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Three things that stood out...Indiana

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A quick review of some talking points that emerged from the Badgers home loss to Indiana.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Fans of the Wisconsin Badgers (2-2 overall, 2-2 B1G) have had a rough weekend.

First the men’s basketball team lost in last second fashion to Marquette Friday night, and then Saturday afternoon the football team laid an egg against Indiana to record their second straight loss of the season.

In both of those contests the Badgers were the betting favorites, but could not finish in key moments.

Let’s take a look at three takeaways that can be gleaned from the football team’s loss yesterday, all three of which will focus on the offense, because the defense did their part to win the game.

Faltering offense

To be honest, I could have easily copied and pasted some large sections of this from the Badgers most recent loss to Northwestern. In fact, the story on offense was eerily similar to the the last four non-OSU losses that Wisconsin has had going back to 2019.

The last four non-OSU losses offensively

Opponent Final score Opponent Total Yards Wisconsin Total Yards Time of Possession Turnover Margin Field Goals Kicked in Red Zone
Opponent Final score Opponent Total Yards Wisconsin Total Yards Time of Possession Turnover Margin Field Goals Kicked in Red Zone
Indiana (2020) 14 - 6 217 342 10:16 advantage -1 2
Northwestern (2020) 17 - 7 263 366 24:02 advantage -4 0
Oregon (2019) 28 -27 204 322 16:06 advantage -3 3
Illinois (2019) 24 - 23 315 420 21:38 advantage -2 4

There seems to be a trend across all four losses, most notably in how the offense out gained and possessed the ball longer than their opponent, but was unable to finish off drives.

Against Indiana, the Badgers once again had the advantage in both of the categories highlighted, but penalties (eight of them for 81 yards) and an inability to convert in the red zone (six points on three possessions inside the 25) haunted them.

The defense held up their end of things against Indiana for the most part, but the offense sputtered far too often, and as a result couldn’t put up points when it mattered most.

Rushing attack

Another potential reason for the struggles on offense was decision making. The Badgers generally rely on a strong running attack, but at times it appeared as though the staff went away from Jalen Berger too soon. The young back led the team in carries, but he only recorded 15 touches for the third straight game.

It’s not known if the true freshman is on a specific pitch count, but he currently appears to be the best weapon on offense, and deserves more touches going forward.

He has averaged 5.8 yards per carry or better in all three games he has participated in this season, while also rushing for 89 yards on a per game basis.

Against Indiana, two specific possessions are singed into my brain where Berger should have seen the ball. The first instance was just after the New Jersey native rattled off a 19-yard run that put the Badgers all the way down to the 14-yard line in the second quarter (we will talk more about that run later). He was immediately on the sidelines for the remainder of the drive, and Wisconsin only moved the ball for four yards on the following three plays before settling for a field goal.

The second instance was the Badgers opening drive of the second half. After a 19-yard completion to Kendric Pryor, Berger exploded for a nice 20-yard into Indiana territory. The next three plays were all passing attempts, and the third drop back resulted in a backbreaking interception on 3rd and two.

Berger was still very fresh at this moment coming out of the half, and that sequence was hard to stomach, hence my tweet.

Inexperience

Some of the struggles on offense against Indiana can be attributed to inexperience and injuries though.

Injuries and COVID-19 protocols really hurt the Badgers depth across the offensive line and in the wide receiver room. Going into the game it was announced that Stephan Bracey, Danny Davis III and Adam Krumholz were all not available for wide receivers coach Alvis Whitted.

Starting wide-out Kendric Pryor was back in action, but would later miss parts of the game with an injury of his own.

In their absence, true freshman Devin Chandler saw extended action for the first time as the kickoff returner in place of Stephan Bracey. He was not able to muster much in his two returns.

Missing Krumholz and Davis meant that freshman Chimere Dike was tasked with more playing time. The youngster has had some really great plays so far this season, but he also flashed his inexperience at times against Indiana. On one of Jalen Berger’s long runs it appeared as though it would have been a touchdown if Dike would not have hesitated getting engaged on the lone defensive back in the way of the end zone.

As a result, the Badgers had to settle for a field goal. At the very end of the game Dike was potentially held while attempting to reel in a touchdown opportunity, but he was not aggressive in high pointing the ball, and was unable to bring it in.

A right leg injury to Kayden Lyles really shifted things along the offensive line as well. With backup center Cormac Sampson injured and third string center Joe Tippmann also not available, offensive line coach Joe Rudolph had to roll with true freshman Tanor Bortolini.

All in all the freshman lineman held his own, but had a couple of less than stellar snaps that knocked the timing off for the offense. There was also miscommunication on one play in particular where Tyler Beach did not block the edge rusher, and Graham Mertz was crushed for a fumble. The center is usually in charge of calling out adjustments, and the line as a total missed that one.

With freshmen at center, quarterback, running back, and wide receiver and as the second tight end the Badgers understandably suffered some growing pains. The hope moving forward has to be that these lumps will pay major dividends down the road though for those players.

Extra points...

The special teams unit struggled against Indiana.

Silly penalties on kickoffs and misread punts put the Badgers in tough situations all day long in terms of field position. With an offense that was already struggling, those kinds of mistakes just can’t happen.