Once the sting of the seven-point loss to Michigan wears off and Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst and his players assess where they stand heading into their bye week they should like what they see:
• Wisconsin (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) went 2-1 against three teams ranked in the top-10 of the polls, all three games on the road or neutral site.
“We’ve all got to – starting with me – get better and learn from this,” Chryst said. “We’ve got the bye week. We’ve got to do a job of making that a good bye week for us.”
• The defense, despite not having linebackers Vince Biegel and Chris Orr and nickel cornerback Natrell Jamerson, gave a gallant effort in the 14-7 loss to Michigan.
The Wolverines scored on just two of 14 possessions, were held 38 points below their scoring average and converted just 3 of 15 third-down chances.
“I thought it was a heck of a defensive effort by a lot of guys,” Chryst said. “They gave us a chance.”
• UW, which fell five spots to No. 13 in the coaches’ Poll and three spots to No. 11 in The Associated Press poll on Sunday, plays four of its final seven games at home.
“We wanted 5-0 going into a bye and getting (guys) back healthy, especially Vince,” tailback Corey Clement said. “We’ve just got to keep moving.”
• The next opponent is No. 2 Ohio State, which appears to be the class of the Big Ten. But the Badgers should be healthier for the October 15th meeting at Camp Randall Stadium.
Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jon Dietzen, who played well in the opener against LSU, has missed the last three games after suffering a leg injury in the Akron game in Week 2.
If he is healthy after the bye, don’t be surprised to see offensive line coach Joe Rudolph re-insert Dietzen into the starting lineup at left guard and shift Michael Deiter back to center.
Those two moves should give Wisconsin its best line, particularly in run blocking, and the Badgers need to generate a more consistent ground game.
One week after rushing 41 times for 122 yards at Michigan State, Wisconsin managed just 71 yards on 28 carries against the Wolverines.
“We didn’t really get anything consistently going in the run game,” Chryst said. “That is what made it the type of game that it was.”
Brett Connors, making his second consecutive start at center, knew the play of the line wasn’t good enough.
“They gave us the ball back a lot in the fourth quarter,” he said of UW’s defense. “We’ve got to take the ball and drive it in for a touchdown.”
Wisconsin needs to establish a consistent running game to make the play-action passing game more dangerous.
Michigan more often than not deployed man coverage against UW’s wide receivers. At times, the pass protection was lacking and quarterback Alex Hornibrook was under duress. Other times, UW’s wide receivers struggled to separate from Michigan’s defensive backs.
“They played us a ton of man,” Chryst said. “How many of those we won? Not enough.”
Can Wisconsin upset Ohio State in Madison? That would require near-flawless execution and frenetic effort from Chryst’s players and, likely, some help from Ohio State.
Wisconsin appears good enough to beat any team in the West Division, but Saturday in Ann Arbor the Badgers weren’t good enough to beat one of the top two teams in the East.
“There’s two teams playing,” Chryst said. “So you look at yourself and areas you can do better. And yet you still have to give the opponent credit.”