October 15, 2008

With six left, UW cannot afford mistakes

MADISON, Wis. - Three adjectives can describe each of UW's previous three games: disgusting, crushing and embarrassing. Blowing a 19-point lead to a Michigan team that continues to lose to bad teams at home was disgusting. Holding a fourth quarter lead against conference powerhouse Ohio State, only to see a freshman quarterback lead a game winning 80-yard touchdown drive late in the game was crushing. And losing by 41 points at home to Penn State was downright embarrassing.

Sure the Badgers are 3-3 at the midway point of the season, but the 2008 campaign is far from over for the cardinal and white. That is the way both UW players and coaches have to and are approaching the current three game skid.

"Well, we're a three and three football team," head coach Bret Bielema said during his press conference Monday afternoon. "You've completed six games, but you've got six in front of you."

Granted, some of the remaining games (at Iowa, Illinois, at Michigan State, at Indiana, Minnesota, Cal-Poly) are losable, but the fact remains, all are still winnable too. If UW can find the mojo they had for the first three and a half games, it would not be out of the realm to see this team get on a roll and finish 8-4 or better. Frankly, it will be on the players to step up and perform better.

"I think the job of a coach is to put the players in a position to have success," offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "Then their job is to, once between the lines, play. The thing is, when you lose or go through a time like this, there's a lot more focus on it."

So far, the Badgers have disappointed by committing multiple mental errors on both offense and defense. Down 17-0 against Penn State, the Badgers finally put together a drive that got the ball to the Nittany Lion one-yard line before they were penalized for breaking the huddle with 12 men on the field. The Badgers went on to score, but mental mistakes like that should never happen.

Against Ohio State one week earlier, the UW defense was confused and could not get lined up on what turned out to be Terrelle Pryor's game winning touchdown run.

If there is a silver lining to these mistakes, and a very small one at that, it is that this UW team has not given up at any point of the season.

"I told the kids on Sunday, if I had an issue with lack of effort, the lack of desire, the lack of toughness in any phase of our game, we would be going through a pretty intense drill period out on the field," Bielema said. "But what I saw in all phases of the game was attention to detail.

"We were doing enough things before the snap that created negative situations that prevented us from winning a football game or having a chance to score points or stop them from scoring points. But, you know, from an offensive point of view, I don't want to see anymore issues with personnel being on the field."

Three games ago at Michigan, when UW was trailing, quarterback Allan Evridge was hit from behind and fumbled the ball inside the Michigan 10 yard line. The Wolverines recovered and thwarted a potential game-tying opportunity. Against Ohio State, Evridge once again fumbled while running and threw a costly interception late in the game that sealed the OSU win.

Then last week, with UW down 17-7 with the ball near the end of the first half, Evridge once again fumbled after getting hit. PSU recovered and scored on the next play following a pass interference penalty for a 24-7 halftime lead.

By no means is Evridge solely to blame for UW's rough stretch as the entire team has not played a complete game during it. But since he is the quarterback, his mistakes are much more amplified and visible.

So much so thatDustin Sherer replaced Evridge in the third quarter of the Penn State game. While it is difficult to evaluate a quarterback in a game that was out of hand, that change might be the jump-start this team needs to get back on track.

"You see it (change) all the time in sports," Chryst said. "Was it a timeout that was really important? No, it was the change of tempo. So I think there are times there that it is appropriate.

"You know, we get that with our backs sometimes. John Clay comes in, it's not necessarily that P.J. Hill's doing bad or Zach Brown is doing bad, but the changeup is good. So I think there's a place for that."

No one knows how the rest of 2008 will pan out, but keep in mind this very same team was ranked in the top ten a short time ago. Whether or not that was a deserving ranking is out of the question now, but it does show what this team is capable of. Just remember, the season is only half over.

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