Over the course of the last six seasons under head coach Bret Bielema, Wisconsin is 9-12 when trailing at the half and 5-12 when trailing after three quarters. That's a stat that shows there haven't been a lot of memorable comebacks and that Wisconsin generally is well in control late in games.
It will go down as a loss, but it's hard to argue the Badgers' second half against Michigan State Saturday wasn't one of the better halves of football of the season. Take one poor interception and a flunkey Hail Mary out of the equation, Wisconsin outscored Michigan State 17-8 in the second half, came back from two touchdowns down in the final 10 minutes and saw its defense hold the Spartans scoreless over the final three drives before the 44-yard prayer to give the team a shot to win.
Before last Saturday, Michigan State had allowed 274 rush yards combined vs. the five previous FBS teams on its schedule. Wisconsin finished with 270 yards. Michigan State hadn't allowed more than 168 pass yards and 6.2 yards per attempt. Wisconsin had 223 pass yards and 10.6 yards per attempt.
So how did Wisconsin lose? Look at the second quarter where Wisconsin had the ball for 12 minutes, 7 seconds, but was outscored 23-0 and saw the Spartans have more rushing and passing yards. Survive that second quarter and the mood is a whole lot different in the isthmus this week.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance, expectations and need — a wonderfully vague definition of valuable to justify just about any selection. Please vent debates and disagreements on the premium board, as it wasn't easy narrowing the last down to seven.
Last week's rankings in parentheses
1, Montee Ball, RB (1) — Undoubtedly the player of the game, Ball's bruising style was one of the reasons Wisconsin stayed in the game. He rushed for 115 yards on 18 carries (6.4 per carry) and one touchdown while catching two passes for 24 yards and the touchdown to tie the game at 31. Among his 18 carries, he only lost five yards. With his two scores, Ball leads nation in touchdowns (19) and points per game, and will be key again this week against an Ohio State defense that has allowed just one 100-yard rusher in the last 26 home games.
2, Russell Wilson, QB (2) —Some good, some bad for the Heisman Trophy candidate, who certainly did not play his best game. Wilson completed 66.7 percent of his passes for two scores but his two interceptions were unfortunate momentum killers. The first – a miscommunication with Nick Toon – could have led Wisconsin scoring on its first three drives and the second – a wild pass to Jacob Pedersen in traffic on first down – stunted its building momentum. Still, Wilson led UW back from 14 points down with a 22-yard touchdown scramble and a pass to Ball in the final minutes, giving UW a chance. Wilson is second in nation in passing efficiency with 204.91 and leads nation in yards per pass attempt with 11.9. If he stays even keel this week, Wisconsin will win.
3, Chris Borland, LB (3) — One of the few defenders that played a mostly clean game, although he'll be the first to say he made too many mistakes that cost UW, Borland added 13 more tackles to his impressive total, including 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Borland's 71 tackles put him in a tie for 18th in the country, and he'll be trying to get his first win in his home state on Saturday
4, Aaron Henry, FS (7) — The other defender who played a mostly clean game, Henry finished tied for second on the team with seven tackles, added one tackle for loss and had an oh-so-close pass breakup in the fourth quarter that could have been a spectacular interception and would have prevented ‘the play.' Many players call Henry the emotional voice and leader in the locker room, meaning his role is going to be vital this week.
5, Jacob Pedersen, TE (NR) – It was at this point in the rankings where I froze trying to decide who to put in the last three spots. There are a lot of good players that did good things, but did some really bad things that contributed to the MSU victory. Therefore, I am going to tip my cap to Pedersen, who finished with only two catches for 23 yards, but grabbed another red-zone touchdown. Pedersen is tied for the team lead and is tied for second among TEs in the country with six touchdown receptions this season. He has 27 career catches and eight of them have gone for a touchdown. You would think teams would pay attention to him inside the 20? His numbers would have been even bigger had Wilson seen him wide open for touchdowns on a couple passes.
6, Jared Abbrederis, WR (4) – Abbrederis is one of those players that did a lot of good things at East Lansing. He led the team in both catches (6) and yards (91) and had a 33-yard punt return that set up a fourth-quarter touchdown. However, he had a huge drop in the fourth quarter that would have went for a touchdown – UW didn't score on the drive – and failed to knock the ball down on the Hail Mary pass. Yes, defensive back is not his forte, but it's a position, he said, he's used to playing.
7, Patrick Butrym, DT, (NR) – Butrym's stats were not gargantuan (three tackles, a half TFL) but there was a lot of doubt he was even going to play last Saturday after an ankle sprain knocked him out of the Indiana game. Butrym was the leader of a unit that held Michigan State to only 109 total yards and no rushing touchdowns from its running backs or quarterback.
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