The Wisconsin football team again failed to meet expectations Saturday, continuing the team’s struggles to overcome ranked conference opponents in the Bret Bielema era. Following the latest episode-a 34-24 loss to Michigan State-Wisconsin has now gone 5-8 against ranked conference opponents under Bielema since 2006.
“What we want to do is get better on a weekly basis, and we didn’t do the things we needed to do to win that football game, but my goal and aspiration for this group is to focus on one week at a time,” Bielema said.
Bielema has the right mindset, but Wisconsin will need to start winning important games if it wants to appear in better bowl games and win a Big Ten championship. Similar to recent years, they’ve started the season highly ranked with high hopes, but have lost the majority of their big matchups in conference play.
Against Michigan State, the Badgers had glaring issues in all aspects of the game and admitted the team had approached the game the wrong way.
“I use this saying that I’ve used a lot in life: ‘in life, you choose your consequences,” Bielema said. “Everybody always says you choose your actions but in reality whatever you do, you’re choosing those consequences.”
“We didn’t approach the game the right way as a whole and because of that we lost the game and ultimately we chose those consequences.”
Despite lots of star power, the offense wasn’t able to move the ball efficiently. They went only 3-of-11 on third-down attempts and had less than 300 total yards for the game. Junior running back John Clay had 17 carries for only 80 yards and a 4.7 yard average, which snapped his 10-game streak of 100 yards or more rushing.
Freshman running back James White was one of the few bright spots for the offense, with 10 carries for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
“James has popped out every time he’s touched the ball,” Bielema said. “He’s a guy that’s gotten better every game.”
Although Clay is the starter, White should start to receive more playing time because of his explosiveness.
White only received 10 carries against Michigan State, and he was one of the few players having any success.
Like the offense, the Badgers’ defense didn’t have much success against the Spartans either. They gave up a total of 444 yards on offense. Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins passed for 269 yards on 20 completions and his backfield added another 175 rushing yards. Michigan State was also 9-for-18 on third down conversions and 2-for-3 on fourth down conversions.
With just under three minutes left, facing fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Michigan State went for a touchdown instead of kicking a field goal for a six-point lead. Wisconsin had already been fooled by the play action multiple times because of the Spartans’ ability to run the football. The clinching touchdown to B.J. Cunningham in the back of the end zone was another successful play action call by Michigan State.
Wisconsin will try to rebound from last week against struggling Minnesota (1-4, 0-1 Big Ten). The Badgers will face the Golden Gophers this Saturday in their homecoming game. Minnesota has the worst record in the Big Ten, but Bielema knows they’ll be ready to battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
Despite the loss last week, he’s ready to move on to the next challenge.
“There is a set back but the immediate result is you get a chance to play Minnesota in a rivalry game and move ourselves forward,” Bielema said.