Wisconsin will not go to Indianapolis this season.
That is weird to type after so many, including me, predicted the Badgers would return to the Big Ten Championship Game.
It won’t be Iowa, who I thought would be the team that would challenge Paul Chryst’s squad the most this season. The Hawkeyes and Badgers are the only two programs that have represented the West division in the conference title game.
It won’t be Purdue, a program that seemed on the up-and-up last year and, after a rough start to this season, proceeded to spank Ohio State in West Lafeyette. On Saturday, the Boilermakers were blown out by, of all teams, Minnesota 41–10 in the Twin Cities.
Northwestern—which did not win a non-conference game—will represent the West after clinching at least a share of the division title with two games to play left in the regular season after Saturday’s 14–10 win at Iowa.
The honor is deserved for Pat Fitzgerald and his program for going 6–1 in the conference, even after losing running back Jeremy Larkin earlier this season and having a one-dimensional offense.
What’s next for Wisconsin? With their goal of Indianapolis out of reach, the Badgers could win out and finish 8–4 in the regular season, but the games against Purdue and Minnesota to end the season—especially the former on the road—will not be easy.
It’s hard to grasp what this team now can do each week compared to what we thought it was capable of. The offensive inconsistencies, especially in the losses where third-down conversions are scarce and opposing pass rushes create problems, obviously hamper that potential.
In my opinion, a defense that had to replace seven starters and a couple contributors, at least of late, has played admirably. Yes, Jim Leonhard’s unit gave up 183 yards on the ground and 343 overall to Penn State in the 22–10 loss on Saturday, but it also held the Nittany Lions well below their scoring average (37.2), rushing, and passing yards (207.9 and 221.2, respectively). Then again, maybe it is a different curve for one side of the ball than the other.
There also has been the injury factor and losing key starters on both sides of the ball, but it is hard to blame a season just on that reason.
Against the teams it should beat, Wisconsin has mostly done so with the exception of BYU. You can argue the Badgers should have defeated the Wildcats in Evanston, but right now Northwestern has proved it is the better team.
We all knew heading into the season that Michigan and Penn State would be the rough road contests, but all of UW’s away games this season had the ability to give it some problems. Now, the Badgers head into this week’s game only 1–3 on the road, traveling to Purdue to face Jeff Brohm’s 5–5 squad.
This game is hard to figure out because it is not just Wisconsin who is inconsistent, but Purdue as well. A gadgety offense that put Ohio State’s defense on skates to the tune of 49 points and 539 yards gained only 233 yards against a Minnesota defense that just fired its coordinator a week ago after giving up 55 points to Illinois?
Because I am not a player, I believe I can do this—I think ahead to the regular-season finale.
In recent rivalry games, maybe outside of the 2011 and 2017 contests that were decidedly blowouts, Wisconsin and Minnesota played each other physically and relatively close. This year, though, with the Badgers’ inconsistencies glaring, it’s hard not to ponder what could happen inside Camp Randall Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend.
In the 14 straight wins by Wisconsin since 2004, UW has scored at least 31 points in 13 of those games. Depending upon who’s under center at quarterback, that will be in question—and right now, with the way the unit is playing, does it even matter who is QB1 that week? It will be Senior Day, so emotions could be high to maintain the tradition built by 14 previous senior classes. Will the Axe remain with Wisconsin for the 15th straight year?
Maybe I’m looking too far ahead. Then again, maybe that is what many did that (dare I say) unfairly led to the heightened expectations—and the subsequent prevailing disappointment—of this season.
T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly
NFL teams will pay these two Wisconsin inside linebackers well starting next year. Edwards tallied 14 tackles (12 solo), while Connelly registered 10 tackles, two for loss, along with one sack, and a quarterback hurry. Those two do not quit, and the redshirt seniors are still showing up week in and week out.
For the ninth time in 10 games, Taylor went over the century mark rushing (185 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown). Now with 1,548 rushing yards, he joins Ron Dayne (1998–99), Montee Ball (2011–12), and Melvin Gordon (2013-14) as Badger backs who have rushed for 1,500 in back-to-back seasons. Not bad company.
In his career, Taylor has 10 games where he has rushed for 150 or more yards, with five of those coming during this sophomore campaign. His 3,525 career rushing yards now have him No. 8 all-time at Wisconsin in that category.
The redshirt junior has come on of late, and despite an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, played extremely well on Saturday. He recorded nine tackles, three for loss, along with 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery.
Props to the Penn State back, as Wisconsin tied up quarterback Trace McSorley for a good chunk of the game. Sanders carried the ball 23 times for 159 yards with a touchdown.
Coming up this week
Live show from Bierock
We’ll be back at one of our favorite places on Tuesday night to record our weekly show. Wisconsin men’s basketball plays Xavier this Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. CT, but we’ll be down there talking about the game and looking ahead to Purdue.
Following up on...
Bucky’s 5th Podcast
I received some feedback via iTunes and wanted to ask you all, how am I doing with the podcast? Is the sound recording OK to you live from the restaurant? Are the format and topics working for you? How can we make it better? Email me or make some comments in the thread below. We want to continue to make this the best Badger-centric podcast.
This past week’s show with Jon McNamara really showcased some great analysis on a huge week of recruiting for Wisconsin. This week, Owen and I hope to dive into quarterback talk and expectations for the future.