Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen has more questions than answers about his offense after his team's fourth-quarter collapse in the season opener.
Dual-threat quarterback Tanner McEvoy struggled in his debut, but he's now the unquestioned starter for the 18th-ranked Badgers with Joel Stave out of the mix - for now - as he works through throwing issues.
Wisconsin looks to bounce back from its first season-opening loss in 17 years when it takes on Western Illinois in Saturday's home opener.
The then-No. 14 Badgers looked good against then-No. 13 LSU last Saturday, going up 24-7 early in the third quarter on a touchdown set up by a 63-yard run by Melvin Gordon. However, the standout running back was sidelined much of the rest of the game by an injured hip flexor.
Wisconsin was in front 24-13 entering the final quarter before LSU took command and came away with a 28-24 victory.
"We lost the fourth quarter, obviously," Andersen said Monday. "We did not run the ball well in the fourth quarter. When we had to throw the ball in the fourth quarter, we didn't throw the ball well in the fourth quarter."
McEvoy, who played mostly at safety last season but beat out Stave for the starting job, completed just 8 of 24 passes for 50 yards along with two costly fourth-quarter interceptions.
On Tuesday, Andersen initially said Stave had an injured shoulder and would be out indefinitely. But he and Stave spoke to reporters later in the evening to clarify that statement.
Andersen says "injury" wasn't the right word. Stave says there is nothing physically wrong, but that he's noticed the past week that he's not throwing the ball the way he'd like to.
"Do we need better play? Absolutely," Andersen said. "No one's going to sit here and debate that, that we need better play out of the quarterback, that we need better play in the throw game, period."
Gordon rushed for 140 yards on just 16 carries but sat out much of the fourth quarter. Following the game, Andersen said he did not know why Gordon was held out. On Monday, however, Andersen said that Gordon had injured a hip flexor.
"Melvin had a little bit of a hip flexor," Andersen said. "Anybody that knows Melvin can see that on the long run that he broke out in the second half. It was very obvious that he had pulled up there on the end of that run. We were trying to be smart with him as the rest of the game went on and trying to make educated decisions to keep us moving in the right direction with Melvin for that game, for the future."
Gordon said that he could have stayed in the game, but didn't communicate that very well to the coaches or the training staff.
"Maybe I should have really let them know, let Coach A know and stepped up and told them, `Look, I need to be in there,"' Gordon said. "I kind of just sat back, and I put that on myself. I wasn't really forceful with it. I really wasn't demanding with it, and I probably should have been."
With Gordon limited and McEvoy ineffective, the offense was unable to provide a break for the defense, which wore down late.
"The sustainable drives were just not there in the second half," Andersen said. "Again, credit goes to them. They did a nice job. They controlled the football game, and that is really hard for me as a head football coach to look at the team, at you guys, and everybody else and say that we couldn't get it done in the fourth quarter. That's hard for me to swallow."
Andersen said injuries to senior defensive tackles Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring don't appear to be as serious as initially feared.
Zagzebski was taken off on a stretcher as a precaution with a head and neck injury. Andersen said he could be back Saturday, or by the Sept. 20 game against Bowling Green that follows a bye week.
Herring is considered day to day with a knee injury, and Andersen said he "should be back shortly."
Western Illinois of the FCS opened its season with a 45-6 victory over Valparaiso last Thursday. Trenton Norvell passed for 320 yards and four touchdowns and J.C. Baker ran for 137 yards and totaled two TDs.
"Well a win is a win. I've learned that in 22 years. Anytime you can win and win comfortably you obviously do some good things and we did some good things," coach Bob Nielson told the school's official website.
Wisconsin has won both meetings in the series, beating the Leathernecks 34-10 in the last matchup Sept. 9, 2006. The Badgers own the second-longest active streak with 29 straight home wins against non-conference opponents.