When Saturday, Sept. 22, was supposed to be the Wisconsin football team’s bye week, Badger head coach Barry Alvarez may have planned on using the time off to work on his golf game. But after UW’s matchup with Western Kentucky was pushed back as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the eventual meeting showed Alvarez he needs to focus on improving his offense first.
Nevertheless, he found some choice words to explain his team’s lackluster 334-yard performance in terms of the grand old game.
“You ever play golf?” Alvarez asked a pool of reporters at his postgame press conference. “You ever play well once?
“I played golf good once. That changed me up. I couldn’t understand why I played well because I’d always played bad.
“Well, it’s the same thing. We’ve been playing pretty well. Sometimes you get to feeling good about yourself, you underestimate an opponent, and sometimes things just don’t click. That’s the nature of the game.”
The nature of Alvarez’ game plan becomes more important next week as the Badgers resume conference play. If Wisconsin had trouble blocking the Division I-AA Hilltoppers, it needs to be ready to face the speed and power of Big Ten defenses.
As Big Ten defenses go, UW gets somewhat of a break with Indiana Saturday. Still, Alvarez ought to come up with a way to get better production out of his offensive starters in order to keep up with Antwaan Randle El and the Hoosiers’ sometimes-explosive offense.
Unfortunately for the coach, he doesn’t have a quarterback like Randle El that can key an offense to success seemingly singlehandedly. Brooks Bollinger and Jim Sorgi tend to rely on their role players in order to have success.
Against the Hilltoppers, Anthony Davis and Lee Evans each gave the quarterbacks solid effort. But statistical underachievement gets attached to those skill players when the silent majority — the offensive line — does not support them.
Davis was rarely ever to get past the line of scrimmage, frequently met by several WKU defenders at once. When Evans was open downfield, Bollinger and Sorgi had trouble finding him and escaping the rush at the same time.
On a third down in the second half, Evans broke his single coverage over the middle of the secondary, but Bollinger was flushed from the pocket and, rolling left, opted not to try and launch the ball across his body. The nimble quarterback gained 10 yards, which was six yards short of the first down. UW was forced to punt.
Even though an offsides flag against the Hilltoppers would have set up a chance to go for a fourth-and-one, Alvarez declined the penalty.
“I didn’t have confidence we could knock it in there for a yard,” Alvarez said.
Ordinarily, Alvarez will tell the media an offense should always be able to pick up a yard when needed. His choice to lay up in that case illustrates the failure to provide push that the front five had against WKU’s defense.
Whereas the Badgers had only struggled last week in goal-line situations, Alvarez said they didn’t even play well enough to put themselves in those short yardage opportunities Saturday.
“I can’t remember a single goal line,” Alvarez said. “I can’t remember us inside the 20. Were we?”
They were, when Anthony Davis punched in a one-yard touchdown in the first half, but Alvarez’ comments came a long time since UW enjoyed that drive — one of two that gave Wisconsin an early 17-3 lead.
In the second half, with the offense having trouble moving the ball, players began hoping for a big play that might swing the momentum back on their side. To cure the mediocrity, coaches drew up a scheme to get the team back in stride.
On a second-and-six, Bollinger looked to pitch the ball, which was taken by Lee Evans curling on an end around. Evans pulled up and threw a bomb downfield that tight end Mark Anelli was not able to catch up with. Last week, an Evans trick pass to Bollinger set up a touchdown drive.
“You’re always just one play away from sparking the offense and getting it rolling,” Evans said. “Maybe that was the play to do it, but we didn’t complete it so we had to move on.”
The players’ desire for a game-breaking play may have done more to damage the offense than spark it. Sorgi threw an ugly interception when he lobbed a pass into double coverage downfield.
After the game, Bollinger said the key would have been making the best decision when the time came. But his decision not to throw to Evans on the third down may have cost UW a score. Neither quarterback’s tactics were especially successful.
Evans’ concern wasn’t with the Badgers’ lack of big plays either, but with their inability to finish the game and put WKU away. He said they were looking to dominate.
Instead, they three-putted to victory.