Fresh off a 38-17 victory in Week 1 that head coach Luke Fickell characterized as “sloppy”, the Badgers looked ready to face off against Washington State, at least based on their words from the week, but their gameplan didn't come to fruition.
Wisconsin was down 24-9 at halftime, marred by two strip-sacks on Tanner Mordecai and a lack of urgency defensively, leading to a deficit that was too tough to overcome in the second half.
Now, coming into Week 3, how do the Badgers respond after being humbled by their loss?
Before we look into the future, the expectations for the Badgers all started on November 27th when the school hired well-heralded head coach Luke Fickell to lead the program, who said that the goal was to win championships in Madison during his opening presser.
Fast-forward to the start of the season, where the Badgers had a roster comprised of over 15 transfers, including quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who openly shared that his goal was to win a championship in his final collegiate season, believing that Wisconsin had a roster capable of doing so.
However, in Week 2, those high expectations proved to be as such: “high”, at least early on, with the Badgers looking outmatched, and Fickell saying exactly as such following the game.
“I got to give them a lot of credit. I mean, that’s that’s a good football team that came to play tonight. And, you know, I told our guys in the locker room afterwards that, you know, they outplayed us,” Fickell said after the game.
But, looking at the way the game unfolded, not only did the Badgers get outplayed, but it appeared they were out-game-planned as well.
Despite linebacker Maema Njongmeta saying that tempo offenses “get too much credit” and Fickell feeling confident about the gameplan heading into the week, the Badgers were caught off-guard on a number of plays in the first half, resulting in some penalties, as well as major chunk plays that propelled the Washington State offense.
Following the game, Fickell pointed to the lack of execution in adjusting to the tempo offense as the main reason for the early struggles.
“They did a good job. I’m not saying a whole bunch of things we didn’t prepare for, but it’s always going to be a little bit quicker,” Fickell said. “It’s always going to be a little bit tougher in the situation and throw emotions into it as well. But that’s where we did not do a very good job at executing.”
“And I’m not saying I’m not giving them credit for some good plays and some good situations, but there were some things that we’ve got to do a lot better. Whether it’s the tempo situations, whether it’s the big shots down the field, there’s some discipline, things that I’ll really fall back on that’ll haunt me for a while, and it’ll haunt this team and our program until we can get them fixed.”
Now, were the Badgers completely outmatched to the point where it wasn't even a ballgame? Not at all.
In fact, their resilience and ability to bounce back with complementary football in the second half were positives for the Badgers, but they shouldn't have been in that position to begin with, and that falls both on the players for their lack of execution and the coaching staff for not placing their guys in the best situations.
On Monday, I asked Fickell about his message to the locker room in bridging the gap between the high expectations the team had with the current reality of where the Badgers are.
While Fickell said that the team wasn't looking that far ahead now that the season started, he pointed out the humbling manner in which the Badgers have to approach themselves going forward in order to get back on track.
“No, the reality, if anything, is taken away, that’s kind of why we always try to say our objective is to play for a championship. You have everything still sitting right out in front of you. And to me, that’s what’s important,” Fickell said.
“And hopefully that, like I said, it’s humbling when you get punched in the gut, when you get knocked down, and in this instance you have a loss. But it’s also a realization that we’ve got to continue to move forward and I hope that allows us to focus on the journey and what you need to do to get better as opposed to the destination. Regardless, I’m not saying anybody was focused on the destination, me included, but it is a great shot of reality about what it is that you got to focus on each and every week and quit worrying about the things that could possibly be happen at the end of the year.”
Now, the Badgers are looking to flush their disappointing Week 2 loss away and begin preparing for a Week 3 bout against Georgia Southern at Camp Randall Stadium, their final game prior to conference play.
Is the Badgers’ season over? Not at all, but the Badgers needed a humbling like this, and it should test their resilience, which will determine what kind of team Wisconsin will field for Luke Fickell’s first year in Madison.
If the Badgers can start fixing their mistakes and start becoming more disciplined, as Fickell had hoped at the beginning of the year, their hopes of a Big Ten Championship appearance still exist, especially in a weaker Big Ten West conference.
But, those mistakes will require fixing fast, and that starts in Week 3 against the Georgia Southern Eagles.