Here is our weekly roundtable featuring Ryan, Bob, Belz and Drew. Everyone seems to agree that yesterday was a slog and I’m inclined to also agree. Let’s break down why it was a slog and thank the good Lord above that the Badgers came out with a win.
God, playing Northwestern is the worst. What are your thoughts on the how the offense played, and the plays called, against the Wildcats?
Bob: The Wildcats exposed Wisconsin’s high offensive stuff rate by taking away the big play and forcing Wisconsin to consistently get 4-5 yards per play. The Badgers offense couldn’t hit a home run to save its life and also couldn’t get a bunt single away from the shift.
Something was clearly wrong with the offense, and it’s hard to tell which specific problem is at the heart of the issue. Was the game plan flawed? Did the receivers run poor routes? Did Coan fail to find open receivers?
I was shocked by some of the decisions to punt, particularly after Paul Chryst’s aggressiveness against Michigan and converting on 4th and one on the opening drive.
Belz: The offense wasn’t pretty. Northwestern played gap sound in the run game and kept everything in front of them in the passing game. After a week in which the Wisconsin play calling was aggressive and creative, vanilla was back on the menu.
The offense just seemed flat, and outside of Jonathan Taylor making some plays there was very little spark. I think a tune up with Kent State is coming at a good time to get the offense a good boost of confidence.
Drew: If this game had been in Evanston, I’m assuming the Badgers would’ve lost 9-7 or something even dumber. The ‘Cats always, and I mean always, give Wisconsin trouble. The offense looked out of sorts on Saturday and the play calling wasn’t as inventive or creative as the previous week against Michigan.
Was Paul Chryst holding out some plays for the big Kent State matchup? Well,,,it hard to say.
Ryan: There’s just something about Northwestern… It looked like the offense stopped being as aggressive as it was last week against Michigan, after the opening drive. Wisconsin looked like it lacked creativity and wasn’t calling the plays needed to convert third downs.
What does Jack Coan need to do to be more consistent?
Bob: I don’t know. Seemed like he had a hard time reading the defense and was a bit confused. His passes didn’t have the zip the did in the first few games.
Belz: The Northwestern game plan was strong, and like I noted earlier forced the receivers to stay in front of them. Jack Coan had a couple of different opportunities where he could have ran for a first down instead of dunking it down to the receiver short of the sticks. I think Coan was a little hesitant in his reads, and that resulted in rushing through his progressions.
Drew: I think Coan is still getting comfortable being the starting quarterback for a power-5 school and it’s ok if he has games like this. I’m assuming a game against Kent State will be just what the doctor ordered for him to get back on track.
Ryan: Coan was completing passes on third down, but when he would do so, the ball would be thrown well short of the first down marker. There were also a couple of times where Coan would throw into double coverage, nearly having the pass picked off. I think most of his struggles were due to Northwestern’s defensive scheme. I think Chryst and Coan will work things out this week and he will be back to being Jacky Heisman, against Kent State.
Is Wisconsin’s offense as good as they looked against Michigan or as average as they looked against Northwestern?
Bob: I’m happy to move on from this game. If Kent State is able to adopt what Northwestern did defensively and that slows down Wisconsin’s offense, then it’s time to be afraid.
Belz: I think it is somewhere in between, but definitely closer to last week. Football is a game of match ups, and Northwestern matches up very well with Wisconsin on the defensive side of the ball. Wisconsin I thought actually tried to get too cute and passed the ball on early downs too much, instead of taking the four or five yards they were gaining on running plays. When they missed on the early downs it just took them out of rhythm.
Drew: I think it’ll be closer to the offense we saw against Michigan for the rest of the way. As Bob mentioned, if there isn’t a marked improvement against Kent State before playing the meat grinder that is Michigan State...then we can readdress this and start to PANIC.
Ryan: I think it’s as good as it was last week. Like I said before, there is just something about Northwestern, that makes playing them, suck. Wisconsin will have a week to address their short-comings from this weekend and they will be back on track next week.
Where should we erect the statue of Jim Leonhard in order to keep him in Madison for longer and also what are your thoughts on how the defense played?
Bob: Put his statue on Abe’s lap.
Belz: The defense was great, even when the offense and special teams continually let them down. Jim Leonhard’s squad was seemingly out on the field for the majority of the second half, and held up well. Give the defensive coordinator the keys to the campus.
Drew: I’d say do multiple statues like how they have all of those Bucky’s around campus. Dress him up in the different uniforms he wore throughout his career and stuff like that. Really make it a tourist attraction.
The defense played amazeballs.
Ryan: Wherever he wants it. I mean, if he wants his statue at midfield, I say put it smack-dab in the middle of the Motion-W. The “Nails’ Tales” sculpture is gone from the corner of Breese and Regent, they could put it there as well. Would probably work better than midfield...
The special teams played in this game. Why?
Belz: The onside kick coverage has to be fixed. Back to back games where it was very poor. Jack Dunn struggled in punt coverage, and that was a play that just can’t happen for a team predicated on not making mistakes. One would think that Paul Chryst would stop punting from inside the 45 after that game, but what do I know.
Drew: Next question. I don’t want to talk about Jack Dunn.
Ryan: Because…? Punter Anthony Lotti was inconsistent, Collin Larsh made a field goal and Zach Hintze… oh man, Zach Hintze can kick the ball. Five kick offs, two of which were pushed back because of 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalties and he had four touchbacks and the only ball that was returned, was brought out to the 25. Jack Dunn’s fumble gave Northwestern a short field and he seemed to have trouble throughout the game.
Game balls on offense and defense?
Bob: Jonathan Taylor on offense, and I don’t even know on defense. Everyone? Well if I must choose, Chris Orr. Two sacks by the defense’s leader.
Belz: I think it has to be Jonathan Taylor on offense. There wasn’t much there in the passing game.
Defensively, the group played exceptionally well. Because of the overall team effort I am going to hedge my answer. I think Matt Henningsen, and Jack Sanborn. Henningsen scored his second touchdown of the season, and had a great sack. Sanborn was all over the field and was really tackling well. He lead the team with 13 tackles, and also had a tackle for loss.
Drew: I think Taylor is the obvious choice for offense, no one else differentiated themselves. On defense, flip a coin between Orr and Sanborn. Although I’d definitely listen to Ryan’s argument for Wilder.
Ryan: Offensively, I would give it to Jonathan Taylor, who reached the century mark for the first time in his career against Northwestern. It was a hard-fought 100 as well. He definitely grinded it out. On defense, I’m going to give it to Collin WiIder, who was forced into the spotlight with both Eric Burrell and Reggie Pearson out for the first half and he did not disappoint. Wilder had five tackles, 1.5 for loss and a sack, which all-but secured the victory for Wisconsin and he also added two pass break ups.
What can the Badgers work on heading into Kent State week?
Bob: Gotta decrease the stuff rate and be more successful on 1st down.
Belz: While I think there are a few different areas to improve upon, I think that onside kick coverage needs to be better. Offensively, the Badger need to practice working the passing game through tight windows. The defensive scheme used by Northwestern isn’t going anywhere. Conference foes like Iowa and Minnesota will both employ something similar based on their personnel, and Wisconsin needs to be more prepared for it next time.
Drew: Completing short passes and getting Taylor or Garrett Groshek running a bit outside the tackle. The defense? You are perfect, keep doing what you’re doing. Also, maybe try out a new punt returner...for science.
Ryan: Wisconsin needs to work on finding more consistency on offense. I think one of the biggest things will be for the receivers to get more space off the line. Coan completed eight of his 15 completions to wide receivers and/or tight ends. Getting more separation off the line will help receivers get open and will allow them to use their speed to get down the field, thus opening up Wisconsin’s offense more.