Latest Loss Makes 2018 A Lost Season For Wisconsin

Latest Loss Makes 2018 A Lost Season For Wisconsin

Football

Latest Loss Makes 2018 A Lost Season For Wisconsin

EVANSTON, Ill. – A patchwork defense is only as good as the next wave of players brought in to replace the fallen. That’s turned out to be an OK thing for Wisconsin’s defense, as the Badgers have seemingly handled every injury blow by putting forth a valiant effort.

Problem is Wisconsin’s bandaged defense can’t do it all its own, and the help the group received – or in this case did not receive – from its offense or special teams has put the program in a precarious situation with four weeks remaining in the regular season.

The once-thought-of-offensive strength for Wisconsin again clammed up on the road, causing the 20th-ranked Badgers to put forth a dismal showing in a disastrous 31-17 defeat to Northwestern at Ryan Field Saturday.

“Flat out we need to play better football,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. “…We’ve got to play smarter, better football to give ourselves a chance.”

Whether they want to admit it or not, the Badgers (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) find themselves in the midst of a lost season. Once ranked fourth to start the season, they will find themselves unranked when the polls are released tomorrow afternoon but that really is the least of their worries.

Having already watched their chances at a College Football Playoff appearance go up in smoke with a failed-to-show 38-13 loss at Michigan, this latest road flop will likely cost the Badgers a shot in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.

UW now needs to win out, hardly a guarantee with a two-game road swing to Penn State and Purdue starting in two weeks, but the Badgers needs Northwestern (5-3, 5-1) to lose twice. The Wildcats finish Big Ten play at Iowa, at Minnesota and home against Illinois.

“It was definitely there, the opportunity was there,” outside linebacker Zack Baun said. “We just didn’t capitalize on it.”

To be fair, most of the problems – again – don’t rest on the defense. Playing without four starters, Wisconsin had two linebackers register double-digit tackles (Ryan Connelly, 14; T.J. Edwards, 13), the unit picked off three passes that turned into 14 points and held the Wildcats to 8 of 17 on third down and 0 of 2 on fourth down.

The problem was the other two units didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. The offense’s only two touchdowns were off those short fields created by turnovers. Going 4-of-12 on third down, fumbling three times and generating no chunk plays over 20 yards also failed to sustained drives. Of UW’s 14 drives, the longest was 50 yards, ending in a field goal.

Special teams weren’t much better. UW committed two holding penalties on punts, missed two field goals and saw true freshman Jack Sanborn extend a Northwestern drive with a 15-yard personal foul penalty for roughing the punter. Instead of UW getting the ball back, Northwestern got a first down and extended the drive into a touchdown.

“If we want to be a great team, we just can’t have those types of mistakes because good teams will capitalize,” receiver Kendric Pryor said. “ … I know we can play better than what we have.”

At this point, however, the sample size is too great to not say UW’s offense is broke. Despite staying relatively healthy with most of last year’s key personnel, the Badgers have wallowed through half of the college football season. Take away UW’s lynchpin quarterback and Northwestern going up by 11 points with just over six minutes to go in the third quarter felt insurmountable. Sad story, it was.

“It’s real tough, just because everybody on the team, especially the offense, wants to be clicking on all cylinders,” tackle David Edwards said. “We haven’t been playing a complete game. We have our moments where we are doing some really good things, but we’ve got to continue to be more consistent.”

When pressed why the inconsistencies are still a topic entering November, Edwards pointed to the injuries causing a rotating door of sorts. While much has been made about all the players banged up on defense, UW’s offense is already without one of its top receivers and its top blocking tight end. Throw in Hornibrook’s injury and left tackle Cole Van Lanen going down with a leg injury in the first half and the starting lineup is almost a shell of what it was at the start of the season.

“That’s a real issue that guys have to deal with,” Chryst said of the injuries, which may or may not have been the reason for some conservative first-half play calling that hurt chances to develop a flow.

“Just like throughout the season, you have to deal with a lot of problems and that’s certainly one of them. Nobody likes it. You don’t like seeing those kids lose opportunities or games. When you play the game, you want to be playing with as good of a team as you have.”

Sadly for Wisconsin, that team with all the potential never was able to show up.

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