Anthony Davis was watching the game instead of contributing in it. This was nothing new for the oft-injured star tailback, who spent much of his junior and senior years nursing his battered ankles and legs and—for three games this year—his eye.
Saturday, it was a bruised quadriceps, a problem that also kept him out of part of the Purdue game. The difference was that Wisconsin pulled off a narrow 20-17 win over the Boilermakers; whereas on Saturday, the Badgers (9-2 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) fell far short of the Hawkeyes (9-2, 7-1) in a 30-7 trouncing.
"His leg was very weak," head coach Barry Alvarez said quietly after the game, in which the Badgers saw their Rose Bowl hopes crushed before their eyes. "We thought we could rehab and they thought maybe he could get back. We had light work on Thursday, light work on Friday, but he just couldn't protect himself. But we had made up our mind on Thursday. We were going to start (junior fullback Matt) Bernstein but we hoped to have Anthony for some of that time, but he just couldn't protect himself."
"It's gradually gotten worse for the past four weeks," Badger offensive coordinator Brian White said of Davis' injury. "Even last week he was probably 70 percent."
Consider this: prior to Saturday's game, when Wisconsin used Davis, it averaged 25.4 points, 386.1 yards of offense and had 15 rushing touchdowns. Without the team's star offensive weapon, the Badgers averaged 14.3 points, 272.7 yards of total offense and two rushing touchdowns.
Saturday, even those numbers were far above the Badgers' offensive production. Wisconsin had 186 yards on offense and just one touchdown, a four-yard scamper by sophomore tailback Booker Stanley. Stanley rushed for only 12 yards on 10 carries while Bernstein, substituting in as the starting tailback, had 28 yards on 11 carries. Without Davis, Wisconsin put up most of its numbers in the air, amassing 145 passing yards and just 41 rushing yards.
Those statistics prove once again just how valuable Davis is to the Badgers.
"Any time you don't have the All-American-caliber tailback that he is, it puts a burden on your whole offense," junior wide receiver Brandon Williams said.
"Anthony, you've seen us with him and you saw us earlier in the season without him," Alvarez said. "We're a different team with and without him."
"The guy is not 100 percent and it hurts because he's a great player and he would have really contributed to this team, this game and helped us a lot," Stanley said.
Wisconsin kept mum about Davis' injury throughout the week and intended to play him if possible. Bernstein, who collected 123 ground yards against Penn State Sept. 25, filling in at tailback for an injury-staved running backs corps, was to start if Davis could not. Stanley, even, was not certain of the lineup.
"Before the game, I guess they—I mean, I know they weren't going to go with AD because he's not doing well, but Matt Bernstein, I guess, they wanted to start him so they really didn't say anything to me about it," Stanley said.