It was junior outside linebacker Vince Biegel, who wasn’t thrilled with a first half that saw the Badgers give up too many big plays on defense, have no rhythm on offense and be inconsistent on special teams.
“He just challenged the guys,” said Erickson. “When you hear that, you challenge everybody. That first half wasn’t us as a team as a whole … He challenged us, we challenged ourselves and we came out an executed in the second half.”
Biegel will never be labeled as quiet, but his words hit home for Wisconsin, especially since the Badgers put forth a much better effort in the second half to defeat Maryland, 31-24, in front of 44,678 at Byrd Stadium Saturday.
Linebacker Joe Schobert wouldn’t revealed much of the content that was shared from Biegel, especially since a lot of it isn’t suitable for print, but the message was clear: Wisconsin had to get back to its brand of football.
And if anyone wasn’t 100 percent sure what the message was, defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield wrote “swag” on the locker room board.
“It was about being the best defense in the country,” Schobert said of the speech, “with some choice words here and there.”
Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) certainly wasn’t at its best, but the execution after halftime was the difference to keep them alive in the conference race
With Iowa staying unbeaten with its 35-27 road win over Indiana, Wisconsin will need to beat Northwestern at home, Minnesota on the road and hope the Hawkeyes (9-0, 5-0) stumble twice against a remaining schedule that includes home games against the Gophers and Purdue and a road test at Nebraska. All three of those teams have one conference win.
“We’ve got our goals ahead of us, and that’s to win as many games as we can in the Big Ten,” said quarterback Joel Stave.
Whether fatigue was an issue or not of playing football for 14 straight weeks, Wisconsin bungled throughout the first half, especially on offense. Managing only 37 yards on 21 offensive plays, UW still managed to go into the locker room tied at 17 thanks to a pair of hits by the special teams
After Maryland took a 7-0 lead at 9:17 in the first quarter, Natrell Jamerson delivered on a 98-yard kickoff return to even the score. One drive later, a 57-yard run by Schobert on a fake punt set up a 21-yard Dare Ogunbowale touchdown.
Wisconsin also added to Maryland’s interception woes when Tanner McEvoy snatched his first of two picks and returned him 24 yards to the Terps’ 10. That ended in a field goal when UW went backward one-yard on four plays.
Without those hits, the Badgers would have been in a world of heart in the first half instead of tied.
When they got out of their own way, it was mostly clear sailing. Stave, who won for the 29th time as a UW starter, went 8-for-9 for 133 yards in the decisive third quarter that saw UW drive 69 yards and 71 yards for a pair of touchdowns, the latter coming one minute into the fourth quarter.
After going 3-for-8 for 20 yards in the first half, he went 12-for-16 in the second half.
“Joel is resilient and he cares a ton about this team,” said head coach Paul Chryst. “He has a ton of confidence in himself that he is going to find a way, and he’ll certainly contribute in a big way.”
After giving up three plays of at least 40 yards for the first time all season, Wisconsin held Maryland (2-7, 0-5) to 138 yards in the final 30 minutes. The biggest play UW gave up in the second half was a 27-yard touchdown catch by Levern Jacobs, bringing Maryland within seven with 2:39 to go.
It appeared to get dicey after the Terrapins appeared to recover the onside kick but an offsides penalty wiped out the try. Wisconsin recovered the second attempt and ran out the clock from there.
“I thought our defense did some really good things,” said Chryst. “I thought in the second half everyone kind of started to play off each other, and we did a better job than in the first half. It takes a whole team.”
After playing for 10 straight weeks, Wisconsin finally gets to rest and recuperate for its key two game stretch in the Big Ten West, a position they are in because they found a way to improve to 3-0 on the road.
“We have some tough environments in the Big Ten,” said Stave, who will finish his career winning at eight different Big Ten stadiums. “I think this team does a good job rallying together knowing it’s just going to be us out here.”