After a 5-0 start, the Badgers blew two golden opportunities to put Wisconsin football back on the map. Instead, Bret Bielema now faces a crucial game in his tenure at UW against the Purdue Boilermakers Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
Most fans don't seem to be too worried about Purdue, and with good reason. While the Boilermakers showed they could do what Wisconsin failed to do -- beat Ohio State -- they have plenty of flaws and there is no excuse for Wisconsin not to top Purdue rather easily Saturday at Camp Randall.
The buzz around UW football has been completely sucked out of Madison. It's been 26 days since the Badgers last won a football game. Heck, it's been 26 days since the offense last scored a touchdown. But there is good news: this team is actually a decent football team and it's remaining schedule puts them in position to win out and finish the regular season with a 10-2 record.
That's why Saturday is so crucial for Bret Bielema. In all honesty, winning any (and even all) of its remaining five games would not be that impressive for Wisconsin. Critics will say the Badgers beat 10 teams it should have beat, but lost its only two games against good opponents.
What would be so frustrating about that reality is that Wisconsin could have won both of its previous two games if it had not reverted back to the careless mistakes that are becoming a staple of Bielema'stenure at UW. These are the type of mistakes that will determine whether or not the Badgers finish 10-2, or fall back to another extremely mediocre 7-5 season.
This team has been bipolar in many ways, at times looking like a renewed program with a focus on playing smart football, but at other times looking like the undisciplined, poorly coached team that lost six games a season ago.
A loss Saturday at Camp Randall would send Bret Bielema down a road he doesn't want to see. But a win could put the Badgers on track for a 10-2 record and make them one of the favorites to win the Big Ten next season.
Which way will the Badgers go? We shall see. But these moments could end up defining the season once we find out:
- When Scott Tolzien took the field Sept. 5 against Northern Illinois, most of the 80,000+ fans in attendance knew nothing about the redshirt junior from Fremd High School in Illinois. But the kid made quite a first impression. With the Huskies thinking run, Tolzien ran a perfect play-action fake and hit Issac Anderson streaking down the right sideline for an 80-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
- At the end of a flu-ridden week, the Badgers found themselves in overtime against Fresno State at home in a game they couldn't afford to lose. In the second overtime, the Bulldogs appeared to have the go-ahead touchdown with a receiver wide open in the endzone, but free safety Chris Maragos showed off his speed and picked off the pass that was slightly underthrown. Phillip Welch hit the game winning field goal and the Badgers held on.
- On the verge of blowing an 11-point fourth quarter lead to archrival Minnesota, senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield sacked quarterback Adam Weber and forced a fumble. UW linebacker Chris Borland recovered the ball and sealed the Badgers' sixth straight win over the Gophers.
- Tolzien's first half at Ohio State was not pretty, but Wisconsin was still in the football game. Then the junior quarterback forced a pass to the right side that was tipped and returned for a touchdown -- OSU's second interception returned for a touchdown on the day. From that point on, it was all Buckeyes.
- Up 10-3 at home against Iowa with seemingly all the momentum in the world, Bret Bielema decided to put redshirt freshman Curt Phillips in the game at quarterback. Bielema said after the game that they had seen something on film that suggested a change at QB on the third series would be a good idea. But with everything going so well early, should he have deviated from his gameplan? Phillips nearly broke loose on a second down run, but the Badgers went three-and-out and only gained two first downs the rest of the game as Iowa went on to win 20-10.
- The Badgers still had their chances against Iowa, however, as the defense worked hard to pick up a sluggish offense. In the second half, Borland forced a fumble and O'Brien Schofield recovered the ball at the Iowa 25-yard line. Once again the offense failed to gain a first down, but the real blow came when Phillip Welch missed the 38-yard field goal, which would have put the Badgers on top 13-10. After the game, Schofield admitted the defense came out sluggish after that sequence of events and the Hawkeyes completed their run of 20 unanswered points to win the game comfortably.
So which moments will decide the rest of the season? Will they be the good moments which point to a more disciplined, successful future? Or will they be the bad moments which point to a mistake-prone, unsuccessful future with a questionable coaching staff?
Saturday's very winnable game at home against Purdue presents a fork in the road for Bret Bielema's team. We shall see which road the Badgers choose.