Wisconsin Football Report Card: Grading The Loss To Michigan State
Well, Wisconsin's inconsistent play finally caught up to them. And it couldn't have come at a more crucial moment in the season.
After looking largely unimpressive during non-conference play, Wisconsin needed to start out the Big Ten season on a good note.
And, at Michigan State, they needed to play much better than they did in the first four weeks.
They didn't. And they lost. In fact, they're lucky they didn't lose by more than the final 34-24 margin.
So, with that in my mind, here are my grades for Wisconsin's first loss of the season.
Although statistically Wisconsin didn't have a terrible game on Saturday, they just didn't seem to be in rhythm for much of the day.
Of Wisconsin's 165 rushing yards, true freshman James White was responsible for 98 of those, to go along with two touchdowns. John Clay, playing with some sore ankles, only managed 80 yards and was largely ineffective.
Scott Tolzien, dealing with receivers who just couldn't seem to catch the ball, finished only 11-25 for 127 yards with a touchdown.
More importantly, in crucial situations, the offense simply didn't convert. On third downs, the Badgers converted only 3 of the 11 attempts they had.
Now, the Badgers did take care of the ball, but in general, this offense has seen better days.
Badger fans all knew that Wisconsin's defense was suspect. But even this was a surprise.
Not only did the Badger 'D' allow 34 points, but they did it while giving up 444 yards of offense. No, that's not a typo.
Granted, Michigan State, behind Kirk Cousins and running backs Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell, have one of the best offenses in the Big Ten. But this was just poor, poor defense.
Wide-open receivers. Huge running lanes. 9 of 18 on third downs. That pretty much sums up the defensive performance on Saturday.
The Badgers did force two interceptions, but that didn't make up for Cousins' 269 passing yards and three touchdowns.
If Wisconsin's defense doesn't pull it together pretty soon, they'll be out of the Big Ten race before they know it.
Once again, Wisconsin's special teams failed. They simply failed.
For the second time on the year (in five games, mind you), the Badgers allowed a return touchdown.
This time, it was Keshawn Martin taking back a punt 73 yards for a touchdown midway through the second quarter, giving the Spartans a 13-10 lead.
Phillip Welch did have a nice field goal, putting one through from 49 yards, but when your special teams once again gives up a return touchdown, a failing grade is inevitable.
A stagnant offensive game plan. A predictable defense. A special teams that has yet to be fixed.
Although a huge portion of the blame has to go to the players, Saturday's loss was also in part because of poor game plan put in place by the Badgers coaches.
When you blitz on virtually every third-down play, it gets pretty easy for the opposing team to call plays. It's as simple as that.
Switch it up.
I do give credit to Bret Bielema for utilizing James White as much as he did, but other than that, Wisconsin's coaches didn't do a whole lot to help the Badgers earn a victory.
All in all, Saturday was a disappointing day for Badgers fans.
The offense, though they didn't make a ton of mistakes, didn't really make a whole lot of plays either. The defense, other than a couple interceptions, was terrible.
No, going into Spartan Stadium and emerging with a victory is never easy, much less a guarantee.
But, this was supposed to be Wisconsin's year. After watching their play on Saturday, many are already second-guessing those pre-season expectations.