If the game ended at halftime, Allan Evridge probably would have received a B/B- for his efforts. It's amazing how all the ‘little things' can come back to haunt someone 30 minutes later.
Evridge continues to manage the game with little problem (20-37, 226 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) but for a team trying to get to the next level, that no longer is going to cut it.
Granted, Evridge's two interceptions were the direct result of Wisconsin's receivers failing to secure the football and his two fumbles, to a degree, were a result of blitzes and protection breakdowns on the left side of the offensive line. Considering the situation the Badgers were in, however, Evridge's failure to unload the football was a factor.
Evridge didn't say much in his post-game press conference but the one thing the fifth-year senior did mutter over and over again was the failure of Wisconsin to execute on the little things.
Exhibit A: Wisconsin had a chance to build an insurmountable lead off five first-half Michigan turnovers but could only muster 16 points.
Exhibit B: Wisconsin had three first-half drives start inside the Michigan 40 and three more that drove into Michigan territory and managed only 19 first-half points.
Exhibit C: Wisconsin went 50 percent (2-for-4) in the red zone, which included a drop touchdown pass, a missed field goal and a costly fumble by Evridge late in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, all of those little things fall on the quarterback.
"Allan has got to pick up his level of play and his ability to make the right throws and the right reads," Bielema said. "Down in the fourth quarter, there were a couple opportunities for some big hits that we didn't go in the right direction with."
The silver lining was Evridge leading a six play, 64-yard touchdown drive to give the Badgers a glimmer hope with 13 seconds left. Still, some poor reads, some poor decisions put the Badgers in that situation, one that never should have happened.
Michigan run defense is one of the best in the country and through the first half, the Wisconsin runners were cutting through the defensive line like a hot knife through butter.
Zach Brown, John Clay and P.J. Hill had 121 yards on 20 carries (6.1 yards per carry), especially Clay. First carry went around the outside for 46 yards and was rewarded by getting the next carry, which he bounced outside and dove over the goal line to push the lead to 13-0.
For whatever the reason, however, Clay, much like the rest of the running game, was absent in the second half, carrying the ball one time for one yard.
P.J. Hill, who finished with 70 yards on 22 carries, managed only 25 second-half yards as his three-year struggle against the Wolverines continues. Zach Brown (eight carries, 46 yards) registered some solid, elusive runs through the middle of the line but was under-utilized in the second half.
Michigan held Wisconsin to only 158 rushing yards, the third straight game that the Badgers have been held under 160 yards rushing. With a suspect passing game, the Badgers need to find their legs in order to open up the passing game.
Wide Receivers/Tight End
Awful. Atrocious. Disastrous. Dreadful. Pick your adjective to describe the wide receivers against Michigan and you wouldn't be considered out of line. Even though the Badger wide outs have yet to step up to the plate this season, this was the worst performance of them all.
Playing without Garrett Graham and Maurice Moore, Wisconsin's wide receivers were even more youthful and inexperienced, which showed by the multiple drops by Lance Kendricks and a dropped touchdown catch by freshman Nick Toon.
"There was a lot of them (drops) out there," Bielema said. "During the course of the game, you just can't expect to come into a hostile environment and play against a good football team and have those things count against you."
But while the drops hurt, it was the bobbles that proved costly. Both interceptions Evridge threw, including the game-winning interception-turned touchdown, were a direct result of David Gilreath and Kyle Jefferson's inabilities to hold on to well thrown balls.
"Lack of focus," said Gilreath of the interception. "I am sure the lack of execution is pretty frustrating, especially me. It's a lack of focus when we are out there.
Beckum convinced Bielema that he needed to play (he re-aggravated his hamstring a week ago Thursday and missed the entire week of practice), the senior tight end committed one of the biggest mistakes of the afternoon on UW's two-point conversion.
Beckum misaligned on the conversion after he moved across the line in motion, as he lined up on the line of scrimmage and made the other tight end in the set (Turner) ineligible to proceed down field.
"It was a sign of all signs when we lined up improperly (and) the story of the whole day," Bielema said. "If you don't practice, you can't play and nobody it can discount how much it means to Travis to compete."
One has to wonder, as did Jeff Potrykus, If Beckum wasn't healthy enough to play early, why was he healthy enough to play late after Michigan had stolen the momentum?
The lone bright spot was the play of Gilreath, who caught a team-high five catches for 65 yards and held onto his first-career touchdown catch after a vicious hit to give UW a chance.
"He made a hell of a football play right there," Bielema said.
But while he admitted that he can personally enjoy catching his touchdown, Gilreath knows that the bobbled catch turn interception was another one of the many mistakes.
"It's embarrassing," Gilreath said. "It's going to be all over ESPN for sure."
Hard to find fault in Wisconsin's defensive front in the first half, as the Badger d-line held Michigan to 28 rushing yards and a single first down. After halftime, Michigan rushed for 144 yards, allowing runs of 34 and 58 yards, the latter which proved to be another swift blow to Wisconsin's confidence.
Quarterback Steven Threet entered the day with 34 rushing yards in 15 attempts and had trouble all afternoon running the option. Posing a hand off to tailback Brandon Minor, something he had done all afternoon, right end Matt Shaughnessy crashed hard, forgoing his backside contain and drilled Minor in the backfield.
But Threet called the audible, keeping the ball and running through the vacancy for 58 yards down to the 19.
"It was a read play," Threet said. "They were giving the read play all day."
Once again, it was the little things.
Jae McFadden led the Badgers with nine tackles with Jonathan Casillas closely behind with eight, including an interception to end the second quarter. DeAndre Levy also chipped in with five tackles, a recovered fumble and a pass breakup.
The good news is the Badgers tackled with intensity, played with emotion, swarmed the ball and held the Wolverines in check.
The bad news was the faulty blitz that allowed Brandon Minor to run 34 yards into the end zone, the missed assignments and the fact that the Michigan was tenfold better and Wisconsin got complacent.
"Overall, I'd give us a C-minus," Levy said. "We played a great first half and even half the third quarter. In a span of six minutes, we gave up 21 points. It's hard to grade high when you don't finish."
Much like the linebackers, the secondary was prolific in the first half and Shane Carter's interception was the defining moment of the first 30 minutes.
But in the final 18 minutes, UW's defense surrendered touchdown drives of 80, 85 and 77 yards, allow Michigan go 5-for-9 on third downs and convert on their only fourth down attempt.
The downfall began on Michigan's first score of the game. UW deployed a 3-2-6 alignment with the Wolverines facing third and 10 from the Badgers' 26 in the third quarter. The Badgers rushed only three and dropped eight into coverage but Kevin Koger was still able to get behind strong safety Aubrey Pleasant, who continued to struggle.
From there, the momentum continued to go against Wisconsin.
"It shows how fragile emotions can be," Bielema said. "After that first touchdown, they had good eyes on the sideline but when that second one hit, their confidence value really went down."
David Gilreath got the Badgers clicking right from the opening kickoff with his 55-yard kickoff return. Unfortunately, the good special teams start ended with a bad one as Phil Welch shanked a 34-yard field goal to the left to end the opening drive. Welch regrouped, however, and made field goals of 21, 42, 41 and 52 yards in the first half. Welch was solid on his six kickoffs but in retrospect, those three points would have been important.
"Usually when I miss, it boasts my focus and I try to focus on all the things I did wrong," Welch said. "It's bad to miss the first one. I think kicked the ground and it just caused me to make bad contact on the ball."
The punt-coverage unit forced one fumble and the kickoff-coverage unit forced another during the second quarter. Brad Nortman used a hard count on fourth and short to draw the defensive line off sides and move the chains. Nortman also had three of his six punts go inside the 20. Unfortunately, all of the good was lost in the second half.