The Monday After: Wisconsin vs. Ohio State

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday's trip to Columbus resulted in another close loss at the hands of the Buckeyes. When are these close games going to turn in the Badgers' favor?

The Wisconsin Badgers had their chances in Columbus to knock off the Ohio StateBuckeyes, but too many stupid mistakes cost them in the end. It's really as simple as that, which for all of us fans out there feels like the same old story.

We knew that Wisconsin had to play close to a flawless game against such a talented Ohio State team on the road, but that didn't happen, and thus, the Badgers didn't deserve to pull off the upset.

After seeing Saturday night's game unfold, we know one thing about this year's Wisconsin squad: it's a good team, not a great team. Gary Andersen voiced the same sentiment during his post-game with Matt Lepay after the loss.

Another thing we learned: OSU is very good, but very beatable, too. If Wisconsin didn't have two turnovers nullified by penalties and Sojourn Shelton comes down with that interception at the end of the first half, we may very well be sitting here analyzing the game within a different frame of mind.

Instead, it's another tough-to-swallow loss as they have so routinely been the past few seasons. Let's get to the Monday-after diagnosis, as difficult as it might be.

What we liked

I thought Joel Stave's ability to respond to the critics and deliver in a big-game atmosphere was a genuinely cool thing to see. I've been as critical as anybody of Stave's play early on this season, but he was very good Saturday. Yes, he had a couple poorly-thrown balls, including the interception, but all in all I was very pleased with his performance.

The fact Stave didn't have much of any help against the Buckeyes makes his game even more impressive. He had to deal with multiple drops from receivers not named Jared Abbrederis and didn't have a consistent run game to balance things out. Plus, everybody in Ohio Stadium knew whom Stave was going to throw to just about every time he dropped back to pass, yet every throw to Abby was right on the money.

I guess the guy is just one of those players who ramps up his level of play for the biggest games on the schedule, which is both a great trait and a frustrating one. If the Stave-Abby connection remains as deadly as it was in the Horseshoe for the rest of the season, Wisconsin will not lose another game. Now the Badgers just have to get the power running game back on track by the time Northwestern comes to town in two weeks.

What needs to improve

It was great in the first four games, but the answer here is the offensive line.

All we heard about going into the game was how inexperienced Ohio State's front seven was, and if it would be able to hold its own against the dominating Wisconsin ground attack. Safe to say that front seven led by Ryan Shazier quieted the doubters.

The Badgers had easily their most ineffective rush output of the season, and the 104 yards they were limited to will undoubtedly end up being the lowest rush output of the season. It was disappointing to see the big palookas up front struggle against the most athletic front seven they'll face all season. If you look back at the past couple of seasons, Wisconsin has struggled to run the ball effectively against its most athletic opponents (OSU, Michigan State, Stanford, etc.). Then consider how many holding and false start penalties the offensive line had and you know the Buckeye front seven won that battle.

I don't expect the offensive line or the Wisconsin run game to struggle again this season, aside from maybe a little bit against Iowa. Obviously this is a bit contingent upon the health of Melvin Gordon, too. Let's hope that dinged up knee isn't anything serious.

Which players impressed?

This is probably the single easiest answer to a diagnosis question so far this season -- it's got to be Abby. He torched a supposedly All-American caliber cornerback in Bradley Roby all night long and in the end had the best game of his career. 10 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown; that's a very solid day at the office.

I continue to marvel at Abbrederris' route-running capabilities. It seems like every ball he catches is without much duress because he's so crisp coming out of his breaks. And then when he does have a guy all over him or a hand in his face, he'll still come down with the football more often than not. He's a special talent and a special Badger, and boy, did he help his draft stock on Saturday night. SI had Roby as the projected 9th overall pick in its latest NFL mock draft a few days ago, and Abbrederis had the guy actin' a fool all game long.

Chris Borland was as impressive as he always is against his home state team with 16 tackles, including two stand-‘em-up stops on short-yards runs. Another special talent, another special Badger. We better soak up all that we can of Borland and Abbrederis because players of their ability only come around ever so often.

One final guy I'll note is Warren Herring. He had a couple sacks against the Buckeyes and looks to be the next stud nose tackle in line to be a dominant force once Beau Allen graduates after the season. Herring should be playing a lot more, in all honesty. He's been creating havoc for opposing offensive lines all season.

Which players underwhelmed?

The one unit that was heavily questioned coming into the season was the Wisconsin secondary, and most of those questions were directed toward young, inexperienced players like Shelton, Peniel Jean and Darius Hillary. But the guy who really just stunk it up Saturday night was senior captain Dezmen Southward.

Southward had the missed assignment at the end of the first half that allowed Philly Brown to sneak behind the defense for a long touchdown pass with essentially no time left. How you allow that play to happen with that amount of time left on the clock is simply inexcusable, and it turned out to be the difference in the game.

Southward also missed a couple tackles that resulted in big plays or first downs for the Buckeyes. The missed tackle that sticks out in my head is his ankle spinning of Dontre Wilson that Wilson then broke and turned into a 21-yard gain down to the Wisconsin 26 yard-line. Dez just gave up early on the tackle and didn't finish the play. Such a little mistake ended up costing the Badgers some points, and all those little mistakes resulted in a Wisconsin loss.

Kyle French also has to be noted here. You can't miss chip-shot 32-yard field goals on the road and win. Just another egregious miss from Frenchy.

Next up:

The Northwestern Wildcats led by head coach Pat Fitzgerald. This should be a solid test for the Badgers, but I like where they get the Wildcats on the schedule.

Wisconsin will be coming off a much-needed bye week, where getting healthy will be of utmost importance. Let's hope Jacob Pedersen and Gordon are back to 100 percent by game time. Andersen will have two weeks to prepare for the likes of Kain Kolter and Venric Mark. Plus, the game is at home during the Badgers' homecoming celebrations.

Couple all of that with the fact Northwestern plays Ohio State in Evanston this weekend. College Gameday will be there and it will be the most anticipated game of the Fitzgerald era. Expect it to be a close game, and Northwestern might even win, but it'll be physically and emotionally drained afterward.

Prediction: I don't think Northwestern will be able to recover from a win or a loss against the Buckeyes by the time they roll to Madison in two weeks. The game will be close in the first 30 minutes, but the Badgers will run away with the victory in the second half.

Wisconsin wins it, 34-17.

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