Free Fallin’

In my last blog entry posted on the Friday before Wisconsin’s 38-16 loss at Iowa, I remarked that I would not be surprised to see the Badgers win a close game, but I would also not be surprised to see Iowa beat Wisconsin by 20 points.

Color me not surprised.

The Badgers continued their freefall on Saturday by getting thoroughly dominated by the Iowa Hawkeyes. I want to finish that statement by including the words “in every aspect,” but I can’t. A cursory look at the final statistics makes clear that Wisconsin outgained Iowa 409-375, won the time of possession battle 32:56 to 27:04, and gained 19 first downs to Iowa’s 17.

You can learn about as much from the game by reading those numbers as you can learn about raising children by reading a book of “Hi & Lois” comic strips. The numbers largely reflect a stretch from mid-second quarter to mid-third quarter when Wisconsin went on three mediocre field-goal-producing drives while Iowa stalled on four straight drives. During that time, Wisconsin gained some momentum in cutting Iowa’s lead to 14-9. Also, 130 of Wisconsin’s yards were gained, including their only touchdown, after Iowa had taken a 38-9 lead, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz had pulled the majority of his starters, and Iowa’s players had long been discussing who was going to run over to the Badgers’ sideline to snatch the Heartland Trophy.  

Let’s look at the keys to this demoralizing loss, which sends the Badgers to 0-4 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1996. (That year, the Badgers finished 3-5 in the Big Ten and 8-5 overall, including a victory in the Copper Bowl. They’ll be hard pressed to match that this year. But more on that later.)

  1. The Dustin Sherer experiment failed. Here again the numbers don’t tell the whole story: Sherer finished 17-of-34 for 161 yards and two interceptions. Not great numbers, but they don’t accurately reflect how poorly he threw the football. Precious few of Sherer’s passes were on-target, and while Garrett Graham (6 catches for 74 yards), Travis Beckum (4 catches for 41 yards), and Issac Anderson (3 catches for 48 yards) made some nice plays, too many times Sherer’s throws were simply uncatchable. Sherer is clearly Andrew Ridgely to Evridge’s George Michael. Both stink, but Evridge stinks far less. Bielema needs to give Evridge the starting job back next week.
  2. Sophomore quarterback Scott Tolzien started the final two drives. See number 1.
  3. Wisconsin can’t cotain big playmakers. Last week it was the triple-headed monster of Darryl Clark, Evan Royster, and Deon Butler that shredded them. This week it was running back Shonn Greene, who rushed for a ridiculous 220 yards on 25 carries for four touchdowns. Wisconsin defenders trying to tackle Greene looked like my sixteen-month-old daughter trying to open up a box of Ritz Bits: They both swing their arms at their desired object for a while before simply giving up. Greene’s second touchdown run in the second quarter in particular was an embarrassing string of missed tackles.
  4. Wisconsin needs to win the turnover battle. More significant than Wisconsin’s three turnovers on Saturday was the fact that they didn’t create any. They are now minus-2 on turnovers for the season. Simply put, they need the field position help and momentum that turnovers usually create.
  5. Wisconsin isn’t playing “Wisconsin football” as well as other teams in the conference. At the half, with his team down only 14-3, Bret Bielema talked about having to play “Wisconsin football” in order to win the game. Last time I checked, “Wisconsin football” involved winning the line of scrimmage battles, running the football, stopping the run, and creating turnovers. Sounds good, but when your opponents routinely beat you at your own game, you have to be able to create plays in your passing game. Last year, Tyler Donovan could do that. Evridge and now Sherer have proven they can’t. Saturday, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi only threw for 114 yards, but Iowa won because they dominated the line of scrimmage and ran the football insanely well. In short, they out-Wisconsined Wisconsin. Wisconsin can’t play their game and they certainly can’t play the wide-open passing game. That spells trouble.
  6. Unnecessary celebrations. OK. Not a key to the game, but it bugged me when Zach Brown scored the touchdown that made the game 38-16 — with his team on the short end — and celebrated like he just scored the winning touchdown in the national championship game. Give the ball to the official, go back to the bench, and hang your head like a player who plays for a team in the midst of a freefall. ‘Cause you are.

At some point in the game, the Big Ten Network ran an ad for the upcoming film Saw V. My first reaction was, “Who wants to see more of that?” After Saturday’s second straight lopsided loss, I’m sure a lot of fans are having the same reaction about Badger football. Looking at the upcoming schedule and looking at how the Badgers are playing, I can only see two sure victories — at Indiana and the finale against Cal Poly, which would put the Badgers at 1-7 in the Big Ten and 5-7 overall, which would keep them out of the bowl picture. For them to win next week’s Homecoming game against Illinois (a scarily good offensive team) and the Big Ten finale against Minnesota (overachieving so far), they will have to tackle better, block better, and run the ball more effectively. And that’s just for starters. Running the ball will be a lot easier if P.J. Hill, who left the Iowa game in the second quarter with a knee injury, can return healthy. If they can, they can maybe get back to so-called “Wisconsin football” and maybe become watchable again. One thing is for sure: No one wants to watch anymore of what they’re playing now.

Is it Badger basketball season yet?

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