Fact: When you have to punt the ball three times in your opponents’ territory, something on your offense isn’t working.
The Wisconsin football team didn’t lose to Ohio State due to a lack of offense — with 206 rushing yards and 154 passing yards for a total of 360 yards, the Badgers far outpaced the Buckeyes’ 236 yards. No, Wisconsin was moving the ball just fine. That is, until it entered OSU territory.
Saturday night, the Badgers only had three drives into Buckeye territory that had potential to end in a touchdown, one of which ended in a now infamous goal-line fumble by none other than Montee Ball.
UW had four other drives that night that stalled on the OSU side of the 50. Three ended at the Ohio State 30, 49 and 45, respectively, while the fourth resulted in a missed Kyle French field goal.
According to offensive coordinator Matt Canada, it was just matter of not moving the ball effectively time and again.
“Each series is a little bit different,” Canada said. “We’ve got to score touchdowns, there’s no question. That was certainly disappointing in the sense that we didn’t move the ball effectively — we ran the ball very well against a very good opponent, but didn’t get enough points to win the game and that’s certainly something we have to do.”
While Canada looks at the tactical side of moving the ball, junior center Travis Frederick didn’t mince words about his team’s shortcomings.
“The result is that we didn’t score points and we didn’t take advantage of those opportunities. … When that happens it kills your drives,” Frederick said. “You can hope to pin them deep; the punt (team) did as well as they could to get them pinned deep on a few of them which is good for us, but you can’t have that. That’s something we really need to focus on and work on.”
The punt team certainly did have a good night, as Ohio State’s average starting field position was from its own 18. Wisconsin, on the other hand, had an average starting field position on its own 35. In fact, the Badgers started inside their own 20 on only three occasions.
The first drive inside the 20 started on the Wisconsin 1-yard line at the 10:57 mark of the first quarter. The drive ended on the Ohio State 30, where Bielema and Co. decided to punt the ball rather than attempt a long field goal.
The second drive starting within the UW 20 on the Badgers’ 18 and turned into their first touchdown drive of the game.
Finally, in the third quarter Wisconsin took over at its own 15, the only other time it was pinned behind its own 20 to start a drive. UW took the ball 62 yards in 16 plays in eight minutes and five seconds — its most time-consuming drive of the game. It ended with French booting it wide left.
The Badgers had no issue moving the ball, but when it came to getting in the end zone, the Buckeye defense didn’t break.
Wisconsin’s offense has seen this sort of inconsistency all season. One Saturday it’s rushing for a school record; the next it can’t find the end zone in an efficient manner. Certainly, Ohio State was one of the toughest defenses the Badgers have faced this season, but Ball doesn’t want to say it’s a product of the teams they face, either.
“I don’t want [to] say all the way it’s the nature of the teams, because let’s give credit to Indiana — they kept battling, but it’s not [a] secret Ohio State is a great team,” Ball said. “They have great athletes, so we knew they were going to be a better defense. At times we just weren’t doing the right things that we needed to do on the field and it hurts.”
Frederick noted he feels this offense has really started to hit its stride around the middle of the season, which is also a testament to how far the once-shaky offensive line has come. He did admit there’ve been a few bumps in the road, like Michigan State and Ohio State.
Despite Saturday’s loss, all Ball can preach is the need to move on.
“We still have everything in front of us,” Ball said. “If we sit and cry about the last game, it’s not going to help us for this game or the Big Ten Championship Game.”