Wisconsin still has mistakes to correct despite decisive victory

Jonathan Taylor had a historic day, leading Wisconsin to victory with 223 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

Image By: Brandon Moe

Wisconsin (0-0 Big Ten, 2-0 overall) defeated Florida Atlantic (0-0, 0-2) in a comfortable 17-point victory on Saturday, but a couple of crucial mistakes allowed the Owls to stay in the game for longer than expected.

Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin’s team trailed just 21-14 with 4:29 remaining in the first half, but the Badgers cleaned up their play after that point, closing the game on a 10-0 run.

The first of Wisconsin’s major mistakes was a blown coverage in the first quarter which left Florida Atlantic junior wide receiver DeAndre McNeal wide open for a 63-yard score.

According to senior cornerback Derrick Tindal, there was miscommunication between him and the other defensive backs—Tindal expected safety help over the top, and, accordingly, moved infield instead of following the Owls’ receiver, leaving him wide open on the sideline with nothing but the end zone in front of him.

“I should’ve done a better job of relaying it to the corner [Nelson], and I didn’t, and it turned into a big play,” Tindal said. “We gotta fix that.”

Still, Tindal and his fellow defensive backs did adjust, not allowing another big score in the second half. The Badgers, led by improved secondary play after halftime, recorded a second-half shutout for the second consecutive week.

The senior felt his unit communicated better in the second half, and the results corroborate his opinion. Now, he says, they just have to make sure to eliminate those costly mistakes that result in big plays and seven points for their opponents.

“I feel like if we know our plays and stuff nobody can really move the ball on us,” Tindal said. “Nobody can actually line up and beat [junior cornerback] Nick [Nelson] on a go route, or beat me on a go route. I have major confidence in my whole back end, and we’ll fix it.”

Another player who will be hoping for a cleaner performance next weekend at BYU is redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who threw a brutal, back foot interception deep in Badgers’ territory that led to one of the Owls’ touchdowns.

With just three yards to go to collect a first down, Hornibrook was baited into an egregious mistake, as Owls' sophomore defensive end Leighton McCarthy saw Hornibrook's errant throw drop into his hands, giving Florida Atlantic a short field with 5:36 remaining in the second quarter.

“I think somebody came in my face so I kinda sped up a little bit,” Hornibrook said. “I should’ve just thrown it out of bounds, but I was trying to throw it and make a play.”

While ultimately the Badgers finished the game strongly to secure another early season victory, Hornibrook still never seemed quite comfortable after his interception. The second year quarterback still didn’t go through all of his progressions, and floated passes off of his back foot that fell short of open receivers.

After completing eight of his first nine throws to start the contest, the redshirt sophomore went just 8-19 following his hot start, and the Badgers’ offense sputtered to just one second-half touchdown.

It may seem petty to nitpick a 17-point victory, but Hornibrook knows his offense is capable of improvement—the type of improvement which will be necessary for the tricky conference schedule that lies ahead.

“I think the group does have high expectations,” Hornibrook said. “Obviously we’re still getting wins, which is good, but we want to clean it up even more and do better.”

Those expectations, in essence, define the reaction to the Badgers’ schedule thus far.

Anything other than comfortable victories against Utah State and Florida Atlantic would be viewed as disappointments, as the Badgers invited those two non-conference opponents to Camp Randall for likely one-sided tune-up games.

And while the Badgers have a spotless record so far, that doesn’t mean they have played perfect football. The first halves of both games featured varying degrees of sloppy play, including some turnovers and many missed big play opportunities.

Wisconsin is not yet where it wants to be, but these are certainly the games to address and observe its shortcomings. That same luxury won’t exist in three weeks versus Northwestern.

Referring to the defensive backs’ first-half mishap, Tindal said, “we’re gonna hit the practice field hard, try to fix all the corrections we can. We’ll be back.”

It’d be unwise to doubt him.

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