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3 things we learned from Wisconsin’s loss to Penn State

Jonathan Taylor is a very good football player.

Wisconsin v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

After a second full game of watching Jack Coan play quarterback, at least headed toward next week, Wisconsin fans should be revisiting the anti-Alex Hornibrook narrative that was spread throughout much of the fanbase.

Whether you like it or not, it’s become clear that Hornibrook, at least right now, is a much more effective quarterback operating within the Wisconsin offense. I don’t want to hear anything about Coan’s mobility, or his athleticism, or his stronger arm, or whatever other lazy narrative you want to come up with. Hornibrook gives Wisconsin the best chance to win on a weekly basis.

Jonathan Taylor did things that have become synonymous with the sophomore from New Jersey. A smooth 100+ yards in the first quarter, but unfortunately he can’t do everything offensively on his own.

Once again, Wisconsin’s defense kept the Badgers in the ballgame, with Zack Baun playing his best game as a collegian and Andrew Van Ginkel flashing some of the potential for big plays he exhibited late last season. Trace McSorley was contained to an extent, and though Myles Sanders ran for over 100 yards, Wisconsin’s defense held tough near the end zone, forcing field goals rather than touchdowns.

Here’s what we learned.

1. Wisconsin’s offensive linemen are not good pass blockers

This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, but apparently fans think that because the unit was over-hyped to begin the season, it can’t ever allow any pressures or sacks or miss any blocks.

Look, here’s the deal. Did Wisconsin perform well on Saturday? Certainly not up to its standard, and the Badgers would be the first to tell you. But Wisconsin ran for over 200 yards as a team and was OK. If games like today are your bad games, you’re pretty good.

Wisconsin basically plays with five right guards on the offensive line. You can say, “But Owen, I’ve looked at NFL mock drafts, and David Edwards is a projected first-round offensive tackle!” And you’d be right. But he’s played the position for less than three full seasons. He’s still learning it and will continue to improve. He has a ton of potential, but he’s nowhere near a finished product. He, like his other running mates, are much better run blockers than pass protectors.

Teams with defensive lines that get upfield are going to give Wisconsin trouble when the Badgers are behind or get behind the sticks. Simple as that. You saw it last year in Indy with Ohio State.

The fact of the matter is ubertalented defensive lines are insanely more athletic than ubertalented offensive lines, and making the less-athletic players retreat isn’t optimal.

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

2. It’s easy to be critical of the play calling and offensive philosophy

Admittedly, it’s been pretty easy to criticize the Badgers given how this season has gone. But we’ve gotta have a talk here. I see a lot of bitching and complaining on Twitter, but Wisconsin can’t simultaneously:

  • Let Jack Coan throw it more, and
  • Ask why Jonathan Taylor isn’t getting more carries, and
  • Throw it deep more often, and
  • Use more quick-hitting plays, and
  • Run the hurry-up offense

I get it. It’s frustrating to watch Wisconsin’s struggling offense while being able to change the channel and watch Lincoln Riley’s Oklahoma team seemingly score at will and look damn good doing it, or looking down in Tuscaloosa and seeing Alabama’s sophomore phenom quarterback just chuck it downfield at will into receivers’ hands, or even watch Penn State utilize its perimeter speed and spread run game to give Wisconsin issues.

But they’re not Wisconsin. So while you can pine and complain and wish that Wisconsin’s offense didn’t look the way it does, that’s not going to change unless you go buy a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 with NCAA Football 14 and let your dreams come true.

Paul Chryst can’t be endorsed by fans for “knowing the Wisconsin way” and “taking pride in playing like Wisconsin plays” and on the other hand come out and run the Run and Shoot and throw caution to the wind offensively.

Wisconsin plays conservatively because it has to. Twitter heroes want Wisconsin to go for it on every fourth down past midfield, but that’s not their M.O. Wisconsin takes the air out of the ball, owns time of possession, and suffocates its opponents. However, unfortunately that lends itself to a small margin for error. That margin is existentially smaller with a backup quarterback. It is what it is.

You can complain all you want, but things aren’t going to change. When things go well, everything is grand. When things aren’t, Wisconsin’s coaching staff sucks. You have to pick one or the other.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

3. Wisconsin is effectively out of the race for the Big Ten West

While every fiber of my being did not anticipate typing that thought in August, the reality is that Wisconsin’s bid for another trip to Indy is, for all intents and purposes, dashed for this year.

Disappointing? Absolutely. A reason to panic? Not even close. There are probably six programs—Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Georgia, and maybe LSU—who rarely, if ever, had “down” seasons over the past decade or so. And of those, the heavyweights of the blue-bloods of college football (holy buckets, Florida State) have down seasons from time to time.

Wisconsin could salvage an 8–4 season heading into a bowl game, which is entirely possible. At worst, the possibility is 8–5. If that’s your “down” season? You’re doing just fine.

Badger fans, y’all gotta chill out a little bit. Good teams lose. It happens. The sun came out today, and the Packers will play. Life isn’t nearly as bad as you act it is for three hours each Saturday.