Badgers: Band (And Big Ten Title Hopes) On The Run

Saturday was a tough day for Bret Bielema.

Not only did the Los Angeles Dodgers finish off an unlikely sweep of his beloved Chicago Cubs, but more importantly (at least we hope he thinks so), his Wisconsin Badgers football team lost its second straight Big Ten conference game, and the second one after leading at halftime, to Ohio State. Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s impressive 11-yard touchdown run with 1:08 left put OSU on top 20-17, and an Allan Evridge interception on the first play of the ensuing drive sealed the Badgers’ doom.

But whereas the Cubs played horribly — OK, choked — against an inferior team, Wisconsin lost — and just barely — to a better, more talented team. There are no good losses — especially in college football conference play — but Wisconsin played infinitely better Saturday than they had a week ago at Michigan.

The unfortunate parallel to draw between the Cubs’ and Badgers’ losses on Saturday — and this is the last one I’ll make — is this: The Cubs’ season is now over, and the Badgers’ hopes for a Big Ten conference title are just about over, and could be definitively over after next week’s game against a very good Penn State team.  

But despite Penn State’s unbeaten season, I wouldn’t concede next week’s game just yet. Because the Badgers played Ohio State close. How close? OSU outgained Wisconsin by one measly yard — 327 to 326. The Badgers gained two more first downs than the Buckeyes, 19 to 17. The average gain per play was 5.5 yards to 5.1 yards in favor of Ohio State. OSU outgained Bucky on the ground by four yards while Wisconsin outgained the Buckeyes three yards through the air. The Time of posession battle was within a minute, with OSU holding the ball for 30:32 over Wisconsin’s 29:28.

With such a close game, you have to look for certain plays that made the difference, and there were several, all favoring Ohio State. If Travis Beckum gets out of bounds on a sideline pass — and Bielema clearly thought he had — near the end of the first half, maybe Wisconsin has time to score a touchdown instead of settling for a chip-shot 20-yard field goal as time expired. If P.J. Hill and Isaac Anderson don’t drop easy receptions on the first drive of the third quarter, maybe Wisconsin maintains its momentum coming off a huge second quarter; instead they have to give the ball back to Ohio State, who then goes on a 10-play, 77-yard drive and ties up the game with a field goal. If Ohio State doesn’t recover either of their two fumbles on their last touchdown drive, the Badgers either score and put the game out of reach or at the very least eat up some valuable clock with their running game, which had just killed — particularly the runs by John Clay — Ohio State on the previous drive. If the Wisconsin backfield doesn’t leave Brian Hartline wide open on a crucial 3rd-and-6 on that last drive, resulting in a 19-yard reception, Ohio State would have had to punt the ball away instead of continuing what would turn out to be the winning drive. And, of course, if Allan Evridge doesn’t throw a terrible interception with 1:03 to play, maybe Wisconsin drives the ball enough to get a field goal and force the game into overtime.

That’s a lot of plays, any one of which may have made the difference between a close loss and a close victory.

So what went right? The defense, particularly corner Allen Langford, who had one interception and was great on pass coverage all night, and safety Jay Valai, who forced two fumbles and had seven total tackles, played very well. Unfortunately, the defense was completely pushed around on Ohio State’s two touchdown drives, which happened to be their first and their last drives of the game. On those two drives alone, Ohio State gained half of their yardage for the day and scored more than half of their points.

Offensively, Travis Beckum is back and better than ever, hauling in nearly half (six) of Evridge’s thirteen completions for 60 yards. The running game was solid too, particulalry John Clay, who ran right through the heart of the Buckeye defense for 69 yards on only ten carries, and David Gilreath, who scampered for 43 yards on several end-around plays. Special mention must be made also of a stunning, 15-play, 91-yard drive that ate up 8:16 of the second quarter and resulted in Wisconsin’s first touchdown, a 9-yard Evridge pass to Mickey Turner. That sort of drive usually kills the spirit of opposing teams — but Ohio State is simply too good for that.

People that thought Wisconsin would win Saturday’s game pointed to the Badgers’ 16-game home win streak, which was the second-longest in the nation. But another, perhaps more impressive streak was on the line last night. Coming into Saturday, Ohio State had won 11 straight Big Ten games on the road. Considering how tough it is to win on the road in conference play, that’s astounding. Oh, and it’s now 12. Ohio State now seems far removed from that 35-3 drubbing at the hands of USC back on September 13, whereas Wisconsin — out of the AP poll entirely and 24th in the USA Today poll despite basically a good performance on Saturday — now seems far removed from that preseason number five ranking.

Band On The Tube: Much was made of the Wisconsin marching band being suspended for Saturday night’s game while an investigation into hazing, alcohol abuse, and sexual misconduct is ongoing. While the band was absent from appearing at Camp Randall, they were noticeably present on ABC’s telecast. In a laughably misplaced promo, the UW marching band was heavily featured in a University of Wisconsin “forward thinking” image spot that aired near the end of the first quarter. Hazing, alcohol abuse, and sexual misconduct? I doubt that’s the type of image that the University wants to promote. A bad oversight that should have been caught before air.

It’s official:The Brewers are done. Gone in four games and gone before Sabathia could redeem himself in game five. More on this soon.

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