MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Having the best seat in the house to watch Wisconsin's three running backs weave their way to the end zone, quarterback Joel Stave can't help but acknowledge how Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement have eased some of the offense's burden.
Stave also knows it's hard to beat teams when the passing game is struggling — especially on the road against a defense like that of No. 4 Ohio State, the Badgers' opponent Saturday night.
"They're talented, physical and good athletes," Stave said. "We're going to have to play good if we want to beat them and prepare well, too."
Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) is tops in the conference and third in the nation with 349.8 rushing yards through its first four games; numbers generated thanks to Gordon, who has rushed for at least 140 rushing yards in every game this season and leads the nation with 624 yards and an 11.8 per carry average.
The passing game has been a different story. Wisconsin ranks 90th in the country in passing offense (198.0 yards per game) and Stave has failed to throw for more than 220 yards in his four starts, surprising numbers considering the Badgers have given up only three sacks through four games.
"We need to improve in every aspect of our play," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. "(We need) more pass completions, more consistency, repetitive accuracy needs to improve. He's doing a lot of things well but he needs to improve."
Winning a fall camp quarterback competition against sixth-year senior Curt Phillips, Stave at times has played better than a sophomore quarterback with only 10 career starts. He has a 202.9 passing efficiency in the red zone, going 14 for 17 for 87 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions this season, and Wisconsin is 8-2 in games he's started.
But at times he looks his age, failing to throw a touchdown pass in Wisconsin's 41-10 conference-opening win against Purdue and struggling to move the offense consistently.
And with three of Wisconsin's offensive stars — tight end Jacob Pedersen and receivers Jeff Duckworth and Kenzel Doe — questionable for this weekend, Stave is expecting the Buckeyes' defense to load the box to try and slow the Badgers' rushing attack.
"With how successful the running game has been, I can see why teams would want to do that," Stave said. "If they're going to bring safeties down and we have a chance to throw it over the top, that's what you want as a quarterback is an opportunity to throw the deep ball and make the big play."
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