MADISON - Each game is its own entity, a lesson perfectly driven home to the University of Wisconsin through its first two home football games.
Heavily favored by over 30 points against both Miami and Troy, Wisconsin, as expected, is 2-for-2 as it passed the midway point of its four game home stand. How the Badgers got there was anything but cookie cutter.
Against the Redhawks, the Badgers dominated in all three phases and the final 58-0 score indicated that. Last weekend against the Trojans, Wisconsin’s offense battled through ebbs and flows for a 28-3 victory, failing to score on consecutive possessions in a half.
“You've got to appreciate those games where you win,” said Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst. “What's fun is each game is different. You win different ways, and I thought that we were able to do that.”
But the common thread for the Badgers has been stingy defense – no touchdowns allowed in eight home quarters – and an inconsistent offense.
Over the first four drives of each home game, the Wisconsin offense has combined for one touchdown, two field goals and five punts. The lack of success against Troy was contributed to the offense’s struggles on third down.
Facing third-down distances of 2, 5, 4, 7 and 3, the Badgers only converted the third-and-2, as the others succumbed to, in order, a poor snap, an incomplete pass, a six-yard pass and a 1-yard rush. Wisconsin finished the game a season-worst 30 percent (3-for-10) on third down.
“I think we had 54 plays on offense, and everyone wants to get into a rhythm and one of the ways of getting into a rhythm is staying on the field, and if you don't convert on third down that's hard to do,” said Chryst “So I think there are certainly areas that we’ve got to get better at, and everyone can own it, from play design to play execution, everywhere in between.”
While Wisconsin have been slow starters, the Badgers have been strong finishers. In each of the last three games, Wisconsin has had three drives beginning with less than 3:30 remaining in the first half and scored 17 points off the drives. A big reason for that is senior quarterback Joel Stave, who is 11-for-14 for 196 yards and two touchdowns over that time.
Both of those drives went over 90 yards, with Stave going 4-for-5 for 95 passing yards on the possession against Troy. He capped the drive with his first rushing touchdown of the season.
“We work on it every week, and we also work on third and medium every week,” joked Chryst. “What made it successful is guys making plays. You want your players to be prepared for as many situations that come up, and I think that's something that fits Joel's personality. He's not a guy that gets rattled.”
STILL A HOT TARGET
Following Wisconsin’s win over Troy, which included starting inside linebacker Leon Jacobs and starting nickel cornerback Derrick Tindal both be ejected for targeting, Chryst stated he had a good and thorough conversation with the Big Ten office and head of officials Bill Carollo to a) walk him through the penalties and b) make sure the coaching staff was teaching things correctly.
“We want to make sure we're doing everything we can to help our guys play it the right way,” said Chryst. “We take pride in that, and for a long time here at Wisconsin being physical and playing the game the right way and coaching it.”
Jacobs was ejected when he lowered his helmet into the Troy’s quarterback chest shortly after a throw late in the first quarter. Tindal was ejected with 57 seconds left in the third quarter when he contacted a Troy receiver’s helmet with his forearm. While Jacobs is eligible to play the entire game, Tindal, by rule, he will have to sit out the first half against Hawaii (2-1) Saturday.
Chryst said the only way Wisconsin could appeal a targeting suspension was if the instant replay system was not functioning properly, as all targeting penalties are reviewed. That wasn’t the case Saturday.
“We're going to communicate well, we always do with our players,” said Chryst. “This is what's being officiated, targeting is getting more talked about for us. We talk about it when it's not us, and other penalties, and we want to be a team that doesn't hurt itself.
“There is no question in my mind that both Leon and Derrick were trying to play the game the right way, and that you appreciate that. Guys weren't trying to take a shot and be cheap.”
The distance from Honolulu to Madison is calculated at 4,152 miles, a hefty trek, but the Badgers do have a couple of connections on their roster to the Warriors.
Making his first career start at right guard Saturday, redshirt freshman Micah Kapoi is from Kapoeli, located near Honolulu on the island of Oahu. He was originally committed to Hawaii before switching his commitment to Wisconsin following an official visit in January 2013.
“It was fun to see him play,” said Chryst. “I thought that he kind of turned it loose at times, and I think that will only improve with rotation.”
On the coaching staff, secondary coach Daronte Jones is in his first season in Madison after spending the last three seasons coaching the defensive backs in Hawaii.
“I think Daronte’ certainly knows some of their players,” said Jones. “We've got three games from this year to watch on them, but he can give you a little bit of an idea, you know, who they are as players, you know, but I think other than that, it's a whole new defensive staff, so I think there is nothing like the tape to help you prepare.”
Why does he choose to take the long route out of the tunnel instead of leading the team out of the tunnel?
“The thing I love about game day is that the players are the ones between the lines, and the game's a great game. Love the game, and love being around players and coaches that love and appreciate the game. I just think that that day is about them. Now, I have always felt as a coach that you can still have an important role on game day, it's not like you're trying to check out, but they've got a small window of time where they're playing this game, and we're lucky to be able to do it here.
“Coming out on to the field at Camp Randall Stadium, the best thing about our team is our players, and I have always believed that, and it's true here. We have some great young men, kids that are playing and representing this university, and I like it when they lead the team on to the field, and I want to be with them and I want to help them and do everything I can, but the game is about them.”
EXTRA POINTS: Chryst said tailback Corey Clement, who has missed the last two games with a sore left groin, was making progress at the end of last week but no decision has been made regarding his status for Saturday … Chryst was presented a game ball from his first victory as head coach by senior captain Michael Caputo. “Anytime you get anything from your team it means the most, and you know that it's symbolic more than anything. I really didn't do much. They're the ones that tackled, they made the plays, they played” … Wisconsin’s Big Ten home opener against Iowa Oct.3 will be an 11 a.m. kickoff. The game will be televised on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2