With Nebraska next, injury-depleted Badgers look to get offense going
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin is out of the Top 25 and keeps losing key players to injuries on an offense that is sputtering to start Big Ten play.
This is not the most ideal of times to go out on the road and play at Nebraska.
Badgers coach Paul Chryst is staying upbeat. His players, he said, are handling adversity well and taking responsibility for improving on the little things following an ugly 10-6 loss at home last week to Iowa.
"We put some drives together, but whether it was not getting third-down conversions or just missing on some plays — there’s a handful that could be big plays and it changes," Chryst said Monday.
Start with the four turnovers by quarterback Joel Stave, including two interceptions and two fumbles. The second fumble came at the Iowa 1 after Stave tripped on a handoff when an offensive lineman stepped his foot as he was pushed back.
The running game managed just 86 yards on 34 carries. The Badgers were just 4 of 13 on third-down conversions and failed to score on two trips to the red zone. Stave was sacked four times.
The Badgers agreed that no single player or position group bears the brunt of the blame.
"There (are) always things that you can continue to get better at, from the receivers to the offensive line to me," Stave said. "Everyone can continue to get better on the details and make sure we all understand our roles."
Until the Iowa game, the Badgers had made steady improvement with the ball against three overwhelmed nonconference foes.
Now they’ve taken a big step back against more an evenly-matched Big Ten opponent.
"We talked about … giving yourself a chance to have a chance. But once you have that chance you’ve got to take advantage of that opportunity, and we just missed out on it," Chryst said.
It could have been a quarterback not connecting with a receiver for some reason, or an extra blocker failing to chip a blitzing linebacker or safety off the edge.
The margin for error shrinks when injuries pile up.
Running back Corey Clement is out at least another three weeks because of sports hernia surgery. Injuries have taken a toll up front to the point where the Badgers have had to reach into their depth chart to start two redshirt freshmen on the right side of the offensive line.
Two more important options in the passing game were hurt last week in receiver Alex Erickson (concussion) and tight end Austin Traylor (right arm). Chryst said both were still being evaluated on Monday, though Traylor is already out for the Nebraska game and Erickson’s availability appears to be in doubt.
"We’re a resilient team. It’s going to be tough playing without Traylor," running back Dare Ogunbowale.
The Badgers will have to regroup for what has turned into a crucial game against the Cornhuskers. Both teams began Big Ten play with a loss, and a second defeat would essentially knock the loser out of the West division race.
Wisconsin returned to practice eager to improve.
"I just like the way the guys are right now," Chryst said. "You’re always thankful as a coach, especially when you go through tough times, you find out a lot about yourself, each other, and (I) really appreciate this group."
- Alex Erickson
- Austin Traylor
- Corey Clement
- Dare Ogunbowale
- FOX Sports Wisconsin
- Joel Stave
- Nebraska Cornhuskers
- Wisconsin Badgers