Perhaps Wendell Bryant best summed up the poor defensive showing the Badgers displayed in their 63-32 loss to Indiana. “We thought we had a great week of practice and we got thoroughly embarrassed,” Bryant said. “We embarrassed this program. We embarrassed everything that Mr. Alvarez built.”
For a unit that has been sound for the most part this season, giving up only 12 points total in the last two games against Penn State and Western Kentucky, the 63 points allowed to Indiana was out of character for Wisconsin’s defense. In fact, the points given up to Indiana, a team that was winless in its last seven games dating back to last season, matched the point total given up to top-25 teams of Oregon and Fresno State combined.
“We’ve been playing pretty good defense — in particular, good run defense,” UW head coach Barry Alvarez said following his teams 31-point loss. “That’s what’s so startling to me.”
While Alvarez was startled, Bryant was begging for forgiveness. “I’d personally like to apologize to every fan out there and everybody for our performance,” Bryant said.
In the defense’s lackluster performance, the Badgers gave up 631 yards of offense, 449 of which came on the ground. Indiana’s multitalented quarterback Antwaan Randle El ran for 102 yards (with 182 yards passing), but it was Levron Williams that created the most damage on the ground. Williams rushed for 280 yards, scoring six touchdowns.
Coming into this game Wisconsin was leading the Big Ten in total defense, allowing 131 yards per game (based on their only other conference game against Penn State). The Hoosiers bettered UW’s average by exactly 500 yards, and topped their 23 yards of rushing allowed per game by 426 yards.
“We’ve played a lot of option teams but that really wasn’t what hurt us today,” defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said. “We didn’t tackle well today and the results speak for themselves.”
Alvarez agreed that the lack of tackling hurt the Badgers, and he also acknowledged that perhaps there was too much focus given to Randle El, and at times maybe there wasn’t enough coverage on him.
“I know the first play he ran on [Scott] Starks down [field], Starks has the pitch and he’s on the pitch and he sees a guy has his hands on Randle El, so he falls back in,” Alvarez said. “The kid’s good, and until you see that speed … you don’t realize it.”
But Alvarez didn’t blame his team for failing to stop Randle El.
“I can understand if Randle El gets in the open field, if we’re not athletic enough to tackle him,” Alvarez said. “You can understand that.”
What Cosgrove can’t understand is why his team failed to tackle, and why the isolation plays weren’t stopped up front at the line. Bryant did offer an explanation of what happened to his defensive unit. “What can you say?” Bryant said. “We went out there and we got destroyed … I had a rough game, I thought I stunk. We’re going to have to play better than that.”
Bryant and his defensive unit will have a chance to prove themselves next week when they travel to Ohio State — a team that is better than Indiana in every conference offensive category.