Sadly, we've learned that the Badgers is simply not going to be as good as everyone hoped it would be coming into the season. The reasons for that are a little too myriad for me to explain, but this is how it's going to be-- some very solid plays, others totally blown, few to little turnovers. That's not a successful recipe, and the team will need the offense to control the game in order to win games. In this one, the offense moved the ball very well, over 500 yards total, even against a hard hitting and pretty sound Illinois defense. Unfortunately, in the first half, the offense repeatedly stalled when it got close to the red zone. And they made plays, but not enough, in the second half.
The offense is now officially banged up. But even with that, I thought their performance was pretty remarkable in the second half. When I realized Hill was on the bench on an exercise bike to start the third quarter, and saw Swan was crutching around, I thought they were going to get shut out for the rest of the game. But they moved the ball pretty consistently, and the defense made a few stops, not enough it turned out, and they got back in the game.
Then there were those two unfortunate interceptions. The Badgers were down five, moving the ball with a chance to take the lead, and threw two unnecessarily long passes that were picked off. One looked like it was due to a misunderstanding between Donovan and the two freshmen wideouts, Gilreath and Jefferson, that were in the area. The pass was too high for Gilreath and too short for Jefferson, but just right for an Illinois defender. Confusing between those three was a recurring theme in the second half. It was understandable, given the inexperience. The second was intended for a double-covered Beckum and shouldn't have been thrown. As sad as it is to question Chryst, who generally seems to do a great job, those calls simply didn't work out.
- Gilreath needs to sack up. He fields a kick or a punt, and then runs diagonally. That's not going to work against Big Ten competition. Plus, great kick returners tend to go forward and them make a cut and explode, not run laterally. That's just a recipe for what was baked up yesterday--crappy field position. Also, on one of his receptions, he had the first down by two yards, then jumped backwards, looking to avoid a big hit, and then started moving forward when he was tackled, essentially losing two yards, and ended up barely getting the first down. I guess that makes sense because he dropped a He's a little guy, we all know. But he needs to accept contact and get comfortable taking it.
- The team misses Crooks's blocking. Graham is a very good receiving threat, and Turner is an adequate blocker, but neither are up to Crooks's all-around ability. He was in pads this week, so hopefully he'll actually be back on the field next weekend.
- The defense folded for the last touchdown because of the two picks the offense gave up. But before that, Illinois's man child receiver, #9, Benn, had been knocked out, and the FIBs were down to runs with Williams and Mendenhall. The Badgers then forced two straight punts. This demonstrates, that without Benn, Illinois's offensive became far less scary. If he misses the Michigan game in two weeks, Illinois loses.
- We did know this was coming. Wisconsin had played too many flawed teams far too closely. And the team is now seriously banged up, at a position, WR, where it doesn't have great depth. The question is, how does the team progress from here? As I've said, the defense will probably be hit or miss all season. The offense is gimpy, and can't ride Hill and Beckum forever. But it can still be a successful year. The only game that looks out of reach for the rest of the season is the one in Columbus. Every other match-up, Penn State, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, the Badgers have a good chance to win. But the freshmen, especially Brown, Gilreath, and Jefferson, will have to step up, especially on the road against PSU next week, when Swan and Hubbard will both still surely be out.