As one gets older, it becomes easier to take comfort in stability. Change becomes not just a challenge but a threat. Constancy means security.
And that’s why it’s always comforting for me to see the Wisconsin Badgers, doing what they always do, what they’ve done for the past quarter-century since Barry Alvarez got the Bucky Beast rolling in earnest.
Wisconsin runs the ball. It runs when it wins. It runs when it loses. It runs in blowouts and nail-biters, bad non-conference games and important league contests.
This is not a vintage season for Wisconsin, by any stretch. The Badgers got destroyed at Michigan and lost at Northwestern. Neither game was close and they couldn’t run effectively in either.
But they never stopped trying. You know who the Badgers are. They’re not changing.
Consider that, in the past two decades, seven different UW running backs have rushed for >1,600 yards in a season. Three (Ron Dayne, Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon) did it twice. This season’s national rushing leader Jonathan Taylor (1,373) will very likely also do it for the second time this year.
It might not be the most exciting football, but there is a certain metronomic consistency to it that makes Wisconsin competitive every year, with a chance to win every game.
That 38-13 defeat at Michigan on Oct. 14 was the first time Wisconsin had lost by >7 points in more than three years. You had to go back to the 2015 opener against eventual national champion Alabama (17-35).
Running effectively doesn’t just pare the responsibility from Wisconsin’s widget quarterbacks. It takes the heat off its defense. It makes the entire team better.
Now, can Wisconsin ever win a Big Ten title again without a better quarterback and a more balanced attack? It’s doubtful. You’re almost always going to run up against someone from the East who can be more versatile.
But having that huge offensive line and a feature running back like Taylor is not a bad way to give yourself a shot even without the great QB. Because the Badgers have that running game, they have a decent shot on Saturday at Penn State, even while probably being forced to start untested rookie Jack Coan behind center for twice-concussed Alex Hornibrook.
The Nittany Lions have no such security blanket right now. And cold November afternoons like Saturday are when you need one most.
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