Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE
Wisconsin coughed up a close game to Michigan State, and their home winning streak with it. But, this is par for the course for the 2012 edition of the Badgers...
Yeah, that happened. Wisconsin's 2nd longest FBS home winning streak was snapped. By Michigan State. Of course it was the Spartans. Who else could it have been? The Badgers and MSU have developed a nice little rivalry in recent years, even though the result of today's game was essentially meaningless as far as title game aspirations are concerned. The Badgers are all but in the title game thanks to the ineligibility of two of the best teams in the conference. Meanwhile, MSU is out of the race in their division, and is just struggling to get to a halfway decent bowl game.
At least it went to overtime. I don't think I could have handled the psychic pain from another last second Hail Mary-esque victory that would have come from MSU somehow getting a 2-pt conversion to win the game at the end of regulation. But still.... Ouch.
The best way to deal with a loss like this is to process. So, what did we learn from this game?
On the Badger side, we know that Joel Stave is essential to the Badgers being able to do anything on offense. Danny O'Brien cannot complete a decent throw to save his life, and has an alarming propensity to simply make horrible decisions when it comes to ball security and giving up (or not) on broken down plays. It's like he's a deer in headlights. Something about the in-game situation is just too much for him.
And without a passing game, Wisconsin is way too easy to defend on the run. Montee Ball and James White might both be great backs, when the offensive line cooperates, but that's worth little when defenses can stack the box against Wisconsin, knowing that even on a play action call they have little to fear downfield from Danny O'Brien, and the result of such is almost certainly a handoff to Ball/White or SHEER PANIC from O'Brien.
About that offensive line. They've been improving all season, but as we saw today, they can be maddeningly inconsistent. Montee Ball barely saw daylight against the strong defensive front of MSU, and it seemed that both Stave and O'Brien had to deal with incredible shrinking pockets on an alarming basis. Forget the stout cheese-fed offensive lines of old... when it comes to stopping a pass rush, this line is about as porous as cheesecloth.
Even with the win, all is not well on the Michigan State side, however. I'm not exactly sure what change was made for the play calling in the last drive, but for most of the game it was the same old story on Spartan offense. Strange play calls. Bad passes from Andrew Maxwell. Drops from the receivers. And Le'Veon Bell trying to carry the team on his back but ultimately being unable to do it all by himself. Maxwell seemed to finally click with his receivers on that last drive, and on an admittedly very pretty throw in overtime for the win, but why can't he do that normally?
A single flash of competency won't be enough to carry this Spartan team to bowl eligibility and a post-season win. They've got to figure out why they can't produce drives like this on a regular basis.
You know, it's strange, in a way. Typically after a loss, especially after a game that was essentially thrown away, I'd be gnashing my teeth and writing from a place of frustration. But I'm not this time. It's like I've had a vision of where this season is going, and I'm resigned to it already. Wisconsin will head to the Big Ten Championship game. If they meet the Wolverines or the Huskers there, they will likely lose. They'd probably lose to Northwestern too, but as I'm also a ‘Cats fan, I know better than to guarantee anything from that team.
So that means a bowl, likely in Florida. Can the Badgers come out of a bowl game with a win? Maybe. Depends entirely on the matchup. I really don't know with this squad. The only thing I know is that this isn't last year. And I think I've finally gotten used to that.