However, the talk of the town after the game was quarterback Braedyn Locke, who was thrust into the starting role at the end of the second quarter after starter Tanner Mordecai hurried off the field with a broken hand.
Just like that, Locke, who hadn't seen extended action in over two years since his final start of high school, was counted upon to be “the guy”.
To make matters worse, it came against the toughest defense that Wisconsin faced all season in the Iowa Hawkeyes, placing Locke in a tough situation, as the Badgers tried to maneuver their way to a victory.
How did the Badgers quarterback approach the unheralded situation?
“I’m not going to say it’d be easy by any means, Locke said about entering the game immediately. “It was just kind of a reaction deal. I saw him get hit. I didn’t know that he was in that much pain and I didn’t know the circumstances. And so when he was saying, ‘I can’t throw, okay, here we go’. So it was just kind of a reaction.”
“I mean, there’s not much you can do or say in those moments. You just got to try to go out there and execute the next play.”
The Badgers weren't able to capitalize on the opportunity at the end of the second quarter, and Locke came out in the second half with a completely new role: the starting quarterback, as Mordecai would soon be ruled out with the hand injury.
Locke had to find a way to balance his nerves with focusing on the game ahead of him, which has been the mentality for the Badgers when players go down.
“Yeah, I mean, my nerves were going a little bit, but I think you just have to focus play to play and try to execute what’s called and try to find ways to put the team in position to score points and then ultimately win the game,” Locke said. “And I know we didn’t do that, but that’s always got to be the mentality, no matter the situation, no matter who’s in the game or whatever the case may be, every opponent is going to be a little bit different in terms of what you need to do.”
What could Locke take away from that first extended action in his collegiate career?
First, it started with what went wrong for the Badgers in the loss, such as the negative plays and turnovers.
“The negative plays, taking sacks, not being able to hold on the ball, the turnovers really killed us,” Locke said about the loss. “We were in position to win the game, or at least within striking distance for the entire 60 minutes right until the very end.”
High School to College
Locke saw firsthand how important the little things were in a college game, as well as the increased speed of the play in comparison to high school, especially in the Big Ten.
“And so just learning kind of how those plays mean so much in the college game, and then obviously it is faster,” Locke said.
I mean, decisions have to be quick. Quick triggers. The ball’s got to come out. You don’t have time to sit back again, certainly not against Iowa, but not against any teams that you play in this conference.”
But, while the college game and high school are different, Locke shared how the principles of the game remain the same, just with a smaller margin for error.
“In high school, I was blessed to be around a lot of really good players and really good coaches, and I think we played at an extremely high level in Texas,” Locke said.
“And so is it the college game? Absolutely not. But the principles of the game and making good decisions and managing the game and being a leader and all those things, those always apply at the next level. It’s just on a bigger scale, and you have to do it at a higher level.”
Now, Locke is preparing for his first career start, with the Badgers facing off against the Illinois Fighting Illini on the road in Week 8.
In doing so, Locke will look to be the first Badgers quarterback to win a conference road game in his starting debut since Alex Hornibrook in 2016.
How is Locke approaching his first start?
“I would say there’s definitely a little bit different level of pressure, but at the same time level of comfort because like you said, you have all week to prepare,” Locke said about his first start in comparison to Saturday’s game against Iowa.
“You know the situation that you’re going to be thrust into, what’s going to be asked of you to where last week was kind of on the fly, but to your point, every single week you want to prepare like you’re the starter. You want to know what’s going on, be involved in the game plan.”
Still, while there’s more understanding of what’s expected from him, Locke’s mentality hasn’t changed in regard to preparation.
Instead, there are higher expectations during the week and on Saturday to perform, knowing that the responsibilities are bigger now.
“You want to play the game from the sideline when you’re out there. So the mentality from a study standpoint really isn’t changed. However, you understand when you’re at practice and just all throughout the week that this team is depending on you to perform well on Saturday,” Locke said.
For many inexperienced quarterbacks, the balance between putting the game in their hands versus doing their jobs is a hard battle.
Locke is ambitious; his desire for winning and lifting his team trumps all, but the quarterback understands that playing his role is what’s needed from him at this time.
“I think, yes, there is pressure, and yes, I want to win, and yes, I want to play well, and I want to put these guys on my back and take charge of this thing. But at the same time, I just got to focus on doing my job, play in and play out, and getting the ball needs of it,” Locke said.
It’s been a whirlwind week for the new Badgers starting quarterback, but Locke has a chance to quiet the pressure and the critics with a victory over Illinois in his first career start on Saturday. Can he get the job done?