CORVALLIS, Ore.—No matter how you slice it, the Badgers’ (1-1 overall) offensive performance Saturday was one of the poorest in recent memory.
The point total in Wisconsin’s 10-7 loss to Oregon State is the lowest since a 48-7 drubbing at Camp Randall Oct. 11, 2008, at the hands of Penn State. The 35 net rushing yards is the lowest total since Ohio State held the Badgers to just 12, Nov. 3, 2007. Senior running back Montee Ball was held without a touchdown for the first time in 21 contests.
“[We had] no flow at all and didn’t establish the run game,” Ball [15 carries, 61 yards] said Saturday. “And with our offense, with the tradition we have, if you don’t establish the run game it’s going to be pretty tough.”
The lack of a running game hurt UW in two key ways. It kept offensive coordinator Matt Canada from being able to effectively use the play-action passing game and it meant the Badgers ended up in too many second- and third-and-long situations.
“When you put yourself in second-and-long it sort of limits the playbook and then on third-and-long it really trims it down,” redshirt junior quarterback Danny O’Brien (20-38, 172 yards, one TD, one INT) said. “There aren’t many great third-and-ten conversion plays. When we do have a good first down we have to get to third and manageable or keep moving the chains.
“It didn’t feel like we had any multi-first down drives.”
In UW’s first 11 possessions, the offense failed seven times to gain more than 10 yards. The Badgers went three-and-out five times Saturday and mustered just two drives of six plays or longer. Both of those came in the fourth quarter with the first, a 12-play, 46-yard march ending with a failed fourth-and-one attempt and the second ending in Wisconsin’s only touchdown of the day.
On the fourth down attempt, UW tried to hurry to the line of scrimmage and run a quarterback sneak before the Beavers defense could get aligned, but the play developed slowly and O’Brien was stuffed short of the first down.
“That’s something that has to happen at the line of scrimmage,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said. “I think our guys were a little thrown off, you could see that it was clearly short, but they were looking [at the spot of the ball] and kind of missed the surprise element there.”
After amassing just 64 yards on 24 plays in the first half, the Badgers hurt themselves in the second half by turning the ball over on each of their first two possessions. O’Brien threw an interception on the opening drive when he left a vertical throw down the left sideline too far inside for redshirt freshman wide receiver Jordan Fredrick.
“If I remember correctly they were in two-man under,” Bielema said, referring to a man-to-man defense with two high safeties. “The one thing you can’t do against it is throw it inside.”
The Badgers started their second drive of the third quarter with great field position after a botched OSU punt, but stalled nine yards short of the end zone when O’Brien was hit and fumbled, and Oregon State sophomore defensive end Scott Chrichton recovered.
Up front, the Badgers’ offensive line was consistently pushed back, leaving a stable of talented running backs stuck in the starting gates much of the afternoon.
“They played their (middle) linebacker a little deeper which allowed him to run over the top on some plays,” Bielema said. “We really thought some of our zone plays with the option to cut back were going to be really good and obviously they were shut out.”
Ball steadfastly refused to lay any blame on the offensive line, but it’s clear the unit—and the entire offense—will need to be better when the Badgers face a 2-0 Utah State team Sept. 15 at Camp Randall Stadium, and as league play approaches.
Wisconsin played more than half the game without its best receiver, redshirt junior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. He left the game after taking a wicked high-low hit across the middle. That left UW with no experienced playmakers on the edge and made production even tougher to come by.
“That’s not an excuse,” Bielema said. “It’s ‘next man in’ and it’s my responsibility to make sure they’re prepared.”
“We determine our success,” he added. “Obviously you play an opponent and go against them in a competitive manner, but how we prepare and how we execute our assignments on Saturday determine the results.”
In the Badgers first trip to the Beaver State since 2001, the results were not pretty.