There were quite a few pieces on the Internet this weekend saying the sky isn't falling after the Wisconsin Badgers' performance on Saturday. After all, the Badgers still have a lot to play for, and if LSU improves as the season goes along, the College Football Playoff isn't out of the question for UW.
While that is absolutely true, there's also one thing most people didn't put into those statements: it's hard for the sky to fall twice.
Yes, the Badgers can definitely pick up the pieces and turn this season into something more than yet another missed opportunity. But Saturday night was a meltdown of major proportions. I mean, any loss that starts fomenting conspiracy theories is a loss that left people dodging falling stars.
So let's attempt to leave it all on the table. One last time. Let's talk about the four things that cost the Badgers on Saturday. If only one piece of this loss didn't fall into play, no one would give much concern to the other three.
The injuries to the defensive line
This is the one that caused the hurt that only fueled the fury about the loss, if only because this was the one the Badgers could not control. Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring were a part of the reason why Wisconsin's front seven controlled the LSU running game and, for the moment, derailed the Leonard Fournette hype train -- at least until the Badgers were down to five dressed and healthy defensive linemen. That definitely helps explain why the Badgers started getting weird with the schemes on defense, though I am surprised that defensive coordinator Dave Aranda didn't try a 2-5 setup.
The good news? Those injuries looked a lot more serious than they really are. Herring seems like he will probably be ready to go for Western Illinois, and Zagzebski will be back soon as well. The defense should be rocking and rolling before too long.
Let's go front and center: the new face of the team had an indefensible performance. I mean, 8-for-24 for 50 yards and two interceptions is typically a case where the most popular player on the team is the backup quarterback. But if you ask if Tanner McEvoy was put in the best position for his skill set, the answer has to be no.
I'll explain further, but McEvoy's bad performance was exacerbated. Considering Joel Stave is having shoulder issues again, would you have wanted Bart Houston or D.J. Gillins out there? In the heat of Saturday, I could see some of you saying yes. Logically, there wouldn't have been much success in making a change.
McEvoy gets a second start against Western Illinois this Saturday, and that's fine. One game shouldn't change everything, and the offensive line did have some issues pass-blocking against good athletes last year, too. I mean, no one's going to defend the performance, but a position switch would just be too silly right now.
If we had a Stephen Colbert on notice board with Tanner McEvoy front and center, that's the proper amount of silly.
Ask an Oregon Ducks fan about Andy Ludwig, and you'll get something akin to my Twitter feed on Saturday night: a lot of yelling, a little bit of cursing and eventually fighting back tears. Ludwig's been a bit of a journeyman offensive coordinator and the face of multiple Pac-12 offenses going bad. Let's be honest -- the only way he doesn't get an "F" for the game is if you thought that Reggie Love run was pretty sweet. Even then, he's likely getting an F-plus.
Anyway, remember the part were I said Tanner McEvoy was hung out to dry like an errant Tanner McEvoy pass? Let's get into that. I've got two reasons as to why.
1. There was little effort to keep Alex Erickson in the game.
The one aspect of the passing game that had a semblance of clicking was when McEvoy looked for Erickson. He went to Erickson five times; three were caught. They were on short-to-intermediate routes, and they resulted in the passing game's best performances. The sad fact is, then, that Erickson had absolutely zero targets in the second half.
Sure, LSU's obvious strength was in the secondary and Wisconsin was likely going to struggle in the passing game. But let's be honest -- if you have something that works, you're going to try to, at the very least, get back to that, right? I mean, common sense would dictate that, right?
2. Nine bad pass calls, 10 bad results.
Our own Jake Kocorowski spent the remainder of the weekend doing punishing work. He charted the game, and then to unwind, he read my screenplay. Without his help, we wouldn't have found out some lessons about the second half. I'm thankful I didn't have to do that work.
Look at it this way: you have a mobile quarterback whose accuracy is wobbling against an athletic defense that's gaining confidence, and there's the Bilderberg group that's holding Melvin Gordon back. What would you do?
Probably keep it simple, right? Quick-hitting run plays, maybe some draws and screens for deception? Passes are going to be necessary, but you can keep it simple that way. Quick crosses, hitches, hooks, slants and that ilk, because while UW's offensive line is a veteran one, the longer you have to protect against an athletic defense because of slower-developing receiver routes against a great secondary, you're gonna have a bad time.
As for the Badgers, they only designed one route as a rollout, because it's not like McEvoy's going to threaten any defense with his legs, right? There was also a quick pass to Love. The only other completion was to Jordan Fredrick, who ran a route short of the first-down marker.
Everything else was a dropback. Everything else was downfield. That's a lot of attacking LSU right at the core of its strength. I mean, I'm an idiot and I saw that as a bad idea. The fact that Ludwig didn't seem to? Definitely problematic.
I was one of those who was excited for Gary Andersen to come to Madison. Straight away. He did very well with the pieces that were in place in 2013. The secondary got clowned toward the end, but oh well. He seemed like a smart guy, and a good recruiter.
That guy seemed to be left behind in Madison on Saturday.
If you don't know how your star player is disappearing for quarters at a time, you're not doing your job. If you're allowing dumb conspiracy theories to form about how HAARP is controlling Melvin Gordon's hip flexor, you've screwed something up along the way. If you're so afraid of an injury leaking out, you did not do the right thing as a coach.
I'm still behind Andersen, don't get that twisted. We all have bad days. It's just the team has to know whom they're going to try to win with and whom they're going to try and win for. You should never, ever lose track of the star player. You should also work extra hard not to have a narrative form about you.
Unfortunately, Andersen has one now. Great recruiter, good coach, has teams that can punch higher-ranked opponents square in the mouth. But the Badgers cannot handle a counter from a big-time opponent. Andersen won a lot at Utah State, but there was never that signature victory there. He's now had a couple of chances to level up the Badgers' fall by the wayside. I suppose if you're about to ask if the honeymoon's over, I'd respond with my enjoying the Badgers is sleeping on the couch.
The good news is that Directional Illinois is coming. That offers Wisconsin a chance to rebuild the foundation and see what McEvoy can do when the Badger fans aren't reading the game as "Everything Awful: Oh God, Somebody Do Something." Saturday was a bad day, made worse by the fact that it was so close to a beat-'em-down in the other direction.
But the sun's out. It's a new day, and at the very least, no one's going to get cocky next year when the Badgers are somehow up 21-7 on Alabama.
Because we're totally going to do that.