MATT FLEMING/Herald photo

EAST LANSING, Mich. — It wouldn’t be a stretch, in light of the University of Wisconsin football team’s fifth loss in six Big Ten Conference games, to conclude that frustration is at its peak for anybody involved with the program.

At no point during the seniors’ careers have they been below .500 for the season; this will be the second week in the last three they have to live with that distinction.

Following a 25-24 loss to No. 18 Michigan State, senior right guard Kraig Urbik entered the visitors’ media trailer. After waiting 90 seconds or so and having no reporters approach him to ask questions, Urbik shook his head, muttered, “All right, nice talking to you all,” and left the area in a huff.

Urbik is one of UW’s four captains and one of the longest tenured — and usually most mature — leaders of this team. The fact that he’s reached his boiling point says something about the mental and emotional makeup of everybody on the roster.

Twelve penalties (one short of a school record) for 121 yards were a primary reason — arguably, the only reason — UW couldn’t leave East Lansing with a two-game winning streak and a revived season.

Wisconsin’s second-to-last penalty hurt the most; on a 3rd-and-1 with two minutes to go, tailback John Clay broke off a long run on what would have been the game-clinching first down. But a holding call on center John Moffitt brought it back, giving MSU a chance for a comeback.

“Penalties are part of the game, but those get you beat,” UW wide receiver David Gilreath said. “Especially when it’s on 3rd-and-3, little things like that. I don’t want to say we are undisciplined, but I guess the penalties kind of show that we are.”

Wisconsin did everything else right.

The Badgers were plus-256 rushing yards and plus-118 in total yards, had three sacks and allowed only one, were better on third-down conversions, held the ball for 32:38 (against the best time-of-possession team in the Big Ten) and for once didn’t let turnovers get in the way (each team just had one lost fumble and no interceptions).

But Gilreath said it best: As much as this team would like to consider itself smart, disciplined and fundamentally-sound — you know, all the things UW was during that oh-so-long-ago 12-1 season of 2006 — those penalties tell a different story.

Urbik’s outburst tells part of that story. But what UW head coach Bret Bielema did early in the fourth quarter might offer a broader representation of why this team commits 12 penalties in one game, why it blows 19-point halftime leads against subpar opponents, and how it went from class to crass in the Big Ten.

After tailback John Clay ran for a 32-yard touchdown to give UW a 24-13 lead, the defense was flagged for a “delay of game” when it reportedly took the field too early on the ensuing kickoff return. Bielema said in his postgame press conference that the sideline official, Mike Delce, told him that safety Jay Valai inadvertently bumped into Delce on his way out to the field.

At that point, Bielema lost his cool at Delce, who was involved with an earlier altercation involving a controversial Wisconsin replay challenge that Bielema claimed he didn’t ask for.

Bielema said he told the official he “wasn’t really doing a good job.” Of course, Bielema did not detail the particulars of what flew out of his mouth, but it was enough to tag on another 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, something Bielema said he’s never experienced as a coach.

With a shortened field, Michigan State went on to score a touchdown at the end of that drive. In the light of such a rare penalty incurred by their coach, the Badgers never could recover, and were left with its most excruciating defeat in a season of, well, excruciating defeats.

Bielema has said in the past that a team’s mental makeup is a product of its coach. To his credit, he took accountability for the most costly mistake he’s ever made as a head coach.

“I told our guys after the game, first off, I apologize for losing a 15-yard penalty myself,” Bielema said. “We had done certain things during the course of the game that we just can’t overcome. That begins with the attitude that I took to get that personal foul on our bench after the 5-yard penalty on us.”