Continuing with “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” for week 2, it’s sad that I felt better about the Badgers during the UNI game than I did during the Oregon State game. Badger fans can probably guess that there’s not much “good” to write about after dropping their first non-conference game in the Bielema era. Here we go…
You know it was a bad game when the punting game is one of the positives. Freshman P Drew Meyer had to replace former P Brad Nortman, and has done so admirably. Though fans have seen more of Meyer than they would have liked to this season, he did average 39.9 yards/punt on 7 punts, including a long of 51 and three punts inside the 20-yard line. The Beavers’ average starting position was at their own 26-yard line; Meyer’s solid day played a large part in this.
The Badgers were solid on defense as well. After the past two seasons, Badger fans became accustomed to a high-flying offense that scored over 40 points/game and a defense with the propensity to give up big plays, or what their coaches like to call a “bend but don’t break” defense. This season, however, it’s apparent that the Badgers won’t score as much and will need to rely on the defense. Save for a mistake by CB Cromartie on the Beavers’ lone TD, the Badgers held the Beavers in check throughout the game. They did get a little more pressure into the backfield, more QB hurries and pass deflections. The run defense was stout again and it was good to see hard hits throughout the game.
The play of Danny O’Brien was teetering on “The Ugly” side, but I have to cut him a break as I will explain in the next section. He was mediocre and not as efficient as he was in the first week. O’Brien held on to the ball too long at times and couldn’t hit his receivers at the right time. He showed that he cannot throw that well on the run. His first INT was a rushed throw as a defender was coming right at him. The smart play would have been to just throw the ball away – a mistake O’Brien should hopefully clean up moving forward.
When WR Abbrederis went down a chest/concussion injury, the lack of depth and speed at the possession showed. Most of O’Brien’s passes were short as receivers failed to get open down field.
Offensive play-calling was questionable at times as well. Granted, OC Matt Canada did not have too many options due to Abbrederis going down and the play of the offensive line. However, the worst play call was on 4th-and-1 when Canada called a QB sneak instead of giving the rock to Montee Ball. Wisconsin football means that you hand off to Ball to get that yard even if the defense knows that’s coming. If Ball doesn’t get that yard – fine. But don’t go with O’Brien on that.
Hmmm, let’s see… The offensive line. Red zone offense. Turnovers. Third down conversion rate. Injuries.
First and foremost, the offensive line was horrendous. This is clearly evident as former O-Line coach Mike Markuson was fired after game, lasting only the first two weeks of the season. It’s clear the offensive line was not playing to the high standard that Wisconsin football demands. The line, led by LT Ricky Wagner and C Travis Frederick, could not get off the ball and control the line of scrimmage. Time and time again, the Beavers defense crowded the box and got to the gaps quicker, creating a nightmare for Ball and James White. After going into halftime down 3-0, I thought the offensive line would make necessary adjustments and start running the ball effectively. I expected Wagner and Frederick to lead the unit but clearly that was not displayed during the 2nd half. The Badgers offense showed no signs of being able to run the ball, as evidenced by Ball’s 61 rushing yards on only 15 carries.
Aside from the poor run blocking, the pass blocking was not nearly as good as it was against UNI. O’Brien was sacked 3 times, threw 1 INT, and fumbled twice, losing one. Pass protection can be blamed for the lost fumble. Wagner did not pick up the blitz in time on the blind side, and O’Brien lost the ball in the red zone – a turnover and mistake that cannot happen in an area that Wisconsin has been so good at converting into TDs. It’s incredibly clear that the offensive line needs to regain its form in time for conference play, otherwise this will soon be a season to forget.
Red zone efficiency, or inefficiency as I should say, was not what Wisconsin has been used to the last few seasons. 0-yardage plays and a fumble lost are unacceptable in that area. At least a field goal on that possession could have been the difference between a loss and going to OT in that game.
Wisconsin’s third-down conversion rate was horrific – 14%. They were one of the best in the nation last season on third-down, and while we were not expecting Russell Wilson-like plays on 3rd downs, we certainly did not believe it would be as bad as 14% against Oregon State. It could have been an effect of losing Abbrederis, but I really don’t believe it’s the only reason. That is where Canada needs to become better at play calling and creating more high percentage plays on 1st and 2nd downs that create 3rd-and-manageable downs.
Injuries are always part of the game, but losing DE Brendan Kelly before the game even started hurt the defensive line’s depth, losing Abbrederis certainly showed the lack of WR depth, and losing S Shelton Johnson to a broken arm really hurts as he could be out for 6 weeks. The defense looks to be the strength of the team currently, and losing Shelton certainly does not help.
This was a pathetic showing by the offense – namely the offensive line – but a very good performance by the defense. In a game in which the Badgers had no business being in and almost having a chance to win, the defense showed up and made stops when necessary. It was good to see some (but still not enough) pressure on the QB, though I was expecting to see more of DE David Gilbert in the backfield. He did have a couple of pass deflections and I expect he will get better as the season progresses.
Offensively, this was one of the worst showings I’ve seen since 2008. The offensive line was the core to this team, and it has self-destructed. The dominos fell as O’Brien couldn’t get into a rhythm and Montee Ball couldn’t find any running room or the end zone for the first time in what feels like 100 years.
Bielema admitted that he thought about letting Markuson go while on the trip back from Corvallis; Bielema quickly realized that if the Badgers don’t win the battle in the trenches in non-conference play against a mid to lower-tier Pac12 team, they certainly won’t win them starting in Lincoln or against other top B1G opponents. It’s time for an immediate change if the Badgers want to get back to the ground and pound game that Wisconsin built its name on.