Don't look now, but after the UW offense failed to score a touchdown in two straight losses against Ohio State and Iowa, the Badgers have responded well with a total of 68 points in two straight wins over Purdue and Indiana.
Still, while the points and yards continue to pile up on that side of the ball, there have been a few red flags. For instance, Saturday against Indiana, the only ones who could stop the UW offense was the UW offense itself.
After going back and reviewing the film from Saturday, two sequences of events in the first half stood out as Wisconsin left at least 7 points on the board in the first 30 minutes of play.
The first came when Wisconsin had a 10-7 lead at the start of the second quarter and a first and 10 at the IU 1-yard line. Like we have oddly seen before this season, Paul Chryst called a passing play on first down and the intended pass for Garrett Graham fell incomplete after being tipped at the line of scrimmage. On second down, Scott Tolzien fell down after his feet got tangled with center Peter Konz and on third down Issac Anderson was flagged for offensive pass interference (more on this in a minute), which wiped out a touchdown pass to Lance Kendricks. Wisconsin settled for a field goal, leaving four points off the scoreboard.
On UW's last drive of the half, Tolzien rolled out to his right and hit a wide open Garrett Graham down the field at the 25 yard line. The only problem? Graham started running before he secured the football and he dropped it for an incomplete pass. The completion would have at least put UW in field goal range, but it's very possible Graham could have scored on the play. He was that open.
All in all, UW left at least 7 points (maybe 10) off the scoreboard in the first half. To make matters worse, after Graham's drop, Anderson dropped one on third down that would have kept the drive going. Instead, IU went 80 yards and scored a touchdown. Now, to their credit, the Badgers managed to come back with a touchdown of their own before the half was over, but they could have been up as much as 34-14 at the half, instead of only 24-14.
Now, let's go back to the questionable pass interference call on Anderson on the first missed opportunity. This was very simply just a bad call. And I'll show you why.
If you look at the tape, Issac Anderson picks his own guy. The whole definition of the illegal "pick" play, is that while running a crossing route, you make contact with the defender covering your teammate, creating space for your teammate to catch the pass. Let's take a look at the tape:
Anderson is lined up at the top of your screen and is covered by cornerback Adrian Burks. Strong safety Austin Thomas is covering Kendricks.
Here's how the play unfolds:
Anderson simply runs forward and jams with the corner covering him. In no way is he "picking" the guy who is covering Kendricks. Now you can argue that IU was in a zone and Burks was going to go out to cover Kendricks, but at this point he has made no attempt to move towards the sideline and Thomas appears to be trying to go behind Burks the entire play. This is a mix up in coverage, not offensive pass interference.
Understandably, Anderson and Bielema weren't too happy about the call. After looking at the rest of the game film, they probably weren't too happy that Indiana got away with an actual pick play later in the game on their first touchdown of the second half.
Here's how the illegal pick play is actually run (and when offensive pass interference should be called):
Belcher is the wide receiver lined up to the outside, while Terrance Turner is in the slot. Belcher is going to run inside and pick free safety Chris Maragos who is covering Turner. Turner then runs an out-route underneath. Here's how the play unfolds:
As you can see, Belcher clearly runs into Maragos as Turner begins his cut to the sideline where he is wide open for the touchdown.
If the officials are going to be "picky" and call the pass inteference on UW when they shouldn't have, then they could at least be consistent with the call. Of course, it wasn't same official on that side of the field.
After watching the rest of the film, here's how I grade out the Badgers after their 31-28 win over Indiana:
Scott Tolzien's numbers weren't fantastic (11-of-20 for 194 yards and one touchdown), but Graham and Anderson each dropped wide open passes and I thought he did a great job of managing the game. He didn't turn the ball over and he made great decisions all day long, specifically on his touchdown pass when he passed on a wide open Garrett Graham who was open right in front of him and went to Anderson instead, who was open in the end zone for the score.
Running backs: A+
267 yards, three touchdowns and no fumbles. It can't get much better than that. John Clay continued to dominate the Big Ten with 134 yards and a touchdown on only 15 carries before a head injury put Montee Ball in the rest of the way. All Ball did was pick up 115 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries and take over the final drive of the game to run out the clock and secure the win.
Wide receivers: B
Nick Toon was outstanding with five catches for 123 yards. Four of those catches came on crucial third downs, including a 17-yard gain on 3rd and 8 with 2:28 remaining in the game. Anderson had a good game with three catches for 43 yards and a touchdown, but his drop on third down late in the second quarter killed UW's momentum and put the ball in the hands of Ben Chappell who marched down the field in only three plays to keep IU in the game before halftime.
Tight ends: D
The blocking was fine, but Graham was virtually invisible in the passing game and dropped a pass on what could have been a 50-yard touchdown play in the second quarter. Kendricks caught one pass for seven yards and had a touchdown wiped out on the "pick play".
Offensive line: A
The run blocking was beautiful all day long, exemplified on John Moffitt's key block in the first quarter that sprung John Clay on a 47-yard run into IU territory. The line didn't allow a sack and Jake Bscherer actually made the line better when he came in for Josh Oglesby after the right tackle went down with an apparent left knee injury with 8:18 left in the second quarter. You have to feel for Oglesby because you could hear him scream on television when the injury happened, but he was struggling against Jamie Kirlew and Bscherer shut the talented defensive end down the rest of the game.
Defensive line: C
The run defense was stout, only allowing 2.4 yards per carry, but the line didn't put much pressure on Chappell who was able to pick apart the secondary for 323 yards and three touchdowns while completing 25-of-35 passes. O'Brien Schofield still managed two TFLs and he forced an interception when he hit Chappell on a throw in the third quarter. He didn't get much help from his fellow linemates, however.
Chris Borland gets an A as the true freshman continues to play like a veteran out there. He led the team with nine tackles, added an interception and a TFL, while his blitzes wreaked havoc all day. Blake Sorensen got a good amount of reps at middle linebacker and he played well with five tackles, although he gave up a big pass play in the second half when he went for the ball instead of playing the man.
Niles Brinkley continued to struggle, most notably on Indiana's touchdown late in the second quarter when he gave up a 33-yard pass to Terrance Turner and then two plays later gave up a 46-yard touchdown to Tandon Doss. Devin Smith played very well although he gave up a few tough plays on IU's final scoring drive. Antonio Fenelus was the nickel corner and looked average at best. Aaron Henry was nowhere to be seen and practiced at free safety during the week.
Chris Maragos made a nice interception on underneath coverage, but both he and Valai looked confused at times in zone coverage. Both of them were having communication problems with the cornerbacks, specifically Valai and Brinkley who were caught covering the same guy a few times while the other receiver was busy catching the pass.
Special teams: D
Bret Bielema's unit continues to underachieve. The head coach's stubborness with David Gilreath cost the Badgers a touchdown in the first quarter when No. 85 muffed the punt at the 12 yard line. Gilreath should have lost his return job weeks ago, but Bielema still had him in there later in the game. Ironically, Borland had the best return of the day, a 32-yarder late in the second quarter that set Wisconsin up for a touchdown before halftime.