MADISON – The saying goes that when watching game film, a win is never as good as it looks and after a loss, it’s never as bad as it looks.
With those simple words, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema had moved on from what was a humbling performance in State College last weekend; a performance in which the Badgers dropped their second straight game in nearly two years.
In Saturday’s loss, of Wisconsin’s 22 offensive and defensive starters, only three were seniors - Marcus Coleman, Tyler Donovan and Nick Hayden. With talented freshmen Zach Brown, David Gilreath and Kyle Jefferson seeing increased workloads on offense due to injuries and defensive players Shane Carter, Aubrey Pleasant and Aaron Henry seeing their first consistent time on defense, Bielema believes that UW’s struggles aren’t because of a lack of talent.
“I really believe some of the errors that we’re making are not lack of ability or knowledge, but lack of confidence and things between the ears,” Bielema said. “To get our players back on track will take a little bit of a gut check.”
Although Wisconsin struggled offensively to generate momentum, Bielema did like what Wisconsin was able to do on its lone scoring drive, a 10 play, 77-yard scoring drive capped by a P.J. Hill one-yard touchdown.
Even so, Wisconsin has struggled to generate a rushing game in its past two losses. After generating only 127 rushing yards against Illinois, the Badgers only amassed 87 rushing yards against Penn State. After being held to a season-low 83 rushing yards against Illinois, P.J. Hill could only gain 75 yards on the ground, a stat Bielema attributes to Wisconsin being forced to pass the ball late in games.
“We’ve been caught in games where we’ve been down X number of points and we had to catch up (by throwing the ball),” Bielema said. “We went into Penn State with the idea to move the football. When we started off with that fumble, obviously that made a big difference. On our scoring drive, you’ll see some very impressive runs.”
“We scored to move the game to 10-7, got a couple first downs, moved the ball and had a first down catch in our possession."
Wisconsin’s running game will get a boost this week when Lance Smith will be able to return to the running back position. Missing the last two games because of his suspension, Smith will be well rested and will certainly give the Badgers a boost. In four games this season, Smith is averaging a remarkable 7.9 yards per carry.
Stepping in his place during road contests has been true freshman Zach Brown, who has played soundly with all things considered. Bielema acknowledged that Brown’s speed, his third down contributions and his ability to pick up his assignments in the passing game have not ruled him out of being the No.2 running back this weekend.
“Lance is eligible for this game and Zach has performed very well in his last two weeks of preparation,” Bielema said. “Coach Settle will express to the entire group that the people that practice this week and do well over the course of this week will be the guys that take the field first.”
Hubbard Making Strides
After spraining his knee in Wisconsin’s win against UNLV, senior wide receiver Paul Hubbard was expected to return to the lineup in six-to-eight weeks. It appears that Hubbard might meet the low end of that diagnosis.
After five weeks, Hubbard was cleared to practice last week in certain phases. Running some routes yesterday without any coverage, Hubbard appears that he’ll be ready to go next weekend when the Badgers take on Indiana.
“He really hasn’t pushed against a body yet, so we don’t know how his body is going to react,” Bielema said. “He’s been cleared to practice, but we don’t know now his body is going to respond because he is ahead of schedule.”
Bielema not Phased by Struggles
For a coach that has achieved remarkable success in two seasons (a 17-3 record and 2006 Big Ten Coach of the Year in his first season), the Badgers two game losing streak would appear to be the toughest challenge for Wisconsin’s young head coach. For a man who has worked under Hayden Fry, Kirk Ferentz, Bill Snyder and Barry Alvarez (a group that has combined to win 556 games), Bielema has experienced things more troubling than a small losing streak.
“As time has evolved during my career, I have been able to watch great coaches handle situations through peaks and valleys,” Bielema said. “I’ve got some great advice when I took over as the head coach and take what I can and learn from them.
“The season is a journey and the more you focus on the end of the journey, the further off you’ll become. The easiest answers are right in front of you. There’s nothing more in this program that we believe in than a ‘1-0’ mentality.”
Kyle Jefferson was the offensive MVP
DeAndre Levy was the defensive MVP
Jae McFadden was the special teams MVP
Chris Maragos was the offensive scout MVP
Dan Cascone was the defensive scout MVP
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema - Listen to Audio