The University of Wisconsin football team (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten) collapsed in the final minutes Saturday against the University of Illinois (3-4, 1-3), saying goodbye to their undefeated record and much of their College Football Playoff hopes along with it.
Badger fans remember the team’s 24-21 loss at home against BYU last September, the loss that sent the then-No. 6 Badgers into a free fall that lasted all season. This loss is different.
The Badgers weren’t dominated on the line of scrimmage Saturday like they were against BYU, they weren’t unable to move the ball through the air like during last year’s loss and they didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher. Head Coach Paul Chryst’s team had the game in hand late in the fourth quarter and gifted the Fighting Illini a program-defining victory.
At the end of the day, this was a game the Badgers needed to win if they wanted any shot at the College Football Playoff and losing as a 30-point favorite is indefensible. But this performance, again unlike the one against BYU a year ago, doesn’t mean they’re a bad team.
Here are four takeaways from Saturday’s loss.
First, the loss in large part falls on Chryst’s decision-making and personnel decisions.
Chryst has been aggressive this season on fourth down, something we haven’t seen much before.
It has worked well so far but on Saturday he got a little too aggressive and went for it on fourth-and-8 on the Illinois 30-yard line up 10–0 midway through the second quarter. The play ended in a sack, became one of the Badgers three turnovers on the day and gave Illinois good field position which they turned into a touchdown.
Then, with ten minutes left in the contest, Chryst made one of the strangest personnel decisions I’ve ever seen.
The team was down to the Illinois 3-yard line with a 20-14 lead. Chryst proceeded to run the ball three times in a row, not surprising given the Badgers offensive line and rushing prowess. It was surprising that none of these runs included Jonathan Taylor, the team’s best player and the best running back in the country. Chryst ended up settling for a field goal and a nine-point lead, a lead which obviously didn’t hold as Illinois scored ten points in the final seven minutes and won the game.
The second takeaway is, aside from Chryst’s questionable decision making, Taylor’s fumble lost the game.
It was Taylor’s first fumble of the season and came at the worst possible time. The team had the ball up nine points on the Illinois 25-yard line with seven minutes left in the game. A score in that situation would’ve iced the game and sent the Badgers into Columbus next weekend undefeated.
Taylor lost the ball, Illinois scored to cut the lead to two, the Badgers gave the ball away again and the rest is history.
The third takeaway from Saturday is Jack Coan was tremendous.
Aside from the interception, which in reality wasn’t an awful throw — the Illinois defender just made an insane play on it — Coan played his best game as a Badger.
He finished completing 24 of his 32 pass attempts for 264 yards, 8.3 yards-per-attempt, one touchdown and one interception.
If there’s one positive takeaway from Saturday as the Badgers now prepare to play No. 3 The Ohio State University, it’s Coan’s performance and the Badgers’ ability to effectively move the ball through the air.
Football: With strong offense, defense, could Paul Chryst finally capture Big Ten title?Entering the 2019 season, expectations were low for the University of Wisconsin football team. After finishing the year with a Read…
The final takeaway from Saturday is that the defense fell completely flat when they were needed most.
The unit allowed 315 total yards, 141 of which came on the ground. 315 total yards and 141 on the ground are both the highest totals the defense has allowed since the team’s final regular-season game of 2018 against Minnesota.
Maybe the expectations have been set too high after the unit shutout four of their first six opponents, but 315 total yards against an average-at-best Illinois offense doesn’t bode well for their matchup against the nation’s most dynamic offense in The Ohio State University this weekend.
The Badgers are back in action Saturday at 11 a.m. against the Buckeyes in Columbus.