For each of the past few seasons, it just seemed as though Wisconsin couldn’t catch a break. Apparent bad luck and bad timing characterized each of the several close losses of the past few years. They say football is a game of inches, and the Badgers always seemed to be a few inches short.
Yet Saturday’s loss to No. 4 Ohio State demonstrated that for all the heartbreak, Wisconsin is simply at its own fault. The Badgers made multiple mistakes and had many missed opportunities. This game was just another example of UW’s inability to come through in the clutch.
Casual fans can easily point out the major mistakes this week. Kyle French continued to be Old Unreliable, missing a chip shot 32-yard field goal in the second quarter. And obviously, the defensive lapse that allowed a 40-yard touchdown pass just before halftime—more on this monstrosity later.
A look at the box score begins to give a clearer picture. Wisconsin was just 3-for-12 on 3rd down conversions. It also had eight penalties for 54 yards.
But the Badgers’ ineptitude for winning close ball games runs much deeper than these errors. It’s the plays that don’t show up in the stat line that can sometimes be the most damaging. Down 14-7 midway through the second, Wisconsin’s special teams provided a major shift in momentum by recovering an Ohio State muffed punt. However, an illegal formation penalty negated the play, and the Buckeyes went on to kick a 45-yard field goal on the ensuing drive.
Miscommunication between quarterback Joel Stave and wide receiver Alex Erickson proved costly in the third quarter. While Stave had an excellent night overall, this play showed that there remain problems on offense due to inexperience. Stave, a redshirt sophomore, expected Erickson, a redshirt freshman, to run an out route and cut to the sidelines, but his receiver continued up the field and never looked back. It was an easy interception for the Buckeyes. OSU then turned the gift into a touchdown.
Perhaps the most glaring little mistake was cornerback Sojourn Shelton’s dropped interception at the end of the first half. Shelton’s drop gave the Buckeyes one more play. On 4th and 7 with just 10 seconds left, quarterback Braxton Miller found a wide-open Philly Brown in the back of the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown pass. It was one of the most inexcusable plays ever allowed by a defense, right up there with the Packers’ 4th and 26 against the Eagles in the 2004 NFL Playoffs.
While the Badgers have been to three straight Rose Bowls, fans have clamored over the team’s poor luck at ever getting over the hump to win one. It’s easy to be in a state of disbelief as a UW fan, with plays like the Michigan State Hail Mary two years ago and the ridiculous botched field goal attempt two weeks ago against Arizona State. But evidenced by Saturday’s loss, it’s Wisconsin that puts itself in these positions and continues to not capitalize on opportunity. This incompetence in crunch time has become a program characteristic that refuses to go away. Until it does, the Badgers will be left outside the ranks of the elite.