Gut check time is coming earlier than normal this year for the Wisconsin football team (1-1 overall). After enduring their only two regular season losses last season in heartbreaking fashion during the first pair of true road games, the Badgers must now put themselves back together after a demoralizing 10-7 road defeat to Oregon State (1-0 overall) on Saturday.
“We’ve won a lot of games, but it was interesting to me that after one non-conference loss people have begun to say I don’t know what I’m doing,” head coach Bret Bielema said at his Monday press conference. “I find that to be very challenging, to say the least.”
After scoring a late touchdown to get within a field goal, the Badgers’ fate was sealed in the final moments of the fourth quarter when an onside kick recovery by sophomore kicker Kyle French was controversially overturned. It was ruled upon further review that French had recovered the ball before the required 10 yards.
“We’ve practiced that play so many times, and Kyle was confident that it went 10 yards after the play,” Bielema said. “The only thing you can really do is practice to make sure that we execute better in the future and leave no doubt.”
The fallout from the loss came more quickly and more severely than most expected, as first year offensive line coach Mike Markuson was let go on Sunday after just two games with the team. Even though a coaching change in the middle of the season is usually a signal of instability and uncertainty in a program, Bielema dismissed any ideas that the move was made because of a knee-jerk reaction.
“Panic is for the outside world, reality is what I live in,” Bielema said. “There have probably been a lot of things I’ve done over the last seven years that people wouldn’t think of as normal, but as long as we’re successful I’m going to stick with my plan.”
Replacing Markuson will be former offensive quality control coach Bart Miller, who is in his second year at Wisconsin. Miller will be tasked with improving a group that has struggled to impose its will against two undersized defensive fronts to start the season.
“We haven’t had success, so in order to get where we want we’re going to transition and go from there,” Bielema said. “The talent level has been there. Where this year’s group ends up will depend on how they respond and what they do moving forward.”
The Badgers will look to bounce back against a tough Utah State (2-0 overall) team that has proven to be persistent against quality competition. The Aggies are coming off a 27-20 overtime victory over in-state rival Utah, their first such win since 1997. Last season Utah State gained national recognition in a spirited 42-38 season-opening loss to the then-defending national champion Auburn Tigers, in which it took two last minute touchdowns for the Tigers to avoid the upset.
“Watching that game was something that jumped out, too,” Bielema said. “Not just because they are on our schedule, but also because it was dramatic and raised their profile. They have key playmakers all over the field and can create big plays on defense.”
On the injury front the Badgers took a huge blow in their secondary this weekend when senior defensive back and team captain Shelton Johnson broke his arm, an injury that is expected to keep him out six weeks. Redshirt junior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis was described as day-to-day after taking a big hit in the second quarter.