Sometimes, excelling at something jades peoples’ expectations of you. That’s likely how the Wisconsin Badgers’ starting defense feels after a narrow escape of a game Georgia State team looking to validate a trip across the country with a victory at Camp Randall Stadium.
See, unless you’ve been living under a rock since 2013, Wisconsin’s defense is pretty alright. And by pretty alright, it’s among the best in the country. However, that means that anytime it bends and/or breaks, people are concerned that suddenly the Badgers are no longer good at footballing.
Sojourn Shelton gave a little perspective after the game, and spoke to the probably unrealistic expectations fans place on the Badgers’ defense, which gave up two offensive touchdowns to the Panthers.
“You see, it’s funny. Last week against Akron, we had the one play where we missed a couple tackles, and suddenly, ‘The Badgers can’t tackle,’” Shelton said. “This week, we had one play where we missed some tackles, ‘The Badgers can’t tackle again.’
“They’re on scholarship too, they’re going to make some plays.”
By the way, Saturday’s outing raised Wisconsin’s total offensive touchdowns allowed to three. Not so bad.
T.J. Edwards returned to the starting lineup against Georgia State after missing the LSU game and playing as a substitute against Akron. The redshirt sophomore mentioned that “I don’t know if you’re expecting to roll through any team,” which seemed to be an overwhelming sentiment from all of the Badgers who spoke to the media. While the casual fan may have seen Georgia State as a lesser opponent, the Badgers certainly didn’t.
T.J. Watt, who had multiple pressures on the day, said, “They are a great team, we knew that coming into this game. ... I don’t think we overlooked them, but yes they do have good players.”
Head coach Paul Chryst spoke after the game, and mentioned an interesting outlook on this situation. “You're right, we had some missed tackles. Part of that, when we do it on offense, it’s what we expect. You know, you’re running through it, and defensively we want to make every tackle. So there are always going to be those things we've got to keep working on.”
On another note, Chryst spoke about how he reacts to players’ mistakes can be crucial to how they respond.
“I think that no kid goes out there and says, ‘This would be a good time to fumble. This would be a good time to drop one.’ I think you've got to be careful how you react to them and coach them.”
This could be directly pointed at redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Penniston, who was playing in place of the injured Troy Fumagalli. After recording a catch early, Penniston dropped two straight targets, partially responsible for the “lack of rhythm” in the offense that triggered Chryst to switch quarterbacks to Alex Hornibrook in the third quarter.
Penniston wasn’t screamed at and punished by Chryst or his teammates for the drops. Rather, he was targeted in two crucial points in the game. Hornibrook connected with his tight end on a 29-yard corner route to put the Badgers in scoring position, and finished the drive with a touchdown pass to Penniston.
Penniston, who was an early enrollee with Hornibrook in January 2015, said that route was one of their favorites. The tight end position has been a steadying element to Chryst’s Wisconsin offenses, and Penniston looks to be the next in line for this role (without, of course, knowing how long Fumagalli will be sidelined).