Tanner McEvoy scored on a 45-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that gave the Badgers a 9-3 lead.
IOWA CITY, Iowa - How well blocked was Tanner McEvoy's 45-yard touchdown run in the second quarter on Saturday? The closest the University of Wisconsin quarterback came to going down was the slap on his back from wide receiver Jordan Fredrick just before McEvoy went into the end zone.
“Obviously it’s not like I made a spectacular play,” McEvoy said after the Badgers’ 26-24 win over Iowa. “It was pretty well blocked. It was a huge hole and I just ran through it.”
That he did and it was the spark Wisconsin needed on offense. The Hawkeyes had bottled up Melvin Gordon to that point in the game, holding him to 31 yards on nine carries. That’s when UW went with their diamond formation, with McEvoy in the shotgun, running back Corey Clement to his left, wide receiver Kenzel Doe behind him and Gordon to his right. It was the first time they had used the package since the Purdue game and it worked to perfection. McEvoy faked the handoff to Gordon, and defensive end Mike Hardy bit hard, tackling the running back while the entire stadium cheered thinking he had the ball.
“It’s how we draw it up,” said McEvoy, who ran for a total of 62 yards on six carries. “Melvin’s a great player. It’s tough to ignore him almost getting the ball.”
With everyone focused on Gordon, McEvoy busted through the hole and outran a safety before cutting across the field and into the end zone to give UW a 9-3 lead.
“I don’t have great top speed, so I tried to use the whole field to my advantage,” McEvoy said of his late cutback.
The Badgers couldn’t have picked a better time to come out of their season-long slump on third down. After converting just 39 percent of their opportunities this year – ranking ninth in the Big Ten – Wisconsin had their best day of the season in Iowa City.
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's and his group was 7 of 13 (53.8) on the game’s money down – their highest percentage of the season and just the third time all year that they were at 50 percent or better.
A majority of the conversions had something in common – Joel Stave. The quarterback was 4 of 5 on third down for 66 yards. Twice on a drive that would give UW a 16-3 lead, Stave found his tight ends for long conversions. He hit Troy Fumagalli for 12 yards on third-and-8, and later found Sam Arneson for 13 yards on third-and-11.
Stave and the offense saved their best for last, though. Clinging to a two-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, the quarterback recognized the type of pressure Iowa was going to bring on a third-and-8 play. He alerted Melvin Gordon to it and they did what they practiced all week, with the running back bluffing like he was going to stay in to pick up the blitz before running right by the guy assigned to him. Stave dropped a rainbow on him, and Gordon took off for 35 yards and a first down.
And then on the final drive of the game, on what you could call the play of the game because of the circumstances, Stave saw nobody open on third-and-8. Instead of forcing the ball into a receiver, the quarterback that has started 24 games tucked it down and took off, gaining 12 yards and the game-clinching first down.
“That was fun to be able to convert a couple of third downs on those big drives there in the fourth quarter,” Stave said. “As an offense, that’s exactly what we’ve got to do.”
Clement goes down
So maybe Corey Clement isn’t as healthy as reporters were led to believe leading up to the game.
The running back injured his shoulder on a 17-yard touchdown run against Nebraska last week. He returned to that game and UW coach Gary Andersen said he would have no limitations against the Hawkeyes. But the sophomore made it less than two quarters before having to leave the field after apparently reinjuring himself when trying to sell a play-action pass.
“We thought he’d be ready to go,” said Andersen, adding that if Clement was absolutely needed he could have come in.
Clement’s injury left only former cornerback Dare Ogunbowale available at running back, a guy that hasn’t played a single snap of meaningful football on offense. So, like a week ago, Andersen was forced to take a timeout after a long Gordon run to give the star tailback a chance to rest.
Obviously that’s not ideal so getting Clement back would be significant.
“Corey should be ready to go (against Minnesota),” the second-year coach said. “We’re just trying to let that heal up and get him where he needs to be with his shoulder.”