain, left the game on the first drive with an apparent concussion, and the Badgers defense suffered without him on the field. Unlike the Badgers, the Tide had no trouble picking up yardage on the ground, rushing for a team total of 238 yards. Alabama went for 502 total yards on the night, a shocking total against a Wisconsin defense that was one of the nation's best a season ago.
Saturday’s result will place a large emphasis on the offensive line moving forward. In addition to the almost complete absence of a run game — unheard of for a Wisconsin team — Stave was under constant pressure, particularly as the game wore on.
But the injuries to Clement and Caputo will be of the biggest concern, as those two are two of the team's best players.