2012 is a different year and this is a different Badger team. Last year they imposed their will on Oregon State, crushing them 35-0 behind huge efforts by Russell Wilson and Montee Ball. This year? No Russell Wilson. And Montee Ball is running behind an offensive line that is clearly not as dominating as the one Wisconsin put out there in 2011. And overall this year’s offense is nowhere near being a typical Wisconsin juggernaut. The result: Oregon State gutted their way to a 10-7 home win against the Badgers.
Some may focus on the waning seconds of this game, when the Badgers had a chance to get back in it but came up short. After being shut out all day, the Badgers finally scored a TD on a Danny O’Brien pass to Jacob Pedersen. The ensuing onside kick looked to have been recovered by Wisconsin but on review the ball was given to Oregon State who ran out the clock for the win. Some will argue the officials lacked indisputable evidence and should not have overturned the original call. In the end it’s irrelevant. The Badgers lost the game by their lack of offense over three-plus quarters, not because some referee screwed them.
So who to blame for the mess? When a team that’s been this offensively dominating for so many years can’t get even a third down conversion until late in the fourth, there clearly must be multiple culprits. Offensive line not as strong as in the past, especially at the guard positions. Wide receiver corps that lacks playmakers. New quarterback who isn’t yet totally familiar with the offense. Offensive coordinator who doesn’t yet have a feel for the Badgers’ approach after years in a spread system. Put those in whatever order you want. They all played a part in today’s loss.
The good news, if there’s any good news to derive from this catastrophe, is that the defense played a much more solid all-around game than last week against Northern Iowa. Despite being on the field altogether too much, thanks to the offensive ineptitude, the D mostly avoided the major mental mistakes that plagued them last week. The one glaring exception came on Oregon State’s single TD of the game when someone in the secondary appeared to blow an assignment. Otherwise, the tackling was mostly sound, there was a decent amount of pressure put on the QB and the big plays were avoided. Some of this is down to Oregon State’s conservative game plan, but give credit to the defense too. They held up well in a tough spot.
So now the Badgers will try to regroup after a truly horrific offensive performance. What can they do to get better? It’s going to be tough. Bret Bielema will have to figure out who is going to play right guard for him, since Zac Matthias is obviously overmatched. He also needs to identify which receivers can make a play, a more urgent task than ever with Jared Abbrederis possibly missing time after suffering a chest injury. Jeff Duckworth did show up late after not getting in the game for most of four quarters, so perhaps he can be a factor. A more concerted effort must be made to get Jacob Pedersen involved as well. And the pass protection needs work.
A lot of stuff needs work. What a disaster.