It will be a second half that will haunt Wisconsin for the remainder of the 2016 season.
Up 16-6 going into halftime against the Ohio State Buckeyes, the No. 2 team in the nation, all the Badgers had to do was keep their feet on the pedal and get a few more defensive stops.
Wisconsin held Ohio State to just two field goals in the first half. The Buckeyes offense put up 17 points in the second half and picked up what was eventually the game winning touchdown in the first overtime. In all, OSU scored 24 points after halftime and the Buckeyes out-gained the Badgers 239 yards to 137 yards during that time period. That included a third quarter in which OSU put up 118 total yards while holding Wisconsin to only 11.
It was a complete failure on both sides of the ball, but without a doubt, Wisconsin’s defense deserves a bulk of the blame for the second-half collapse.
There was a point in the third quarter when the Badgers just couldn’t get off the field. They spent almost ten minutes playing defense in the third quarter, which was a notable change from the second quarter, which saw Wisconsin’s defense on the field for under five minutes. The Badgers also couldn’t figure out how to stop Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett. He was responsible for all of Ohio State’s scoring in the second half and overtime period outside of one Tyler Durbin 31-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to tie the game. Barrett hurt the Badgers through the air, but he made the biggest impact on the game with his feet.
The Ohio State junior completed 17-of-29 passes for 226 yards and one touchdown. Wisconsin was able to pick him off once. Barrett also rushed 21 times against the Badgers, though, putting up a tough 92 yards and two touchdowns.
Without a doubt, he was the difference maker in the game, especially in the second half when Wisconsin couldn’t figure out how to stop him.
“We have a lot to improve on, we had a lot of missed opportunities, a lot of details that we kind of let slip away,” junior linebacker Jack Cichy said after the game.
“They are a great team, they are going to make plays and we just have to limit those plays that are made. We didn’t quite do that tonight but there’s a lot of things to build on, a lot of good things we can take from this and we got to go get our pig back next week.”
Cichy had a career-high 15 tackles against the Buckeyes, which included 3.5 tackles for loss. The pig he’s referring to is actually a brass bull on top of the Heartland Trophy — a rivalry trophy Wisconsin can win next weekend by beating Iowa.
“He can do it all, we’ve been seeing it all week,” junior linebacker T.J. Watt said of Barrett. “He can run, he can throw and he trusts all his players. I think he showed that tonight.”
It has been a tough two weeks for the Badgers. They’ve now lost two in a row, and while they are still ranked No. 10 nationally, they’ve lost a ton of momentum.
Pull back the scope on the 2016 season and things aren’t all that bad for Wisconsin, though. Perspective is a powerful thing, and it really sheds a lot of positive light on this Wisconsin season, despite the fact that the Badgers are now fifth in the Big Ten West.
In saying that these past two weeks have been tough, the opponents have to be considered.
Wisconsin battled No. 4 Michigan in Ann Arbor to a gritty 14-7 loss and held a 10 point halftime lead against the second best team in the nation in Ohio State. There’s an argument that can be made that Ohio State could and would beat No. 1 Alabama in a head-to-head matchup, so it’s not as if the Badgers lost to an underdog or a lower-level program.
Though Wisconsin’s defense has taken a beating in this article, perspective also favors new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and his unit. This is a defense that held LSU (with Leonard Fournette) to 14 points, Michigan State to six points and the Wolverines to 14. This is a defense that held OSU to just two field goals in the first half on Saturday and yes, they collapsed in the second half, but it was one bad half in a season full of relatively good defensively football.
Wisconsin is still ranked No. 3 in the Big Ten in total defense, No. 2 in rushing defense and No. 3 in scoring defense through six games. Nationally, those rankings equate to No. 12 in total defense, No. 13 in rushing defense and No. 9 in scoring defense; so it’s not as if Wilcox and his defense were hurt all that much by Ohio State in the grand scheme of things.
Again, perspective illuminates the fact that Wisconsin still has one of the better defenses in the country.
Speaking of the country despite the loss to OSU, Wisconsin’s AP rating shows that the CFB nation still believes the Badgers are one of the best teams in the nation. Keep in mind, there’s still six more games to go for the Badgers, and outside of the Iowa rivalry game and a clash with currently undefeated top ten team Nebraska, the remainder of the season gets significantly easier for the Badgers.
There’s still a path available that can lead the Badgers to Indianapolis.
For Paul Chryst and his team, blazing that path is predicated on finishing games. Learning from these two close losses and getting better because of them. Wisconsin hasn’t been great these past two games, but at times they’ve flashed enough talent to hang with some of the very best football programs in the country.
For the Badgers, now is the time to put it all together, and that’s something Chryst made clear in his postgame press conference following the loss.
“I don’t want to speak for our guys, right? They’ve got voices. But the bar is set high here,” he said. “Yet, you know what, we want to be the best we can be. I think there’s still room for growth. I love a lot of the things that we’ve done, but there’s still room for growth. We got to take those steps.”