Over the past few years, an unfortunate narrative for Badger football has emerged. Usually the team operates as a motley crew of bruisers, but if that group plays in a big game to the last minute, something will go terribly wrong.
But is this reputation deserved, considering how many things can go wrong in a close football game that isn’t a team’s fault? Let’s take a look at what’s happened in all of the Badgers’ big losses since the beginning of 2013.
Who gets the blame? No one, Stanford was just better.
This was just a game where a really good defense clamped down on UW’s offense. The Cardinal entered the game ranked third nationally in rush defense (87.7 yards per game), but the Badgers still racked up 200 yards on the ground. Only 83 passing yards hurt, but expectations were low as Curt Phillips was more of a running quarterback.
Blowing the doors off Nebraska in the Big Ten title game changed Wisconsin’s narrative for the season. In the end, the Badgers were still the mystifying team with a powerful offense that would randomly sputter. Expecting a BCS-unranked team to effectively go on the road and beat No. 6 in the Rose Bowl was a tall order and it still performed admirably.
Who gets the blame? Refs.
We all know exactly what happened here. The Badgers had themselves positioned for a game-winning short field goal, the Sun Devils and Pac-12 referees didn’t understand the rules of a kneel down and idiotic chaos ensued. This is as clear-cut a case of referees costing a team a game as you will ever see.
Who gets the blame? Running game and secondary miscues.
Every preview of every Wisconsin game for every sports outlet covering Badger opponents has a variant of the same statement: “Stop the run and you stop the Badgers.” Of course this is incredibly hard to do, as even in the LSU game, the Tigers still allowed 268 rushing yards.
Somehow, Urban Meyer stopped the run, with the Badgers accruing only 104 rushing yards on a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry. Even though Jared Abbrederis and Chris Borland had heroic games in Columbus, losing the foundation of the Badger offense and Braxton Miller taking advantage of some bad miscues in the secondary led to a loss that felt inevitable.
Who gets the blame? Injury.
The Badgers looked really strong in this game and were positioned for an upset win over a major SEC team. Then Joel Stave got injured. At the time, the Badgers were neck and neck with the Gamecocks, and Kenzel Doe’s later fourth quarter return touchdown should have had fans down south sweating. A shoulder injury later, Stave was out (and still is) and Phillips was in.
Don’t get me wrong, Curt Phillips was a pretty OK quarterback. His running ability brought to the table what Gary Andersen probably now hopes for Tanner McEvoy.
However, when Phillips was under center, a siren might as well have been blaring: “They’re running the ball, load the box.” His arm couldn’t threaten and the South Carolina defense easily made the required adjustment.
Who gets the blame? Injury and passing game.
What a mess. A total, inexcusable collapse with multiple causes. First and foremost, the interior defensive line depth was gutted by injuries to Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring, leaving a group of long-time backups and freshmen playing out of position to take on a powerful LSU rushing attack.
You’ve also got Melvin Gordon disappearing for reasons that are still unclear; coaches have since said injury, but Andersen seemed adamant after the game the decision wasn’t forced. Then there was McEvoy’s inability to throw deep and the inexperienced receiving corps’ lack of separation.
There are a lot of reasons for a team to lose, and sometimes that team has absolutely no control over some reasons, like injury and referee competence going full meltdown. Unfortunately, the Badgers’ nature as an offense does seem to create a problem the team can’t avoid these days.
Since Russell Wilson graduated, Wisconsin has had a very real problem in late game offense, especially when trying to lead comebacks. When the Badgers roll out a quarterback that can’t reliably lead scoring drives, good luck trying to overcome a deficit.
Maybe McEvoy turns into a quarterback. Stave on his good days can probably be that quarterback. But until someone develops, be it those two, D.J. Gillins or heck, even Austin Kafentzis, Badger fans will always have to fear possible, probable heartbreak.
Will the heartbreaking losses ever end for Wisconsin fans? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss.