The Band Is Back And The Badgers Are In Trouble

In my five-year-old son’s soccer league, there is a parent-coach of a team who, apparently fed up with his team’s performance, has taken to helping out his kindergarten-age players with a pass here or a blocked goal shot there. It probably sounds worse than it is, since his team still gets beat pretty handily even with the extra help.

The Wisconsin Badgers needed someone like that parent Saturday night against Penn State. Perhaps one of the refs could have tripped up a Nittany Lion defender or knocked down one of quarterback Darryll Clark’s passes. But, like the soccer parent’s attempts to help his team, such assistance probably wouldn’t have made much difference.

On what was a beautiful 74-degree clear night in Madison, the Badgers turned in one of their ugliest performances at Camp Randall, a 48-7 shellacking at the hands of 7-0 Penn State. It was Bret Bielema’s second consecutive home loss (following a streak of 16 victories), and the worst Wisconsin football home loss since 1989, when the Don Morton-led Badgers lost to Miami 51-3.

The convincing win moved Penn State up to number three in both college football polls, while the beatdown moved Wisconsin to the bottom of the Big Ten, where only Indiana, by virtue of a worse overall record, is beneath them.

The game basically solidified that both teams, as former NFL head coach Dennis Green famously ranted after a close loss, “are who we thought they were.” Penn State is very, very good. Wisconsin is not.

Let’s look at Wisconsin’s season once the games got supposedly difficult. The Badgers pulled out a tough win against a ranked Fresno State team four weeks ago which at the time seemed impressive. Since then the Bulldogs have barely won three games against bad teams and lost to an average Hawaii team. Suddenly that Wisconsin victory doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Two weeks ago the Badgers lost a mistake-filled game to Michigan, which has gone on to get creamed by Illinois and beaten by — are you ready for this — the Toledo Rockets, both at Michigan Stadium. Last week, the Badgers lost to Ohio State, a team that struggled mightily yesterday (only 222 offensive yards) to beat Purdue at home 16-3.

In short, Wisconsin’s three victories aren’t that impressive, and two of their three losses are embarrassing. Hopes of a 2008 Big Ten title are about as realistic as the Brewers’ hopes of a 2008 World Series championship. Going into what was supposed to be the easier portion of their schedule, nothing looks easy now — especially as teams that smell blood in the water will gear up for now-winnable games against a team that coming into the season was expected to be a national championship contender. Or, as the ESPN announcers stated about Wisconsin’s season-ending game against Cal Poly, “no one will care. Except for the Cal Poly Mustangs.”

Outside of the lopsidedness of the final score, the biggest story to emerge from this game has to be the benching of quarterback Allan Evridge for Dustin Sherer in the third quarter. At the time of his benching, Evridge — who has been frustratingly inconsistent all season long, echoing his coaches’ less-than-ringing endorsement of him as the starter — was 2-for-10 for 50 yards, one interception and one fumble. The fumble was arguably the game’s pivotal play, as Wisconsin had just cut Penn State’s lead to 17-7, forced a punt, and gotten the ball back with under two minutes in the first half. Instead of driving for a possible field goal to cut into the lead further going into halftime, Evridge’s fumble on the Wisconsin 16-yard line enabled Penn State to get a quickie insurance touchdown, bringing the halftime score to 24-7 and taking the home crowd out of the game for good. Evridge now has eight turnovers in the three Big Ten games.

So will Evridge get the opportunity to make more miscues or will Sherer be named the new starter? Well, Sherer (whose entrance did provoke the biggest cheers of the second half, if not the entire night) did provide a spark, but a short-lived one: His first three passes were completions, but the third one was a completion to Lydell Sargeant, who plays cornerback for Penn State. Sherer also lost a fumble, which came on his second drive at the helm. So Bielema will likely return to Evridge for next week’s game at Iowa (who beat Indiana 45-9 on Saturday), but look for Evridge to be on a very short leash.

Defensively, the Badgers took several steps back from their fairly impressive game last week. Specifically, the Badgers hardly got any pressure on Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark, and he consistently had time to find the open man — and there were a lot of them, as Clark connected with seven different receivers for 244 yards and one touchdown. Cornerback Allen Langford was particularly pedestrian in pass coverage after a stellar game against Ohio State. Unfortunately, the defense was consistently put in bad situations thanks to inept play on offense (particularly, again, in the passing game) and in special teams. Punter Brad Nortman had a lousy night, with only 29 net yards per punt, while special teams coverage was horrendous, allowing 31 yards per punt return and 24 yards per kickoff return. Of course the biggest special teams play of the night was Derrick Williams’s 63-yard untouched punt return for a touchdown. The return, which followed a spectacularly lame three-and-out, zero-yard, 31 second Wisconsin “drive,” made the score 17-0 and was the first real indication that it was to be a very long night for the Badgers and their fans.

The lone bright spot of the night was Wisconsin’s 10-play, 85-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. The drive was the only time that the Badgers were able to consistently run the ball effectively and the only time that Evridge seemed to be in command, as the quarterback had a 19-yard rush, a 5-yard diving TD rush, and a 42-yard strike to Travis Beckum (which made up 84 percent of Evridge’s passing yards on the night). The leadership that Evridge showed on that drive is what the Badgers need more of if they are to salvage anything out of this disappointing 2008 campaign.

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One Response

  1. Sounds like a lot of whinning going on about the Badgers. I lived trhough 20 years of this during the late 60s and 70s and even 80s. On top of it all the Packers also stunk. I figure in another 20 years the Badgers might be good again.

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