Stop me if you’ve heard this at some point during the week, but the Badger football squad didn’t exactly turn in a Picasso on Saturday against Northern Iowa.
It has been well documented and much-talked about on campus and yeah, a Football Championship Subdivision team had the ball and a chance to take the lead in Camp Randall in the final three minutes.
However, without at least another game, and really, probably several more, it’s difficult to pin exactly what a 26-21 squeaker means for UW’s fortunes this year.
No team can really be accurately judged on 60 minutes, though we can usually take some cues.
With a few days to digest last week’s win and as the team gets fully into its preparation for Saturday’s road game against Pac-12 opponent Oregon State, here are a few things that have struck me as interesting.
More than the five-point difference Saturday, the Badgers’ point total of 26 was obviously a surprise.
While Wisconsin extended its winning streak against regular season, non-conference opponents to 33, it also scored the school’s fewest number of points since the 2011 Rose Bowl against Texas Christian (a 21-19 loss).
The Badgers had not scored fewer than 30 points in Madison since beating Arizona State 20-19 on Sept. 18, 2010 and averaged 54.5 points in the 12 home games between that day and Saturday.
In 2011, a 35-0 win over Oregon State was the low-mark for the offense in the first six weeks. Fast starts, like conference championships and trips to Pasadena, have become the expectation by Wisconsin fans.
That’s fine. High expectations are great. But they’re also just that. Is it realistic to assume the Badgers will score more than 26 points against Northern Iowa? Sure.
But it probably isn’t wise to assume the Badgers will waltz over every non-conference opponent forever, no matter how soft the schedule is.
In 2010, the Badgers beat San Jose State 27-14 and squeaked by Arizona State the next week. They went to the Rose Bowl that year.
Yes, San Jose State plays in the Western Athletic Conference and ASU in the Pac-12, but I’m not sure Saturday’s game is as dire as something like the 36-35 overtime win against Cal Poly in 2008.
First of all, that game was late in the season. In addition, UW let UNI back in the game with a couple breakdowns in the second half. They were chasing Cal Poly the whole game in 2008 and needed three missed extra points to get by.
Questions still lingering
That’s not to say there is absolutely nothing to worry about. Mental errors and coverage breakdowns led to the two long touchdown passes in the fourth quarter Saturday.
Big-play vulnerability doomed UW in all three of its losses a season ago. The Badgers can’t afford to miss key tackles like the one first-year starting free safety Dez Southward missed on the Panthers’ 55-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter.
The offense will have to be more consistent. Head coach Bret Bielema admitted after the game that star senior running back Montee Ball faced no live tackling all of camp.
In 32 carries, he looked a half step slow at times. Tuesday after practice, he willingly acknowledged he was, “rusty” and said this week he felt back to normal.
If he backs that up Saturday, UW will find itself in far fewer long yardage situations on second and third down.
As an aside, it was pointed out by a reporter Tuesday that 151 total yards being considered a sub-par performance gives some insight to the expectations for Ball this year.
As the season moves ahead, it will be interesting to see if the young corps of wide receivers can continue to produce.
Against UNI, the unit combined for 11 catches, 144 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt junior Jared Abbrederis, redshirt freshman Jordan Fredrick and sophomore Kenzel Doe each had big catches and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said he was impressed with how his young receivers handled themselves.
After an inconsistent camp, if the group continues to grow, defenses will have to respect the passing game more than UNI did Saturday.
It will also be interesting to see how the Badgers’ pass rush develops. Redshirt junior Chris Borland is a force coming off the edge in the nickel and the front four got a couple of pressure in key situations.
Your outlook probably depends on whether or not you believe Bielema when he said a hard-fought win was “the best thing that could have happened to us.”
If corrections are made and preparation is better—junior center Travis Frederick and Ball both said they thought that would be the case, Tuesday—then maybe a trip to Oregon State will start to show UW’s true colors.
Maybe a lack of focus and just-a-bit-off preparation are the team’s true colors. I would have been more likely to believe that in 2009 than I am now.
Time will tell.
What do you think are the Badgers’ true colors? Let Parker know at firstname.lastname@example.org