Guess what, folks? It’s story time again! So, my daughter got very sick last Wednesday. Like, puking sick. Which was super fun to deal with and not at all gross. My wife and I thought that we had escaped sickness ourselves because neither of us were sick by Friday afternoon. Boy howdy were we wrong!
I had to leave work Friday night because of my stomach issues and then spent the rest of Friday night violently expelling liquid out of both ends of my body. Around 4 a.m., my wife jostles me awake and demands that I pass her the bucket that I had set up as sentinel next to my side of the bed in case things got hairy. SHE then spends the rest of the night violently vomiting. I have to call into work Saturday morning and the two of us basically let our daughter raise herself. (JK, Grandma came over and helped out which ... led to her getting sick. Grandpa was already sick and Auntie got sick this week. My daughter is Patient Zero.)
We had to cancel the party we were planning to throw for the B1G Championship Game, which means I’ve got a bunch of beer and eggnog at my house if any of y’all wanna come over this week! My wife was pregnant during the B1G Championship last year and I was at work, so this was the second straight year neither of us had a drop to drink during the game. Maybe that’s the problem? I vow to you this, fair readers: If Wisconsin makes the B1G Championship Game next year, my wife and I will get so rip-roaringly drunk that Hemingway would be impressed.
Anyways, I tell you this graphic story of bodily functions because I would much rather go through all of that again than watch Wisconsin play Ohio State another time. I wasn’t nervous heading into the game because I thought this year’s team was different. I thought they were special.
I was wrong and dumb and stupid to think that.
Whenever Wisconsin plays Ohio State in football, there are two indisputable facts: 1) Ohio State is the more talented team; and 2) Wisconsin has to play a perfect game to win. Everyone knows, or at least should know by now, that you have to recruit at an extremely high level to win national titles in college football. There’s a reason that it’s basically the same teams every year that have a chance to win it all. Clemson had a successful run on recruiting (a bunch of top-15 classes starting in 2011) that led up to it becoming a national title contender. Alabama, Ohio State, and company are consistently in the top 10 of recruiting rankings.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, would lose its freaking mind if it broke 30th on any recruiting rankings site. The Badgers are better than just about any team in the country in finding under-recruited kids and turning them into starters and all-conference team members. It’s honestly amazing that they’ve been able to do it so well for so long. Unfortunately, when it comes time to chase down basically an Olympic sprinter who has burst through your defense’s arm tackles into wide swaths of open field, the under-recruited kid is probably not going to catch up.
As far as playing a perfect game goes, that is pretty hard to do against Utah State let alone Ohio State. Everyone who has watched one offensive possession of Wisconsin football this year knew that Alex Hornibrook was going to throw at least one interception. AND THAT’S FINE! He’s done it all year and, honestly, it seems to get him in a rhythm once he does it. But, against Ohio State ... you can’t do that shit. You can’t be driving in the red zone, after forcing a three-and-out, to take the lead in the most important game in program history against a team that has fairly consistently tormented you throughout your decades-long climb from the hopeless depths of empty stadia and winless conference records to the top of the best conference in college football (suck my butt, SEC) ... and throw a sideline jump ball to your tight end who was never once open on the play.
You just can’t.
Now, Hornibrook was not the problem on Saturday. The offensive line’s inability to move Ohio State’s defensive line even a millimeter off the line of scrimmage on run plays was a problem. The same offensive line also seemed to struggle to give Hornibrook long enough to throw the ball in the inevitable passing situations Wisconsin found themselves in due to the aforementioned “non-millimeter moving.” The defense was stout ... mostly, but gave up so many big plays I’ve lost track of them in my head. Hell, the turf couldn’t even stay stapled to the freaking ground on the Badgers’ only offensive touchdown. Needless to say, this was NOT a perfect game from the Badgers.
And yet ... they only lost by six and had the ball with a chance to drive down the field and win the game. How on God’s green Earth did that happen? Well, for one thing, Wisconsin’s defense is really quite good. That always helps. For another thing, the Badgers (the last B1G Championship Game against OSU notwithstanding) almost never get blown out. Because, despite the “star disparity” between OSU and Wisconsin there is never a disparity of ::throws up in mouth:: grit and toughness. The Badgers fight and scratch and claw until the final whistle and that’s something that all of those under-recruited players bring to the program.
The Badgers had a great damn season and I’m ... excited isn’t the word ... but I’m looking forward to playing Miami in the Orange Bowl. A whole bunch of extra practices will be good for the young offense and Florida has been a fertile recruiting ground for Wisconsin, so it’s always nice to play a game down there and remind high school kids that aren’t quite good enough to play at FAU or UCF (the two undeniable powers in Florida college football) they can skip out of going to FSU and barely making a bowl and come to Madison.
Wisconsin will probably never recruit at the level of Ohio State. There are too many entrenched factors that will prohibit that. However, if the Badgers can recruit at a slightly higher level and continue to mine Wisconsin and Minnesota and Illinois for small-town kids who get passed over ... they just might be able to finally beat Ohio State in a conference title game one day. This is what I tell myself to keep myself from losing it every time Khalil Iverson misses a bunny because it’s freaking basketball season now baby! AND WHY CAN’T THE BADGERS MAKE LAYUPS?!?! YOU TOO, HAPP! Christ...
S&P+ rank: 1st overall, 6th offense, 11th defense
Last week’s result: (W) vs. No. 4 Wisconsin 27–21
Biggest strength: Dobby the House Elf ran roughshod over the Badgers’ defense for 174 yards on 10.2 yards per carry. Although, if you take away his one long run, he didn’t rush for 100 yards. I don’t know? I’m just saying. Had two huge passing touchdowns that exposed the Badgers secondary. I will admit to not having heard of linebacker Jerome Baker before this game, but let me tell you what, I’ve sure as hell heard of him now. That dude was everywhere! 16 tackles, two for a loss, and one sack. And if he didn’t make the tackle, it seemed like I still saw his name because he was right next to the pile ready to make the tackle should some foolish Badger ball carrier try and gain another yard. Picked off Hornibrook twice.
Biggest weakness: J.T. Barrett played well for a guy less than a week removed from knee surgery, but he did not really have a “good game” per se. He threw two picks and missed a staggering number of open receivers deep down the field. It was honestly horrifying every time he uncorked a long ball because as the camera zoomed out I couldn’t see any Badger defenders most of the time. Mike Weber only carried the ball four times and lost a fumble. I feel like those two things may be related.
This week’s schedule: Not the College Football Playoff
S&P+ rank: 6th overall, 44th offense, 1st defense
Last week’s result: (L) vs. No. 8 Ohio State 27–21
Biggest strength: Andrew Van Ginkel was on a one-man mission to make sure the Badgers didn’t lose this game. He had a pick-six and recovered a fumble. He was amazing. Ryan Connelly and T.J. Edwards were predictably quite good. Danny Davis and Austin Ramesh (!!!) were explosive in the passing game, or at least as explosive as they could be given the situation. Garrett Groshek completed a nice pass to Hornibrook that would have been a touchdown if he led him ... hmm, does anyone on the roster know how to lead a receiver? My beautiful, bouncing, bulging, Brazilian, baby boy made all three of his kicks, including a 46-yarder that was a NO-DOUBTER.
Biggest weakness: Running the dang ball. Wisconsin couldn’t do it and that meant Hornibrook had to huck it 40 times. That COULD NOT have been the game plan Paul Chryst and company prepared for this game. Tackling on a lot of those big plays was atrocious, which was so weird because Wisconsin is an excellent tackling team. The Badgers averaged under two yards per carry! I mean, are you kidding me? They couldn’t get a pass interference call on the last drive to offset their holding penalty. Didn’t lose the game for Wisconsin, but certainly didn’t help win it either.
This week’s schedule: Also Not the College Football Playoff, so I guess we are even with Ohio State here!