Danny O'Brien won the starting job in fall camp based on his consistency and not making mistakes with the football. One hopes that this was his rock bottom in his two-year Wisconsin tenure, as the performance Saturday left little to be desired.
After completing 82.6 percent of his passes in the opener, O'Brien completed only 52.6 percent against Oregon State (20-for-38) for only 171 yards (63 of which came on his final two drives), one touchdown (on his final drive) and two turnovers at critical times in the third quarter.
The interception came on third-and-12 when O'Brien misfired into double coverage, leaving the pass inside that resulted in an easy pick and a 15-yard return. The other came after a muffed punt gave Wisconsin the ball at the Oregon State 36-yard line, easily its best field position of the game. With the Badgers advancing to the nine, O'Brien got hit from behind and coughed up the football, allowing the Beavers to take control.
"We've got a turnover in the red zone, that's just unacceptable," said UW coach Bret Bielema. "We always talk about touchdowns, not field goals, but what we can't do is turn the ball over in the red zone. We had the ball at the 9-yard line in a two-score game, that's at a premium."
The offense never clicked under O'Brien Saturday. From third-down situations to a lack of production moving the football, there were too many bad things.
"On the interception, I left the ball inside," said O'Brien. "Obviously, I've got to have a little ball security on the fumble on the back side. Other than that, being consistent throughout because we did some good things, we just didn't put together a drive until the end of the game.
"Guys didn't really lose their composure at all … Guys didn't panic but we didn't really put together that drive that turned the tables until obviously it was too late."
Too late, as well, to save his grade.
Where was there room to run? In Montee Ball's 15 carries, he did the best he could to gain 61 yards. The fact that he only got 15 carries one week after getting 32 is shocking. I understand that there wasn't much room to run, but to not give the ball more often to your Heisman tailback seems like a misuse of funds, especially when Ball is probably the only player on the team who can make something out of nothing.
The loss of Jared Abbrederis was crippling for Wisconsin, and will continue to be if the junior doesn't return to the field by next week. The Badgers had eight receivers catch passes, but none brought the same kind of big-play threat Abbrederis does. Jeff Duckworth led the team with seven catches for 55 yard, but six of those catches and 47 of those yards came in the final two drives.
"Whether it was blocking or in the receiving game, we definitely didn't do enough to make enough plays," said Duckworth.
Wisconsin's backups were so underwhelming that Ball and White became the primary targets in the passing game in the fourth quarter. Jacob Pedersen continues to be a reliable player, catching four passes for 36 yards and hanging on to a 10-yard touchdown pass to give UW a chance.
"Obviously, it didn't go super well last week, (so) I'm not completely surprised by it," said Frederick. "I am disappointed by it. I want to do better, we have the ability to do much better, but we're off somewhere."
Wisconsin finished with only 35 rushing yards and the Badgers' two top backs – Ball and White – averaged only 4.0 yards per carry. Oregon State wasn't considered a force in the middle of the defensive line, but the Beavers put enough pressure on the unit to register six tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles on blindside hits on O'Brien.
Because of the lack of success in the run game, the Badgers had seven third-down situations where they have to gain at least seven yards to move the chains. The offense only converted one of them, which was the 10-yard touchdown pass to Pedersen with little time left.
"We never got the big gains on first down so we were coming from behind the whole time," said Wagner, as Wisconsin's longest gain on first down in the second half was a 12-yard pass to Ball. "It's obviously very frustrating but we've got to keep going. I know we're going to learn from film, these first two games are going to teach us a lot for the rest of the season."
The offensive line was so porous at blocking that the Badgers couldn't even get a couple inches push so O'Brien could sneak for a yard on fourth-and-one.
"That's something that has to happen at the line of scrimmage," said Bielema. "You could see it was clearly short. We kind of missed the surprise element there."
After 20 years of being known as a school that pounds the football down opponent's throats, it's a surprise how poor the line is playing together with the inability to finish blocks, execute the right assignments and making too many mental errors.
No wonder Mike Markuson allegedly lost his job after just two games.
David Gilbert said it best: "We didn't do a horrible job, obviously, but at the end of the day our job is to have more points, keep them off the board. We didn't do that."
The Badgers allowed just 78 yards rushing on 30 attempts (2.60 yards per attempt), but didn't register a quarterback sack for the second straight week. For an experienced line, that's unacceptable. Gilbert played better than he did in week one, as two of his three tackles were for loss. With Brendan Kelly injured and unable to play, junior Pat Muldoon filled in admirably with four tackles and a half tackle for loss.
Beau Allen (two tackles), Bryce Gilbert (one) and Warren Herring (one) also contributed, but Allen did miss a tackle on Oregon State's Malcolm Agnew that cost the Badgers 10+ yards. Wisconsin needs to do a better job of pressuring the quarterback and getting teams in third-and-long situations.
Of the 17 third-down situations Oregon State was in, eight were longer than third-and-7. To add salt to the wounds, Oregon State completed four of those, mainly because there was no pressure on the quarterback.
The overall effort was better than it was in the opener, but the defense didn't step up to start the third quarter, which allowed Oregon State to drive 86 yards for a touchdown to open the second half.
The secondary was partly responsible for giving up 276 yards passing, but then you realize that Sean Mannion threw 47 times. Average that out and Wisconsin gave up 5.9 yards per completion. That's not great, but that's not horrible either. The number would have been a lot less had Wisconsin not continuously played 10-yards off its receivers at the line of scrimmage, allowing Mannion to register the short dump off passes and wide receiver screens that went for big yards. With two senior cornerbacks, I would think defensive coordinator Chris Ash would have more faith in his starters to make plays.
And what would a Wisconsin game be without a secondary bust for a touchdown? Brandin Cooks was so wide open after Marcus Cromartie passed off Cooks to the safety, but Dezmen Southward stayed put in the middle of the field, causing Cooks to be wide open in the end zone. What makes matters worse is Southward said that's a play the Badgers have seen before on film AND worked on in practice.
"They're trying to get me out of the way, by running a guy under, then vacate the middle, then fake outside and come inside on Marcus," said Southward. "It's a very, very tough route to cover for one. But again, it's something we covered. We just have to keep working to get better at."
Senior safety and captain Shelton Johnson led the group with nine tackles and one pass breakup, but he left the game with his arm broken and in a sling. With depth already thinned out because of Peniel Jean's broken foot, the Badgers' starters and reserves are going to have to take a step up.
The scheme on the onside kick, devised by linebackers coach Andy Buh, was perfect and should have given Wisconsin the ball and a chance to steal a game it didn't deserve. Kicker Kyle French recovered the ball at the UW 46, but the call was overturned by the replay official, who ruled French was the first to touch the ball and did so before it traveled 10 yards. Upon further review, the Pac 12 replay official clearly blew the call, giving one to the home team.
Drew Meyer averaged 39.9 yards on seven punts, including a long of 51 and putting three inside the 20. At least he helped force the Beavers to start with an average field position on the 26-yard line. Meyer better ice his leg, as the redshirt freshman has punted 11 times in two games. Wisconsin punted 48 times in 14 games last year.
Redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon had a mental error when he didn't down a kickoff in the end zone and it cost UW 9 yards of field position. Once Abbrederis went down, White was put on punt return and looked like he never fielded a punt before. He let one punt bounce in traffic rather than catch it, and it almost hit him and Devin Gaulden as a result. If Abbrederis is out against Utah State, the junior has to show more confidence than that.