As a sports fan, it’s much easier to look at things from a glass-half-full perspective when discerning the prospects of the ongoing season. Fans of this year’s Wisconsin football team (0-1 Big Ten, 3-2 overall) can take a lesson in optimism from head coach Bret Bielema, who gave off a heavy dose of good vibes at his weekly Monday press conference following a crushing 30-27 defeat to No. 22 Nebraska (1-0, 4-1) Saturday.
“The only thing that you can deal with is the situation you’re in. We’re 3-2, would we like to be 5-0? Absolutely, but we could also be 1-4,” Bielema said. “All you can do is focus on the task at hand, and it’s a frustrating game, but you can’t let Nebraska beat you twice.”
The Badgers’ offense started fast—showing improvement from a lackluster non-conference slump—in racing out to a 20-3 lead in the the first half. The explosive play that most fans expected to see all season was finally on display under the lights in Lincoln, Neb.
“Our guys came ready to play,” Bielema said. “It was a hostile environment, but I thought our kids really thrived off it in the first half and for parts of the second half.”
Whatever momentum Wisconsin picked up from the electric road atmosphere was quickly lost in the second half, when the offense failed to keep up the pace. After taking a 27-10 lead four minutes into the third quarter, the Badgers punted four straight times and turned the ball over on their final drive.
Junior tight end Jacob Peterson struggled in particular. The Menominee, Mich. native had several drops throughout the game, including a touchdown that would have pushed the Badgers’ lead even further.
“The production that [Pedersen] had last year was more of in a secondary role,” Bielema said. “I challenged him a couple weeks ago, and he’s responded well, but I think we need to be smarter about how we use him.”
With a young Badger team showing signs of brilliance on the road, especially on offense, there is no reason to believe that this team can’t still contend for a trip to the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis. For Bielema and the Badgers, the key will be to take the positives from Saturday’s loss and turn them into patterns.
“It’s all in front us, we control our own destiny, and that’s a great thing to be able to say.” Bielema said.
Defensively the Badgers received good news this week when redshirt senior safety and captain Shelton Johnson was able to practice after previously being diagnosed with a broken arm. The injury was supposed to keep him out at least two more weeks. Getting Johnson back—in combination with the stellar play of redshirt junior defensive lineman Ethan Hemer, who was named the Badgers’ Defensive MVP for the second straight week—could bode well for a unit that has been a bright spot all season.
“[Shelton] was back out on the practice field today,” Bielema said. “If he clears his X-ray today then we’ll have him back on Saturday, which would be a nice boost.”