Apologies for the delay of the column this week, but I had an apple orchard and corn maze to own out in Mount Horeb on Sunday. The apple cider donuts were delightful, as was the family time—which sometimes during the football season can be tough to come by, especially with basketball starting up shortly. More on that later.
Wisconsin’s slim chances of getting into the College Football Playoff are now officially gashed after Saturday night’s 38–13 loss to now-No. 6 Michigan. It was the worst loss in terms of point differential in the Paul Chryst era at Wisconsin, and now the team has to lick its chops and move on.
A season with so much hype, including from the national media and many fans, will not meet the outside expectations of being part of the final four teams to compete for a national title.
I will argue, as the team did, that there is still plenty to play for, however. The Big Ten West division and a berth in the conference championship game are obviously still within reach. Wisconsin could own another tiebreaker if it upends current division leader Northwestern on the road this Saturday (which I feel won’t be easy, but is doable).
Make no mistake, the Badgers’ conference road schedule will be difficult as we have stated many times before, with trips to Evanston, Penn State, and Purdue remaining. With any of those games, I feel UW could add another loss, with maybe the trip to Happy Valley being the most worrisome. The Badgers will have to battle to get to Indianapolis, and in my opinion, also have Iowa lose at least one more game this season (Penn State?) to make that happen.
This gets forgotten among fans, but the team will also play for each other. The winter and summer conditioning sessions, early mornings, and full days practicing, lifting, learning in the film room. Being around the players on a weekly basis, they won’t quit on one another.
It all starts with homecoming this weekend against Illinois and if they can get back on track against a 3–3 program at home.
Wisconsin’s starting secondary
I have not gotten a chance to watch the game film yet, but upon recollection, I thought—like Owen Riese did—that the depleted defensive backfield showed potential against the Michigan passing attack in only allowing 124 yards through the air. Redshirt sophomore safety Eric Burrell led the team in tackles with 11. True freshman Reggie Pearson, playing in his first career game and making his first career start in his home state for the injured D’Cota Dixon, recorded five tackles, one for loss, along with a forced fumble.
I really thought Rachad Wildgoose, outside of the third-down hold in the second half, played very well. His pass break-up in the end zone showed the type of potential he has.
Who returns this week to the secondary will be something to watch. Monday’s preliminary injury report could see Dixon and fellow safety Scott Nelson—himself a Michigan native who was injured shortly after coming into the game—on the list, along with another starter in cornerback Faion Hicks and potentially Pearson as well, as he exited the game in the second half.
Perhaps the lone bright spot was Wisconsin’s run game, which produced 183 yards, almost double what Michigan gave up per-game coming into Saturday night’s match-up. Taylor ran for 101 yards on 17 carries, again going over the century mark (which he has done in all six games this season).
Wisconsin’s defense gave up 440 yards on the night, which is not good, but I thought the two inside linebackers played their hearts out. The duo combined for 18 tackles, 4.5 for loss (three from Edwards), with each getting a sack and a quarterback hurry, and Connelly recording a forced fumble.
A quick thought on play calling/decisions
Being completely honest and transparent, I do not feel like an authority figure when it comes to play calling or arguing when to go or not go for it on particular fourth downs.
Why? Because despite my stellar JV quarterback record back at Mariner High School in Cape Coral, Fla. (don’t ask for pictures or stats … also, go Fightin’ Tritons), I have not played nor coached at the college level.
You will see some back-and-forth from our writers in an upcoming roundtable about the decision to punt on 4th-and-2 from the Michigan 42-yard line late in the third quarter. Honestly, I had thought the defense had shown enough where it could have been trusted if Wisconsin pinned Michigan back inside its 10-yard line. That did not happen, and the Wolverines’ offense pushed ahead, wearing down the Badgers’ defense in getting a field goal to make it a three-score game after that.
We do not know if there were other circumstances we were not privy to when head coach Paul Chryst made that decision. Along with the roughing-the-long-snapper call against Wisconsin on Michigan’s first drive of the second half, it was one of a few key plays I felt ultimately decided the game (including if that forced fumble by Pearson actually stayed in bounds, as I saw a streaking Deron Harrell sprinting toward it on replay).
Up next this week
No live podcast from Bierock
With the NLDS continuing on Tuesday night, we will not have a show from Bierock this week. We’ll get a podcast up nonetheless.
Wisconsin basketball media day
Yup, basketball season is around the corner. Local media day is set for Wednesday and I will be there for media day, which starts at 4 p.m. We’ll have audio and video from the event.
Walk-On This Way book signing
It is crazy that it has been two years already since the book Joel Nellis and I wrote made its debut on Amazon and bookshelves around Wisconsin. On Friday from 4–5 p.m. at University Book Store off of State Street, there will be a book signing if you’re in town. Feel free to pop over, say hi, talk Badgers. We have not been able to lock down any former walk-ons yet, but I’m hoping that changes. If not, you will still have me to chat with.