The Wisconsin Badgers football team (0-1 Big Ten, 3-2 overall) suddenly has another mantra besides the “1-0” approach to add to its arsenal.
After their learning experience last Saturday against the Nebraska Cornhuskers (1-0, 4-1), it seems as if each and every Badger has one thing on their mind when looking into future games.
“We just have to play a four-quarter game,” senior running back Montee Ball said, while also mentioning he thought the team “let off the gas” in the second half. “We just have to start fast and end even stronger.”
The team’s inability to put together a complete game is surprisingly new to most Badger fans, as last year there were few instances where quarterback Russell Wilson and Co. couldn’t put together scoring drives seemingly each and every quarter. The year before yielded the same results with the ultra-efficient Scott Tolzien under center.
“I think that [not finishing] is a little bit new for us,” redshirt junior Travis Frederick said. “What we’ve always done is gotten stronger towards the end. I think traditionally that’s how it’s been.”
The Badgers failed to put up 30 points just twice last season—once in a 33-29 loss to Ohio State and again in a 28-17 win against Illinois—but this year, expectations are quite different for an offense that is not as high-powered as it has been in the last couple of seasons.
Running the ball carries much more weight this year compared to last year’s team, when Wilson could complete passes at will. Two years ago, the Badgers could get away with handing the ball off 28 times in a row, which even took place in a Big Ten matchup.
This year, the Badgers have undoubtedly had to experiment a little bit by trying to find the ideal balance.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave thought that this balance was especially apparent in the first half against Nebraska, but says that at this point in the season, any way that the team can move the chains will suffice.
“When you’re able to run the ball, it makes it easier for any offense,” he said. “But regardless of if we’re running the ball well or not, we have to be able to continue to just move [the ball].”
Lucky for Stave, he may have already had his toughest start of the season under his belt. And even in an intimidating environment, he managed to lead an otherwise struggling offense to some of its best drives of the season.
“I learned that [Memorial Stadium] is a loud, loud place,” he said, grinning. “To play in a place that you can’t really communicate in the huddle and at the line is a very good learning experience.”
Once again, Frederick was not timid in saying that the bulk of the blame in the second half collapse should fall on the shoulders of the offensive linemen. Although he has reiterated that work still needs to be taken care of, he has seen progress week in and week out.
“I think we learned that we always continue to progress,” he said. “We still have a ways to go and we just need to learn how to play football for four quarters.”
Frederick also believes that Nebraska’s second-half comeback had much more to do than just the momentum change that went along with the enormous amounts of noise the Cornhuskers student section generated.
“I think [Nebraska] had some energy once the momentum changed,” he said. “But as far as them playing any better, I don’t think there was much change. I do think that it came down to the offensive line and how we didn’t play as well as we could have.
“We came out and [started strong] last week, so if we just extend that into four quarters we can be successful.”