For the second game in a row Saturday, the Badgers scarred an otherwise solid performance with costly mistakes — or at least mistakes that will cost them against a worthy opponent.
Head coach Bret Bielema chose to look at the game in an academic sense. After all, these are student-athletics he is teaching.
And the game is just another learning experience.
"Sometimes you can't teach things unless they happen," Bielema said after the 27-14 victory. "I guess, fortunately, they are happening."
Against UNLV turnovers stalled the offense. With San Jose State at Camp Randall, a lack of rhythm prevented UW from scoring more then 27 points. Mistakes from true freshman James White and fifth-year senior Scott Tolzien halted drives, with ball security an issue from the young and old. The defense once again turned in a stellar performance — save one play that could cripple them against a sturdier opponent. And the red zone offense, so proficient last season, produced plenty of groans from the Badger faithful.
"I think this is a good learning experience," senior captain and safety Jay Valai said. "Rather now than later because the Big Ten is right around the corner."
Senior Suffers From Fumblitis
Three times Tolzien put the ball on the ground Saturday, and three times he was able to maintain possession, albeit stalling a trio of drives. Against a Big Ten opponent, the senior quarterback may not be so fortunate.
Still, before Badger fans cringe each time Tolzien starts to scramble a history lesson should be heeded: Last season the Badgers put the ball on the ground six times against FCS opponent Wofford, but after a week of stern coaching the problem disappeared for most of the season.
The Badger players certainly are not taking the fumble issue lightly, and the coaching staff will make sure this week of practice emphasizes ball security.
"We didn't improve in that facet," Tolzien said. "That's not going to get us where we want to go. It's getting to the point where it's, we can't keep talking about it, we got to do it, myself included."
Red Zone a Danger(less) Area
One week after having to settle for a couple field goals within 20 yards of the end zone, Wisconsin took a step backwards in their red zone efficiency. UW finished 4-for-7 in the red zone, failing to score on mistakes of their own instead of an especially stingy San Jose State defense.
The Badgers ranked No. 1 in red zone among Big Ten teams last season, and scored 94.6 percent of the time for the year.
White accounted for the first slip up Saturday, fumbling the ball out of the back of the end zone for a touchback after he dove and stretched himself out toward the pylon.
It was a mistake offensive coordinator Paul Chryst had tried to correct during camp.
"James White wants that touchdown as bad as anybody, but here at Wisconsin we run the ball in the end zone, we don't reach it in," Bielema said. "It's something that he'll take forward and I know be good, hopefully, in the future."
"I got so excited, and then all the excitement went away that fast," White added. "You take the slow walk to the sideline because you know you did wrong. But I'll get it corrected by next week."
Several other fumbles — including a fourth-and-one slipup — cost UW two other opportunities.
"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."
Missed, Missed, Missed, etc…
Overall, the Wisconsin defense was a bright spot Saturday.
Save for one play.
San Jose State got on the board for the first time during the game after wide receiver Chandler Jones pulled his best Barry Sanders imitation and broke four — count ‘em, four — tackles on his way to the end zone. It was the stuff made of video games and sandlot football.
According to Bielema, it was also another learning experience.
"We can't let four people miss a tackle on one play," said Brinkley. "Because if we do that, we won't win ball games."
Thank goodness it was San Jose State.