Welcome to another edition of the B5Q roundtable, where the points don’t count and we always fire Drew Hamm (who was in attendance for the game this weekend, but we could not meet up—sorry, my friend).
The Wisconsin Badgers squandered a 10-point halftime lead and lost in overtime to the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes 30-23 on Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium.
As after every game, our group of B5Q writers assembled to give their takes on what went well, what could be improved upon, and some early thoughts about facing their next opponent.
The Good: Despite the final outcome, what went well for Wisconsin?
Cory Lindenberg: The ability of the coaching staff and players to develop and execute a game plan against such a formidable foe. Offensively, a young and inconsistent unit was able to find ways to poke holes in a defense that didn’t allow a rushing touchdown all season. The use of the Jazz Peavy jet sweep to open up lanes to the outside, and then using the false action of the jet sweep to set up some runs for nice gains up the middle was a particularly effective way to loosen up the defense. Defensively, the Badgers seemed to make the decision to force J.T. Barrett’s hand and make him beat us through the air, and for the most part the cornerbacks and linebackers were able to manage one on one coverage of Ohio St physically imposing receivers while the front seven was able to generally keep a lid on an explosive Buckeye ground attack.
Jon Beidelschies: Agree with both Cory above and Owen below (with some caveats I’ll discuss in the next section). An overlooked positive of the game: placekicker Andrew Endicott. In a big game, he did his job well. There will be more close games later this year and he gave confidence that he can make kicks if he needs to. Weak specialists can kill a good team (see, e.g., former UW defensive coordinator Dave Doeren’s North Carolina State squad missing out on a Clemson upset because their kicker missed three field goals). It’s nice to have some of the uncertainty around the kicking position cleared up.
Owen Riese: I think the biggest thing was, for the first time in quite some time, that looked like Badger football. It wasn’t a "dominant" rushing attack, but it absolutely produced well against one of the best defenses in the country. Corey Clement looked like the back he was in 2014, and in flashes Hornibrook hit the big play. Under attack from a scary pass rush Hornibrook never really looked panicked, maybe rushed a couple of times, but showed nice poise. The offense’s ability to move the ball at times against a defense with no less than 5-6 future NFL players on it was impressive. The Badgers won’t see a defense this good for quite a while, probably not until the Big Ten Championship game (wishful thinking) or the bowl game.
The Bad: What prevented the Badgers from upsetting the Buckeyes?
Cory: Being able to finish tackling Barrett. I counted no less than three plays where the Badgers had Barrett in their grasp, and if they could have finished him off, points would go off of the board. The clearest example being the Ohio St touchdown on 3rd and 6 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Badgers brought the heat from Cichy and Watt from the left, and if they would have completed the play the Buckeye’s would be facing 4th and at least 10, probably ending the drive with 3 points instead of 7. Instead Barrett evades Cichy and makes his way into the end zone. Barrett continued to do this throughout the game, escaping Badgers to extend drives and hit chunk yardage on passing plays.
Jon: Offensive line play, particularly in the second half. They had a tough time keeping the OSU rush off of Hornibrook, particularly in third and long. The screen was there all day, but the blockers could not seem to get to the defense to spring it loose. I’ve talked about the line being back, but this game really highlighted the lack of depth up front and how far it has to go to be able to match-up with elite front sevens.
Owen: Cory touched on this a little bit, but open field tackling bit the Badgers more than a few times. This comes from elite athletes being in the open field, but it is what it is. In 2010 JJ Watt was able to bring down Terrelle Pryor on those shoestring tackles, JT Barrett was able to escape from TJ Watt’s this year. When you play a team as talented as Ohio State, the margin for error is so small. Also failing to capitalize in the red zone was huge. Jake used this analogy in the 3 Things piece, but the Badgers had the Buckeyes reeling and on the ropes, but couldn’t put them away. Ohio State is too good to keep "adding on" rather than stepping on their throats with the scoring. In 2010, Wisconsin got up 21-0, and was able to hold on. The Badgers only led by 10 yesterday, and it wasn’t enough.
Next Up: Iowa. What are your early keys to be game against the Hawkeyes next Saturday?
Cory: Avoid the trap. It's easy to say but hard to do. Coming off of a game full of so much emotion and importance, and waiting for a game against another top 10 Cornhusker team the next week, it wouldn’t be unexpected to see the Badgers come out flat against an Iowa team that has started to put it together after some tough losses in the beginning of the year. Strategically, if Dooley has to miss any time and Biegel can’t go, stopping the Iowa rushing attack will play a significant role in crafting a Badger win. The defense has stopped or at least limited potent rushing attacks in the past, but as injuries continue to mount it will be more challenging to take away the one aspect of offense that Iowa will want to hang it’s hat on.
Jon: (1) Execute: This team has now demonstrated two weeks in a row that if it executes its system, it is as good as any team in the country. As Owen notes below, 2016 Iowa is not 2015 Iowa. If the Badgers continue to be disciplined and stay within their system, they should be able to walk out Kinnick with the win. (2) Clean up the quarterback play. For the third game in a row, Hornibrook made a couple of egregiously bad reads (spoiler alert: freshman). It’s not just the soul crushing interceptions. The missed throw to Ogunbowale near the end zone was the worst possible option in the situation as he wouldn’t have scored even if he’d caught the ball. As Owen noted while we were putting this together, people said the same thing about Stave, but the fact that Hornibrook is performing at a similar level as freshman tells me he has much room to grow out of the "no-no-no-OH-NO" type throws that feel like a slowly unfolding trainwreck in the moment.
Owen: Iowa clearly isn’t what it was a year ago, but they’re never an easy opponent to put away, especially in Iowa City. The Iowa offense is far from explosive, but the Badgers will have to execute in the red zone and score some points to keep this from being a white knuckle game again this season. The run game will have to set the tone for the afternoon, and Hornibrook will have to make a few plays. He’s not going to be asked to carry the team by any stretch of the imagination, but he has to compliment the run game.