After the University of Wisconsin’s shocking loss to BYU and its physical, season-saving victory at Iowa, last week’s bye severed as a well-positioned break for a team yet to live up to preseason expectations.
Refreshed and now weeks removed from that crushing defeat to the Cougars, the Badgers hope Saturday’s contest against Nebraska at Camp Randall Stadium marks a new beginning in which their early-season snags are behind them.
“Honestly, I think that loss was a good thing for us,” UW inside linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “It helped guys realize some things. It helped spark some things. … I think that guys realized we can’t just walk out there and win. We’ve got to compete with every team and we’ve got to be our best at all times because if you’re not, you’re going to lose.”
While Edwards said he doesn’t think that loss necessarily fueled the Badgers’ bye week, the break allowed for a full evaluation of where UW stands after an underwhelming first month of the season.
The sample size of four games still isn’t very big. That empowered the Badgers to dig deep into the issues they’ve faced over the past few weeks — whether it’s consistency on offense or preventing long gains on defense. From UW coach Paul Chryst’s perspective, however, the week’s focus remained more on the growth of individual players as they prepare themselves to face a Big Ten opponent for at least the next eight straight weeks.
“It was needed,” Chryst said, “We were able to focus on kind of our first four games and where we need to get better and can improve and things we’re doing well. … You take a look at some of your schematics – offensively, defensively, special teams – but it’s really, how can we bring out a better player in each one? So I think it gives you a chance to get really narrowed down with each position.”
The greatest beneficiaries could be the Badgers’ new starters on defense. UW replaced seven of them from last year and are also fielding key reserves who saw their first extended game action during the season’s first four games.
The results have been mixed thus far, as the Badgers surrendered a number of big plays to both BYU and Iowa. The Hawkeyes averaged 7.48 yards per play, the most UW’s allowed since its 2015 opener against Alabama.
“It’s not easy to come in as a young guy and be asked and expected to dominate a game,” senior safety D’Cota Dixon said. “It’s not easy, but that is the standard. That’s the standard we all expect from ourselves. … I think (the bye week) helps a lot, just so you can kind of sit back and reflect on where you are as a player, reflect on how you’ve responded as a player.”
The Badgers’ start certainly didn’t play out as expected, but the early bye week may have provided UW with an opportunity to regroup.
Wins over the next two weeks – against Nebraska and at Michigan – could thrust the 16th-ranked Badgers back into the national conversation after starting the season at No. 4 in the AP poll.
“I think it was great timing, honestly,” Dixon said. “I think it’s good timing for us all … to just clean up things we can get better on and continue not to make the same mistakes.”
Jason Galloway is a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.