On paper, the 11th-ranked Badgers' 27-14 victory over San Jose State Saturday will show that Wisconsin stayed undefeated in this highly-hyped season, doing it with a solid running attack led by junior John Clay and an under-rated defense that continued to perform above expectations.
The film, however, will give future UW opponents something to watch and, quite possibly, get excited about.
"Missed opportunities would be the biggest thing I think," senior quarterback Scott Tolzien said about the film's story. "Missed opportunities and a lot of room for improvement."
Take a straw poll of the players that addressed the media after the game and it was pretty unanimous as to the thoughts and feelings in the locker room: this victory over the Spartans was more a step sideways than a step forward.
"I told the team afterwards if I didn't come in the locker room and they weren't disappointed, I was going to be disappointed in them," UW Coach Bret Bielema said. "I know they expect to be good.
"Sometimes you can't teach things unless they happen. I guess, fortunately, they are happening."
If last week's performance for the offense was considered a disappointment, this one could be chalked up in the disaster category with fumbles, turnovers, slips and spills.
It was another day to forget for Tolzien. After throwing a pick-six and no touchdowns against the Running Rebels, the senior quarterback fumbled three times, recovering all of them, and threw another interception, finshing with just 191 yards and a touchdown.
"Turnovers were an issue last week and they were again this week," Tolzien said. "You never want to have repeat mistakes, and we did. I know a lot of it stems from myself and being careless with the ball. I have to learn from that and get better."
Wisconsin's offense, despite going up against the 119th rush defense in the country last season, could only manage 212 total yards and two scores. Take away John Clay's 137 rushing yards and two red-zone scores, the rest of the numbers don't speak to UW's depth at the position.
"We're disappointed because we know that we could have done better today," said freshman running back James White, who finished with just 25 yards. "We just have to come out next week even harder and correct all our mistakes."
"Just because we had little mistakes we have fix doesn't mean we have a lack of confidence," added Clay. "We know what we have to fix, and we have to make sure that we jump on our opponents right away and knock them out before Big Ten season comes around."
In the red zone, a sense of pride for the 10 returning offensive starters from a team that a year ago led the Big Ten in red-zone proficiency, Wisconsin was only 4-of-7 (57 percent) inside the 20.
A season ago, the Badgers scored 53 times on 56 chances (94.6 percent) and scored 42 touchdowns, for a 75 percent. success rate. This season, UW is just 7-of-13 (53.8 percent) in coverting those chances into touchdowns.
To give a visual snapshot of how things were progressing, San Jose State's entire bench, despite being down 13 points, participate in the traditional ‘jump around' dance played at the end of the third quarter, while the UW sidelined looked ready to leave.
"It's been an area of strength for Wisconsin for a number of years and today, we didn't take care of business," Tolzien said of the red-zone offense. "We had three fumbles in the red zone. That's unacceptable really, and we can't win games that way."
One week after Wisconsin went 80 yards in 14 plays on its opening drive to set the tone against UNLV, the Badgers engineered a 10-play, 77-yard drive that established their dominance and their balance. With Tolzien throwing for 31 yards and the running game rushing for 31 yards, Clay's one-yard waltz over the goal line appeared to be a sign of things to come.
"They've got a bruising football team running the football," Spartans Coach Mike MacIntrye said. "They can run the ball as good as anyone in the country and when you can do that, you're in any game because you can control the clock."
Actually, the beginning accurately followed the script UW's offense wrote in last week's first half, where things simply weren't concise or fluid after the first march down the field.
Against a San Jose State defense that allowed No.1 Alabama to rack up 591 total yards, the vaunted Wisconsin offense saw White follow his blockers on its second offensive series but fumble the ball out of the back of the end zone as he tried to reach the ball across the goal line, giving the ball to the Spartans.
"Here at Wisconsin, we run the ball in the end zone, we don't reach it in," Bielema said. "That's something he'll take forward and hopefully be good in the future."
As underappreciated as the UW defense was heading into the season, the starting 11 have proven to be the catalyst in times of need. With J.J. Watt pressuring, San Jose State quarterback Matt Faulkner rushed pass landed right into the hands of senior Blake Sorensen. His return to the SJSU 38 set up a quick four-play drive that Tolzien finished with a 14-yard strike to Lance Kendricks to make the score 14-0.
"I think they'll have a hard time losing this year in conference, I really do," said MacIntyre. "I think they're right there where they should be ranked. I think they're a top 10 team, not a number 11. I think they're better than that."
If they are a top 10 team, Wisconsin has yet to show, seeing as the supposed spark to the offense was lost somewhere in translation. A self-recovered Tolzien fumble stalled a UW drive and a fumbled snap on fourth and inches at the SJSU three cost the Badgers more chances at easy points in the first half.
"(That first drive) we kept the critical errors (and) missed assignments low," senior lineman John Moffitt said. "After that, it wasn't the same case. We had mistakes all over the field."
While the offense struggled, the defense did its part. San Jose State's best first-half scoring came on a 43-yard field goal attempt, but Watt got his right hand on the ball, deflecting the attempt and jump starting a two-minute offense that notched on a field goal before halftime.
"I love the way we've started the game," senior Niles Brinkley said of the first-half defense. "We can get better as the game goes on, but we started off good. We've got to be consistent for all four quarters."
The second half only got worse for Wisconsin's offense. Fielding a punt, senior wide receiver David Gilreath sustained a serious concussion when he was sandwiched between two Spartans players. It was serious enough that Gilreath lay motionless after being hit and showed few signs of movement from the time he was attended to until the time he was loaded into the ambulance.
Gilreath was later released from a UW hospital.
"That's tough to see when one of your teammates goes down like," said freshman Jared Abbrederis, who led UW with five catches for 58 yards. "It took us out of our rhythm thinking about that."
The delay did nothing to help the Badgers, even after another red-zone attempt ended with a Tolzien fumble and a Welch field goal to make it 20-0.
To add insult, San Jose State sandwiched two scored around a Clay touchdown that brought life to its sideline and more question marks to the Badgers. On a screen pass to wide receiver Chandler Jones, the freshman broke four tackles on his way to a 37-yard touchdown at the end of the third quarter.
"Very uncharacteristic," Bielema said of the missed tackles. "There were four guys that had shots at him. In my opinion in the first two games, that was the first real play where things broke. We needed somebody to get him down and we didn't. Believe me, that was pointed out on the sideline and that will be a huge emphasis in the team meeting."
After Clay's second score, the Spartans had their best series of the season, going 10 plays and 67 yards in 5 minutes, 26 seconds, finishing the scoring with a 12-yard touchdown pass that Brinkley had trouble locating.
"It was a back-shoulder fade, which is one of hardest routes to guard as a DB," Brinkley said. "The quarterback threw a great ball on the backside."
While the argument could have been made that Wisconsin defied the old adage that a team gets better from game one to game two, Wisconsin put up 400 total yards for the second straight game, double its interception total and improved its third-down conversion percentage.
Even so, nobody in the locker room believes they have played anywhere close to their best football yet, which is the biggest stat of them all.
"There's going to be tons of good teaching points tomorrow," junior defensive end J.J. Watt said. "Everybody is going to learn a lot (Sunday)."