Don’t try to figure out the Badgers — you won’t be able to. They will just leave you scratching your head with a puzzled look on your face.
They lose when they should win, they play their best when their backs are against the wall, and they just don’t make a damn bit of sense.
In other words, they are a typical young football team.
What Wisconsin did Saturday in Columbus was nothing short of remarkable. The team had been absent for the last six quarters of play, and then suddenly woke up. It appeared that at halftime, coach Barry Alvarez made some strategic adjustments or came up with a foolproof game plan, but this was not the case.
Alvarez said he made a few minor adjustments in the locker room during intermission, but nothing major. Instead, it was just a question of the team sucking it up and playing better.
“I don’t know how you make adjustments to tackle better,” said a smiling Alvarez after the game.
Whatever it was, the team that came out for Wisconsin in the second half was not the same team that played in the first. Nor was it the same team that showed up to play Indiana the week before.
“Our ‘D’ has a lot of pride,” said wide receiver Lee Evans. “They know what adversity is, being down 17 points, but they stepped it up big.”
Yes, the defense did step it up big, but that is not the part that is hard to understand. The thing that is so confusing is that it was able to do so down 17 points to a nationally ranked team, in one of the fiercest environments to play in the whole country. Over 100,000 fans sat in the stands at the Horseshoe in Columbus, chomping at the bit as they wanted to seek revenge for the Badger comeback defeat two years ago. Instead, they got a little taste of what Mark Anelli called “déjàvu.”
The team had mentioned the game two years ago several times throughout practice in its preparation for Saturday. A game in which the Badgers had spotted the Buckeyes 17 points at Ohio Stadium. On paper, it did appear to be déjàvu all over again, but many of the Badgers were quick to point out it was not.
Wendell Bryant and Brooks Bollinger were two players that played pivotal roles in both games. Bollinger was a freshman in 1999 and said this year’s team was completely different, although both games weighed equal importance. Bryant was quick to make the same point.
“It was a totally different ballgame with a totally different ball club,” said Bryant.
We know the game was important, but what is it we can now expect from this team? This year has been a dichotomy of sorts, as the Badgers seem to show up sometimes, and at others look quite uninterested in the game at hand.
In the process of compiling its 4-3 record, Wisconsin has yet to have back-to-back consistent efforts.
In week one Wisconsin beat Virginia in a typical first game of the season when neither team really was on top of its game. Then, in week two, Wisconsin played its best game of the year in a three-point loss to Oregon (currently undefeated and ranked No. 5 in the country) in Eugene.
Week three, Wisconsin put together a good first half against Fresno State at home, and then got shell-shocked when Fresno State returned the second half kickoff for a touchdown and was unable to recover. Week four the Badgers played well enough to beat Penn State, but then at home against Western Kentucky put up a weak victory against a Division I-AA team. This set them up for the egg they dropped a week ago against Indiana.
Then the Badgers came back in the second half against Ohio State on Saturday, putting together one of their best halves of football all year. Go figure.
This year Wisconsin has proven that when they come to play they can compete with anyone in the country, and when they do not show up, they can look really bad versus virtually any opponent.
When a team is this inconsistent it often is a sign of youth.
Wisconsin is no different; the players are very young. The difference between the Ohio State game this year and in 1999 is the team in 1999 was very young. In spite of the talent this year’s edition of the Badgers do have, inconsistency is just part of the growing pains during the learning process the team will go through.