Complete collapses left Wisconsin reeling in the Big Ten hunt. Michigan State ripped apart Wisconsin's defense for an average of 7 yards per play and 399 yards of total offense.
On the surface, that sounds about right.
In reality, 3 giant plays got the Spartans the bulk of their offensive yardage. A 34-yard end around TD by Keshawn Martin (complete with multiple missed tackles). A 35-yard TD strike from Cousins to B.J. Cunningham that improbably got into the endzone, also because of multiple missed tackles. Finally, a 44-yard TD pass from Cousins to Nichol as time expired.
All told, on 3 offensive plays, all of which went for TDs, the Badgers gave up 113 yards.
Ouch. That's quite awful. Add in the fact that Michigan State was not assessed a single penalty, and you have a recipe for disaster.
The same story more or less repeated in Ohio Stadium the next week. Facing a highly charged crowd on homecoming, the Badgers came in as favorite. At the end of the game, Wisconsin instead found themselves gasping for air at the end of the game, wondering just what the hell happened.
The simple answer: Ohio State gashed Wisconsin on three huge offensive plays. Namely, a 57-yard run by Carlos Hyde. A 44-yard TD run by Braxton Miller. And finally, a completely inexcusable coverage gaffe by Shelton Johnson that allowed Devin Smith to get wide open in the endzone for a 40-yard TD pass.
3 offensive plays. 141 yards. That is awful. It is inexcusable in so many respects.
All told, a grand total of 6 plays accounted for 255 yards of offense by the other team in Wisconsin's two game losing streak. Eliminate those, and people are talking about the Badgers being in the top 3.
Unfortunately, the defense still allowed those plays. Fortunately, something changed. Maybe it was Wisconsin returning home, maybe it was the defense finally deciding to get its act together. Maybe it was playing an anemic Purdue offense and a team the Badgers hadn't lost to in seven consecutive years. Maybe it was the special teams. Okay, no, I'm lying; sorry ST players, but you either outright gave or set up 4 TDs in the last 4 weeks, so yes, you get a lot of the blame too.
Something changed. Montee Ball started running harder than he ever had before, with 223 rushing yards against Purdue on more than ten yards a carry. James White became somewhat effective again after being totally neutralized by MSU and Ohio State (White had 58 yards on 16 combined carries, which is less than 4 YPC). Whatever the reason, this team has done an about face from where they were three weeks ago.
The teams that beat Wisconsin in the final minute immediately were hailed as controlling their own destiny. However, that didn't last too long, as Michigan State immediately faceplanted against Nebraska, scoring a grand total of 3 points and getting blasted for the 2nd time this year. Ohio State went to West Lafayette and immediately fell to pieces, essentially killing themselves in the Big Ten title hunt with a loss to Purdue in OT.
Wisconsin is in a good place; wins in their last two games will get them no worse than a tie with Penn State and will allow them to clinch the Leaders Division, regardless of Penn State's game against Ohio State.
The team now must execute as it never has before. While games against 5-5 Purdue and 2-8 Minnesota were badly needed in the wake of the defensive failures against Ohio State and Michigan State, they still aren't the test that Illinois could prove to be.
One thing's for certain: we haven't seen anything yet. This team could finish anywhere from 12-2 to 8-5. We'll have to wait and see how things turn out.