Mondays with Rasty: Offense dismal in Wisconsin loss

Poor offensive play doomed the Badgers Saturday afternoon. 

The Wisconsin hype train finally hit a speed bump in Ann Arbor.

The Badgers were not quite up to the task Saturday afternoon, as the power of Chryst was not enough to compel them to a win over Khaki Jesus and the Michigan Wolverines.

It was an especially rough day for the Wisconsin offense, which looked more like the unit we saw scramble to a win against Georgia State than the one that was stellar in a 30-6 victory over Michigan State. The defense, on the other hand, continued to impress.

Despite missing its best player in linebacker Vince Biegel due to a foot injury, the UW defense was stout for the most part and did what it needed to put the Badgers in a position to win. Midway through the fourth quarter, cornerback Derrick Tindal was beat on a 46-yard, play-action touchdown pass from Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh that ended up being the deciding score in the Wolverines’ 14-7 win. It was far from Tindal’s best game, but he was also responsible for a 46-yard interception that helped set up Wisconsin’s lone touchdown of the afternoon.

There were a few plays here and there, including several dropped picks, which surely had defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox ready to pull his hair out. But the defense only surrendered 14 points. This loss falls squarely on the shoulders of the Wisconsin offense.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the Badgers’ offensive woes. Most notably, redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook delivered the kind of performance one might expect from a guy with just one start playing a superb defense in a hostile environment.

Hornibrook completed just nine of his 25 pass attempts for 88 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. There were a couple of flashes of brilliance that we’ve seen from him prior to Saturday’s game, but he was largely ineffective and seemed wholly incapable of hitting any open receivers downfield. According to Pro Football Focus, Hornibrook went two of 15 on pass targets further than 10 yards down the field. You simply can’t beat a team as good as Michigan if your quarterback is putting up those kinds of numbers.

Even though Hornibrook’s struggles were the most palpable, his performance was far from the only thing plaguing the Wisconsin offense. Corey Clement got a healthy majority of the carries for the Badger backfield, recording 68 yards on 17 touches. But aside from a 19-yard run, Clement and the rest of Wisconsin’s running backs had major difficulties shedding tackles and breaking off any big runs. And while Hornibrook had accuracy issues all afternoon, his receiving corps was also responsible for three drops. Not to mention the fact that the UW offensive line was dominated in the trenches, as Hornibrook rarely was given ample time to settle in the pocket.

All in all, it was an offensive performance that only Cam Cameron could love.

It was pretty clear that the Wolverines were the better team Saturday afternoon, but the loss was still a bitter pill to swallow for fans because Wisconsin had its opportunities to pull off the upset.

Michigan dominated throughout the first and a portion of the third quarter, yet only led 7-0 for the longest time thanks in no small part to a trio of missed field goals. So when the Badgers weathered that storm and knotted up the score on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Hornibrook to Dare Ogunbowale, it felt like they might have something going.

The defense continued to make stops to give the offense a chance to grab the lead, but Wisconsin simply couldn’t capitalize.

All that being said, the Badgers have no reason to hang their heads. True, there are still legitimate concerns about the offense’s ability to perform against elite defenses. But this was an injury-plagued team tasked with going to Ann Arbor to face a Michigan team that has the talent to contend for a national championship. There’s no shame in a seven-point loss to these Wolverines.

Wisconsin still is in good position to compete for a Big Ten West title. They also now have a bye week to allow some of its injured players to heal and prepare for the looming showdown with Ohio State under the lights at Camp Randall Stadium.

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