In the week leading up to a football Saturday, members of the Wisconsin coaching staff take time to divulge to the press what exactly the team needs to work on and provide their own expectations for the upcoming contest. We take a look at several comments and observations made by Wisconsin coaches before Saturday’s victory over Michigan State.
HEAD COACH PAUL CHRYST
Paul Chryst and Wisconsin faced a tough adversary with Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio building a Spartans program that mirrors them in many ways. An intriguing variable was how Chryst would beat someone of a similar coaching style.
Chryst on Badgers’ Red Zone Inefficiency: “(It) drives me nuts...We’ve had back-to-back weeks of that...We’re off on detail. You appreciate the points you when you can get them, but you’ve got to get touchdowns.”
Analysis: On Wisconsin’s second offensive drive of the game, the Badgers’ needed a response to MSU’s score that had given them a 3-0 lead. The Badgers found themselves in the red zone after an 8-yard pass to Rob Wheelwright. Alex Hornibrook successfully completed passes on the next two third downs, a five-yard pass on third-and-2 to Troy Fumagalli and a 9-yard pass to Wheelwright on third-and-10. Instead of attempting the three points, Chryst went for it on fourth down for the second time on the drive, seeing fullback Alec Ingold successfully convert on fourth-and-2.
After a failed run on first down, Wisconsin’s play-action pass was good for a 1-yard touchdown catch by Eric Steffes. The Badgers never lost the lead. Wisconsin advanced into the red zone two more times, capping both with a touchdown run, something Chryst was adamant on in this past week’s presser.
Chryst on UW’s running backs and their availability: “We’ve got guys that are questionable and we’ll see where that goes...We’ve got to play well, got to be physical...I’m confident in the group and how they’re going to approach this week.”
Analysis: The Wisconsin run game simply wasn’t there consistently. Sure Corey Clement scored two crucial touchdowns, but it was quite obvious that the star tailback was not 100 percent healthy, despite him saying otherwise, looking less agile and finishing with only 54 yards.
Dare Ogunbowale did deliver, however, rushing for 55 yards on nine carries for a 6.1 yards per carry average. Even so, the Badgers still seem to be looking for their power running between the tackles. Depth likely played a factor, as UW didn’t have Taiwan Deal or Bradrick Shaw available.
It’s obvious that Chryst is comfortable with the tailback corps, but this is something Wisconsin may need to put some extra focus on in the coming week of practice.
Chryst on Badgers Quarterback Alex Hornibrook: “I like the way he works at being the best he can be...I think he’s got poise... arm strength and accuracy.”
Analysis: It wasn’t surprising to see Chryst be spot on about his assessment of the redshirt freshman. While he did not play a perfect game by any means, it was evident that he is the real deal. Hornibrook threw for 195 yards, a touchdown and one interception, while completing 16 of 26 pass attempts. He showed great poise while dropping back in the pocket and delivering several nicely thrown balls, with touch, for substantial gains on offense that changed momentum. Of course there’s much room for improvement, but he showed several flashes of something really good.
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JUSTIN WILCOX
Justin Wilcox's defense faced an interesting matchup against a Spartans offense with several talented playmakers at receiver, tight end and tailback. Heading into Saturday, the main unknowns would be if the Badgers could stifle the run game and force some turnovers. Wilcox spoke Wednesday about his defensive preparation.
Wilcox on what UW’s defense can improve on: “There were stretches where we’ve played fine, and there’s just a couple things where it’s the little details of the game. Something very small can be exposed...and it results in a big play.”
Analysis: The Badgers did a good job of being able to avoid giving up a big play in the first three quarters. On Michigan State’s first play from scrimmage L.J. Scott got free for a 19-yard run for a big gain and it looked like Wisconsin’s defense could be in for a very tough day. It turned out not to be the case, as UW didn’t give up another play of at least 19 yards until the 9:46 mark of the fourth quarter
The biggest play the Badgers allowed was a 40-yard pass from Tyler O’Connor to freshman receiver Donnie Corley, occurring with 4:37 remaining. Of the eight pass plays over 15 yards, five came in the fourth quarter when the score was 30-6.
Wilcox on the Badgers’ preparation as a Defense: “You need to get ready...They’re (MSU) obviously a heck of a football team, got really good players, good scheme, but the preparation should never change.”
Analysis: Take this one all the way to the bank. It’s clear that Wisconsin’s defense was definitely prepared, the same cannot be said for the Spartans. It’s evident that Wilcox’s approach is working with this group. The Badgers bounced back from a mediocre showing against Georgia State to hold the defending conference champions to six points, only the second time the Spartans were held without a touchdown at home since 2000. This momentum will certainly play a role for how the team plays for the rest of the year on the defensive side of the ball.
Wilcox on whether or not the intensity has risen for UW heading into conference play: “I think the intensity we’ve had…has been good. Obviously we’ve got a heck of an opponent and a really good football team...We’re going to have to play our best.”
Analysis: Saturday could set the tone for a successful conference campaign and solidifies them as the team to beat in the Big Ten West. UW allowed Tyler O’Connor to pass for 224 yards (123 in the fourth quarter), but made up for it by intercepting the starting quarterback three times. Wisconsin also almost completely stopped MSU’s run game, allowing zero rushing scores and only 61 yards to one of the Big Ten’s best young backs in L.J. Scott. The Badgers were certainly close to their best going into their tough conference schedule.
If the college football world wasn’t paying attention to what Wisconsin did at Lambeau Field earlier this month, the Badgers made sure to send another message that they’re a group to be taken seriously. Michigan State came in as an unproven commodity, opening the season struggling against a FCS opponent and beating a Notre Dame team on the road that is a mess. Even so, the Badgers dominated one of the premier opponents in the conference on their home field, a place where three previous ranked Wisconsin teams have visited and lost.
Just how good is Wisconsin? We’ll find out just how big of step forward the Badgers have taken when they travel to Ann Arbor to take on No.4 Michigan in the second game of their daunting conference stretch.