Over the past few months, I've read a bunch of books by this English "mystery" writer, Lee Child. The best term to describe his books is "embarrassingly entertaining," meaning that you enjoy the books, but realize they're completely ridiculous and you probably shouldn't talk to other people about them. Nearly all his books feature this enormous, uber-bad ass ex-MP protagonist/narrator given the hilarious name of Jack Reacher. Anyhow, there's a scene in this one book, Killing Floor, where he's in a state prison and gets jumped by a group of neo-Nazis. Reacher is getting choked from behind by some enormous skinhead, but is able to peel him off and ends up kicking the skinheads' asses. Reacher later explains that the skinhead messed up by choking him with his fingers extended. This enabled Reacher to grab some of the skinhead's fingers and break them, thus freeing himself. Had the skinhead instead bent his fingers in, and choked him with his knuckles, Reacher admits, he would have been unable to pry off the attacker's fingers, and been killed.
This seems like an apt metaphor for the Badgers thus far this season. They're the skinhead-- they've ambushed the opponents, it's time for the kill stroke, and they can't deliver. Now so far, they've still managed to win the fight, no one has done a Jack Reacher on them--come back all the way to beat them--but if they keep letting people off the hook it's going to happen.
Consider last week's game-- Badgers are up ten, toward the end of the third quarter, the defense sacks the Sparty QB, actually forcing a three and out and a punt, and UW gets the ball at midfield. A good team marches down and scores, and puts the game out of reach. Wisco had just scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the second half, and had marched down the field to kick a field goal at the end of the first. They're moving the ball well on offense, their defense has actually done something, and it's time to firmly take control of the game. Things start out promisingly, with Hill running for five, Donovan scrambling for a few more, and PJ churning out a first down.
The ball is now at the Sparty 45. Twelve more yards, and Taylor's in field goal range. The blood should be in the water. The hands are around the neck, so to speak. But UW then starts going backwards. MSU defenders pile on Hill for a short loss. Donovan forces a pass to a double-covered Beckum, and the Sparty DBs break it up (and, alas, other players were open on this play). Then the Badgers run a swing pass to Hill, who's closely covered and tackled for a four yard loss. Boom goes the punt, which unfortunately goes into the end zone for a touchback, and the fingers are pried off the neck. Sparty has new life, and they score a touchdown on their next drive, suddenly making the game close again.
I don't know if the Badgers lost focus, or a few play calls went awry, or if Donovan made an iffy decision or what. And I know that Jefferson and Randle El were both out of the game at this point, so the passing attack was in semi-disarray. But they had the ball in opposing territory with a ten point lead late in the third quarter. That was the Badgers chance to put the game out of reach, and they went backwards. If UW wants to continue to win and start being taken seriously, it needs to take advantage of those opportunities. Stomp on opponents when they're down. Take your kill shot when you have it. As Jack Reacher would advise, use the knuckles, not the fingers.