70-3, 83-20, 48-28, 70-23, 42-39, 62-17..........7-10?
It doesn't take rocket science or advanced football metrics to know that the Wisconsin offense had its worst performance in quite some time last weekend. In 2010 and 2011, the Badgers cranked out touchdowns like the Oregon Ducks crank out new uniform combinations. Montee Ball alone had 39 touchdowns last season; he's currently on pace to score only 6 or 7 this season. Nowhere is the Wisconsin offense's fall from grace more evident then in the 3rd down conversion percentage statistics:
2009- 10th nationally, 47.2%. 2010- 9th nationally, 50.3%. 2011- 1st nationally, 54.7%. 2012- T-86th nationally, 36.7%.
We're looking at a small sample size for 2012, obviously, but it is still troubling that Wisconsin struggled so much against a FCS defense and a Oregon State defense that was 104th out of 120 in opponent third down conversions last season. (The Beavers are tied for first nationally in that statistic this season, and Utah State is right behind them at third in the nation. Uh oh.) Obviously, some regression by the offense was to be expected this season. Wisconsin lost Russell Wilson, Nick Toon, Bradie Ewing, Kevin Zeitler, and Peter Konz to the NFL; replacing five NFL-caliber players on your offense isn't an easy task. Josh Oglesby and Jake Byrne weren't slouches, either. Still, don't completely write this offense off yet. Recent history suggests that they can still turn this around, which we'll take a look at after the jump.
Dateline: September 18, 2010. Wisconsin just pulled off a 20-19 defeat of Arizona State thanks to a blocked PAT by Jay Valai. The week before, the Badgers defeated San Jose State 27-14 at home. Clearly, they were not two of Wisconsin's better offensive efforts. After the San Jose State game, Scott Tolzien said "the great thing about it is you never want to be peaking early on in the season. Obviously we're not happy with where we're at." That team then went on to offensively steamroll every Big Ten opponent it faced, except for Michigan State, and the Badgers finished the 2010 season fifth in the nation with 41.5 points per game.
Maybe the 2012 version of the Wisconsin offense can undergo a similar in-season improvement. If the offensive line can get back to its mauling ways, if Matt Canada can fine tune his play-calling, if Montee Ball can put the team on his back, if Danny O'Brien can improve his decision-making and accuracy, if the receivers can get open and force opposing defenses to respect a balanced offensive attack; then maybe, just maybe, Wisconsin can return to the days of dropping 62 and 48 and 83 points on opponents and making it look absurdly easy.
Utah State needs to 'take what the defense gives them' on Saturday to have offensive success.
The weekly Big Ten potluck over at Off Tackle Empire has morphed into a bitter feast of tears in the wake of a terrible week for the conference. Again, we need to be counting our blessings that the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge was unceremoniously cancelled.
Defensive coordinator Chris Ash thinks that Michael Trotter is ready for his first collegiate start, and the redshirt sophomore safety is so locked in that he hasn't even had a chance to tell his parents that he'll be starting on Saturday.
Utah State blog The Sagebrush Spot portrays this weekend's game as David (Aggies) versus Goliath (Badgers), and says an Aggies victory looks like a very real possibility.
The Badgers cannot afford to revisit the woes of allowing punt blocks from last season, because Utah State blocked a punt last week against Utah. Redshirt freshman Drew Meyer has done an excellent job punting so far.
Here are some "Did You Know?" facts as we prepare for week three in the Big Ten. Wisconsin's fact:
"Bielema's 25 straight regular-season non-conference wins marked the second best start to a career by a Big Ten head coach. Bielema trails only Michigan's Fielding Yost, who started 41-0 in nonconference games from 1901-06."
Parker Gabriel of the Daily Cardinal thinks that it will be difficult to evaluate what impact the unusual coaching change will have on the offensive line, or if it will even have any impact at all. He also had the best description of what we saw in Corvallis that I have read so far:
"The offensive line, normally available to the state Department of Transportation to pave Interstate corridors, has looked more like a Prius navigating a boulder field. Forward progress has been difficult to come by."