ARLINGTON, Texas -- Despite the Wisconsin Badgers' 35-17 loss at the hands of the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide Saturday night, Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst believed there were some solid building blocks the Badgers can rally around as they move their attention to their next opponent, Miami (Ohio).
"There's some areas that clearly we got to improve upon and for us to be the team that we want to be," Chryst said, "and I think we 're going to look at the film and see some areas where -- see areas where I think we can build on and build off of."
Among the bright spots was the play of two former walk-ons, redshirt senior quarterback Joel Stave and senior outside linebacker Joe Schobert.
Stave, passing game productive
The Badgers and their rebuilding offensive line could not find any hole to run through against the Tide's impressive front seven. The ability for Wisconsin to stay in the game relied on Stave and the passing game to move the chains and generate some offensive firepower.
For the most part, the passing game succeeded.
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Stave threw for 228 yards and was 26-of-38 with two touchdown passes and a late interception for the game, but it was a drive in the second quarter that helped Wisconsin tie the game at 7-7. During that nine-play drive, Stave was 6-of-7 for 59 yards, ending with a six-yard touchdown pass to redshirt senior wide receiver Alex Erickson.
Evidence of the progression of the former walk-on from Greenfield, Wis., was seen in his throws. Late in the second quarter, he anticipated where Erickson would be in his route, connecting on a 23-yard strike that set up a 34-yard field goal attempt that was missed by sophomore kicker Rafael Gaglianone. Stave was 14-of-16 for 149 yards in the first half.
Though the second half wasn't as productive, as Stave noted after the game, and the Badgers were forced into more 3rd-and-long situations, it's a welcomed signed for a passing game that ranked near the worst in the FBS last season.
"I think he was seeing the field well," Chryst said. "A couple throws, they did a nice job. And the windows closed pretty quick with this group. I thought he was decisive."
Schobert stands out, leads team in tackles
Chryst pointed out Schobert, along with junior cornerback Sojourn Shelton, redshirt freshman T.J. Edwards and junior outside linebacker Vince Biegel, as among those on defense who stepped up from what he saw on the sidelines after the loss of Caputo to the head injury.
Schobert finished the game with 13 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks. Though the Badgers gave up 502 total yards to the Tide and there were some communication issues (more on that below), the senior admitted there were some positive takeaways.
"The first couple of hours [after the loss], obviously, it's kind of hard to see the silver linings," Schobert said, "but I definitely think -- especially on the defensive side of the ball -- we controlled the line of scrimmage at times today and played very well. We were able to get negative plays and get Alabama off the field."
D'Cota Dixon dives in deep end with No. 1 defense
Sophomore safety D'Cota Dixon was thrown onto the first-team defense after senior safety Michael Caputo was sidelined after the third play of the game with his head injury. The converted inside linebacker, who was also listed as a cornerback earlier this year, impressed in fall camp to the point of earning the back-up safety spot behind Caputo.
Now, against the No. 3 team in the nation, he would need to step up big against the Tide.
Dixon was harsh in his self-assessment post-game. He admitted he was nervous when he got out there, and also needed to communicate with his teammates more on the field.
Alabama implemented more of a "pace" offense with quick snaps to throw the defense in a tizzy. It worked a couple of times, as in the second quarter, there was mass confusion on a 13-yard completion to ArDarius Stewart. The Badgers were flagged for an illegal substitution infraction, but the penalty was declined due to the completion.
The defense adjusted, as did Dixon -- who finished the game with eight tackles. It'll be a game he learns from and grows, especially being the heir apparent to Caputo for the 2016 season, but could even be asked to contribute further pending Caputo's head injury.
"It was the toughest game I've ever played -- ever been a part of as a player," Dixon said.