Never have I been so discontent with a 9-3 season in my life. Sure, that is mostly a product of the incredible run Wisconsin has enjoyed over the past few seasons, but I cannot get away from thinking this year could have been so much more.
Frustration and shock: Those are the two words that best describe my emotions as I watched Wisconsin lug around Camp Randall Stadium against a Penn State team that had been woeful on the road all season.
The coaching staff looked bewildered on the sideline, especially in the third quarter when we saw multiple sets on defense without the requisite 11 men on the field. Heck, the Badgers didn't even wake up until late in the fourth quarter when desperation had ultimately set in. How does that happen on Senior Day, and with there still being a possible BCS berth on the line?
"Utterly unacceptable" is the only way I can peg Saturday's performance by the whole program. This is none-too-happy a camper, and I'm sure all of Badger Nation feels close to the same way.
I really don't know what happened against the Nittany Lions, but I'll try to dissect the Badgers' atrocious performance as best I can. Here is our final Monday-after diagnosis of the regular season.
What we liked
Jack Russell's 48-yard field goal late in the 4th quarter was one of just a couple bright spots from Saturday's game that I can think of. Following the demotion of Kyle French, Russell has been solid, and while he doesn't have a prototypical Division I leg, that kick was big-time.
He at least gave the Badgers a chance late, and that's really all any of us could ask for given how terribly they played throughout.
Also, Jared Abbrederis and his precision route-running was on full display Saturday. I don't know if I've seen a collegiate wideout come out of breaks cleaner than Abby does, as he was yet again three or four steps clear of PSU's defensive backs when catching balls from Joel Stave.
What a sensational career Abbrederis has had in a Wisconsin uniform, and I'm happy that his final season ended with him eclipsing the thousand-yard mark. It seems fitting given how productive he's been the past four years. As long as he puts on a little bulk and stays healthy, I really believe he could be a productive player on Sundays.
What needs to improve
Well, there really are a multitude of different answers I could give here, but the most glaring thing the Badgers need to work on in advance of their bowl game is simply lining up properly. I mean it sounds ridiculous to even say that, but it's true.
On Penn State's touchdown drive early in the third quarter, Wisconsin trotted out fewer than 11 men twice. Twice! That is both egregious and inexcusable.
Wisconsin's secondary was lackluster yet again against a talented throwing quarterback. In fact, looking back at the season, the three worst games from the Wisconsin secondary resulted in the three losses. Interesting correlation, huh?
You can't put full blame on the secondary for allowing freshman Christian Hackenberg to throw for over 300 yards, because the kid had all day to throw the football. The Badgers' front seven failed to put any pressure on the up-and-coming QB, and he picked them apart all game long.
Another area that needs major improvement over the next month is the Wisconsin passing attack. Sure, Joel Stave threw for well over 300 yards, but we all know that statistic doesn't indicate how average he was yet again Saturday. He had four overthrows to Abbrederis alone, and one of them resulted in an easy interception.
I'm not sure if Stave will be Wisconsin's quarterback next season, and I sure hope competition for the job emerges and overtakes him, but he will be starting in the Badgers' January bowl game.
If Wisconsin gets the nod for the Capital One Bowl, it is likely the Badgers will draw either South Carolina or the loser of the SEC Championship game. Either way, they'll be facing a top-10 team with an elite and athletic defense. Quite simply, Wisconsin can't win its bowl game against a top-flight team without having run/pass balance on offense, and I'm fearful Stave can't deliver that balance against SEC-caliber competition.
Which player impressed?
Short and sweet answer here: Abbrederis, and that's truly it. Everybody else was either average, or well below that. I'll give senior Brian Wozniak a shout-out for catching two touchdowns in his final game at Camp Randall. Cool moment for him.
Which player underwhelmed?
Stave undoubtedly gets noted here.
The whole Badgers secondary was unimpressive trying to slow down the Big Ten's best wide receiver in Allen Robinson.
But I think I'll go a different route with this answer. For me, Wisconsin's coaching staff was the one part of the team Saturday that was the most off its game. Gary Andersen looked legitimately perplexed multiple times when the camera caught his expressions on the sideline. He even acknowledged after the game that Penn State's offensive coaches beat him Saturday.
As solid and generally mistake-free as Wisconsin had been all season, it was a shock to the system to see Andersen and his staff outcoached as badly as they were by Bill O'Brien.
Granted, O'Brien is an emerging superstar coach in my estimation, but still, the degree by which Andersen was out-coached at home, on Senior Day, against a far inferior team, with BCS aspirations still alive... everything about Saturday was simply shocking. I can't offer a whole lot more than that.
This seems to be very much a likelihood given how things might shake out this weekend in respective conference championship games.
I'll obviously wait on giving a prediction until we draw closer to Jan. 1, but if the Badgers do draw the Gamecocks, I don't like the matchup for Wisconsin.
Since they'll have about a month to prepare, the Badgers will undoubtedly deliver a better performance in the bowl game than they did Saturday, but South Carolina is flat-out good. Connor Shaw is savvy, veteran quarterback with solid weapons, and the Gamecocks also have a defensive end named Jadeveon Clowney that would give Wisconsin's o-Line tons of trouble.
Ultimately, it would take Wisconsin's best performance of the year to knock off South Carolina, and I can't say I'm confident that would happen after what I witnessed Saturday.