It is always tough to find the positives after a loss; it is easy to focus on the glaring picture at hand. Wisconsin looked lethargic and lackluster in its loss against Northwestern, who now leads the Big Ten’s West Division, leading to question marks about the offensive line, quarterbacks and the defense.
With two losses in its first five games, Wisconsin is behind the eight ball and not playing sounds. That’s the small picture. The big picture is that Wisconsin has seven games remaining in the Big Ten and time to fix its nagging problems.
“To the Badgers fans out there that are on edge about it, you’ve got to still believe in us,” said safety Michael Caputo. “We’re grinding. We’re making the decision to be better. We’re working. We’re grinding every day. We are just working one day at a time to get ready for the next team.”
The following are three takeaways that the Wisconsin players and fans need to keep in mind.
Effectiveness of Offense
After scoring only 14 points in the six-point loss Saturday, players insisted the offense can still be productive, but it’s hard to believe after the offense could only manage two second-half touchdowns, one of which coming in the final minutes. Junior Melvin Gordon’s 259 rushing yards, a new career high, helped pave the way for Wisconsin to have more total offense then Northwestern (422-385).
“We had the chances a couple times to score and we didn’t make the best of it,” said Gordon. “It’s tough loss for us.”
With Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen making the switch over to Joel Stave in the second half, Wisconsin started moving the football more effectively down the field. Problem was Wisconsin couldn’t capitalize once they got in the red zone - going 2-for-5 in the game. Considering the Badgers were 16-for-19 (84 percent) in the red zone on the season, Saturday could be chalked up to an abnormality.
Andersen will have a week to figure out who the quarterback(s) will be for this weekend against Illinois. Right now it seems like the direction is pointing toward Stave getting the start, but both quarterbacks are expected to play. How exactly will be a mystery.
Stave should look better than what he did against Northwestern after getting a full belt of reps working with the starting offense. The offense needs to avoid the slow starts that have hurt Wisconsin’s offense over the last four games, and Stave’s ability to throw the football down field might give the Badgers an opportunity to make a play happen.
Warren Herring Returning Soon
Originally hoping to return for the Northwestern game, the senior nose tackle is hoping to be back on the field following the bye week when Wisconsin hosts Maryland October 25.
The return of Herring will be good for the defensive line and in particular will help slow down the opposing teams run game. Herring won’t provide all the solutions in the run game after Wisconsin gave up a season-high 203 yards on the ground to the Wildcats and saw Justin Jackson rush for a season-high 162 yards.
Even though Herring is not the ideal size for a typical nose guard, he is still further along in his development then some of his line mates. His presence should help provide a stabilizing force along with redshirt senior Konrad Zagzebski. The two of them should help provide the leadership on the defensive line that may have been lacking during games while Herring was out.
“I believe in them,” said Andersen. “We’ll come back, and we’ll bounce back. We’re going to find a way to make it a good football team and hopefully continue our way to be a great football team as the year goes on.”
Still Plenty of Football
Northwestern leads the West Division with two impressive wins at Penn State and over Wisconsin, but there’s still a good chance Wisconsin can make the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis.
Northwestern’s next three games are at Minnesota, home against Nebraska and at Iowa. It also benefited Wisconsin that Michigan State beat Nebraska in East Lansing Saturday night, knocking the Cornhuskers from the ranks of the unbeaten.
None of those results mean Wisconsin has a lot of room for error going forward. UW likely will need to run the table and get some help along the way.
”The leadership on this team has been very good,” said Andersen. “I believe it was good after the game (Saturday). We’re 0-1 in the Big Ten. We’re not 0-4 or 0-3. Those guys we just played in Northwestern are 2-0. They have a tough schedule ahead of them. It will all work out of we take care of our business. I do believe in them.”
If Wisconsin can figure out the answers to the questions that were raised after the Northwestern game in the next two weeks the Badgers should be fine, but it will begin with how Stave plays at quarterback and with the key pieces returning back from injury.
“Our confidence is pretty high,” said linebacker Derek Landisch. “There’s not a group of guys I would rather be at the room with then the guys we have, especially on defense. I know what we have in that room. I know the potential that we have. It’s sky high. We just have got to keep working. This is just a small obstacle in the big picture of things.”