Fumbled Opportunities

The inability of Wisconsin to turn turnovers into points, convert in the red zone and fumbling away chances cost the Badgers dearly in their two-point loss to Michigan in the conference opener.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - It didn't take long for University of Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema to explain his team's shocking, stunning, out-of-nowhere defeat at the hardly-reliable hands of the hated Michigan Wolverines.

What exactly went wrong during a game where the Badgers led 19-0 at halftime, seemed in complete control of the bumbling Wolverines and their 109,833 fans in attendance; then allowed Michigan to reel off the largest home comeback in program history?

Bielema had the answer, right at the start of his postgame address.

"With the halftime score, one of the things we addressed in there was there were a lot of missed opportunities out there on the field in the first half from an offensive standpoint," Bielema said. "We just couldn't let that linger."

Where to start on the list of first-half mistakes?

After wide receiver David Gilreath reeled off a 55-yard return to open the game, Philip Welch shanked 34-yard field goal attempt.

Next drive: the Badgers get the ball down to the four-yard line, but Nick Toon drops a sure touchdown in the end zone. Result: field goal.

After that: a couple more field goals from inside the 30-yard-line.

UW controlled possession for more than 20 minutes in the first half; mainly thanks to five turnovers from the greasy-handed Wolverines (three fumble recoveries – two on returns – and a pair of interceptions).

Wisconsin had 202 yards in the first half; Michigan had 21. Wisconsin had 8 first downs; Michigan had one.

And yet; this was still a ball game, because Wisconsin could only muster 19 points, despite all those opportunities.

Dropped balls by wide receivers – many, many of them on Saturday – were the primary culprit.

"I'm sure it's pretty frustrating to everybody else," said Gilreath, who had two first-half drops, one resulting in a UM interception. "Me, especially, when I drop a ball, I get so down on myself, and so does (wide receivers) coach (DelVaughn) Alexander."

But hey, a 19-point lead is still a 19-point lead, right? Except the Wolverines came out of the locker room with an intensity and the Badgers, well, didn't.

"Then we start off the third quarter with the inability to convert on a 3rd-and-1," Bielema said. "That really was a poor sign of how we were going to progress there."

Michigan remembered how to play offense. They scored a touchdown, then another. The Big House started to grow alive with excitement.

All of a sudden, those dropped balls started to stick out. So did those chances to put 7 on the board, instead of only 3 and those mistakes inside the red zone, which has been the lack of production all season long. Converting only 82 percent in the red zone, the struggles continued Saturday, as UW went just 2-for-4 with two more turnovers inside the 20.

"Yeah, they're magnified," fullback Chris Pressley said of the end zone errors. "We don't pride ourselves on kicking field goals instead of running into the end zone and executing. It's so disappointing; it leaves a foul taste in my mouth because we didn't execute the way we should have."

Then, receiver Kyle Jefferson lets a ball bounce off his hip and into the waiting arms of UM linebacker John Thompson, who bulldozed in for a defensive score to give Michigan its first lead. The Wolverines added another touchdown to post a 27-19 lead.

Then there was that final drive. The Badgers had just 79 seconds to drive 64 yards, to pull yet another rabbit out of the hat.

Lightning struck again; Gilreath atoned for earlier mistakes with a leaping, back-breaking catch on the goal line to not only earn his first career touchdown – but give the Badgers renewed life.

But overtime was not assured yet. On this drive, down 27-19, Wisconsin needed not seven, but eight points; one for each gold medal won by Michigan alum and special guest Michael Phelps.

Perhaps Phelps brought his Olympic magic to Michigan Stadium. On the two-point try, there was a whole lot of moving on the line, receivers trying to get in their correct positions.

When Evridge hit Beckum in the end zone for the two-pointer and the tie, the referees ruled that Beckum had lined up incorrectly, and hit the Badgers with an illegal man downfield call

. It was the last missed opportunity for Wisconsin, the last nail in the coffin. Evridge was hit as he threw and passed too high for Isaac Anderson in the end zone on the retry. Game. Set. Michigan.

"It's very frustrating and it's going to be even worse when we watch the game film tomorrow," Evridge muttered. "We weren't executing (in the second half) and we weren't executing in the second half either. It was the small things that cost us."

So is it back to the drawing board? What is Wisconsin to do, with looming matchups against top-15 opponents Ohio State and Penn State?

"Come back and practice harder, make the right decisions, and capitalize when we're given the ball on their 40-yard-line, and put it in the end zone," center John Moffitt said. "That all comes down to doing those little things."


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