Saturday, September 8, 2012
Badgers offense disappears in upset
By Brian Bennett
Forget everything you thought you knew about Wisconsin.
We assumed the Badgers' offense would continue to be strong despite the heavy staff turnover on that side of the ball. We assumed the offensive line would reload again after losing two more All-Americans. We assumed Wisconsin was the team to beat in the Leaders Division with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible to go to Indianapolis.
Well, forget all that. Wisconsin was shocked 10-7 at Oregon State on Saturday, and it was shocking just how bad the Badgers' offense looked.
A team we've grown accustomed to seeing pile up yards and points at a record pace was held scoreless until the final 91 seconds. Wisconsin had 79 total yards going into the fourth quarter, a number it regularly reaches in the first few minutes of a game. The Badgers needed a rally in the fourth quarter to finish with 206 yards. They didn't convert their first third down until there was 1:54 left in the game.
Oregon State hemmed in Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, holding him to 61 yards on 15 carries.
The biggest culprit was, surprisingly, the offensive line. A unit that has been one of the best in the country for years and years simply couldn't open up many holes against Oregon State. Montee Ball had only 60 yards on 15 carries with no touchdowns, and his Heisman Trophy candidacy is for the moment sidelined. Wisconsin averaged just 3.3 yards per play. Left tackle Ricky Wagner, touted as a top Outland Trophy candidate, did not have a good day, but he was hardly alone on a Sick Red Line.
The Badgers also lost star receiver Jared Abbrederis in the first half when he was sandwiched between two defenders. Abbrederis was taken to a local hospital to be examined for a chest injury and did not return. Without him, the Badgers didn't have anyone to stretch the field for quarterback Danny O'Brien. And so we saw the unusual sight of Wisconsin punting seven times. The seven points were the fewest for the program since a 48-7 loss to Penn State in 2008.
The offense also struggled last week in the opener against Northern Iowa, and coach Bret Bielema said the Panthers' defense was the big reason for that. But alarm bells sounded when a Football Championship Subdivision team held its ground against Wisconsin, and that turned into a roaring siren against Oregon State, which was playing its first game of the season after its opener was canceled by weather. The Badgers hadn't lost a regular-season nonconference game since falling to UNLV in 2003.
They entered the game ranked No. 13 in the country but really don't deserve to be ranked at all after two poor performances to begin the season. What's more important is how the team rebounds going forward. Any hopes of a national title are dashed, for sure, but the Big Ten championship remains there for the taking. Yet it's safe to say now that Wisconsin won't just roll through the likes of Purdue and Illinois on its way to Indianapolis, not unless things improve drastically on offense.
That's a weird sentence to write about Wisconsin. Yet that's the new reality for a team about which we must forget all previous assumptions.