Let’s get one thing straight: The Badgers did not deserve to win that football game. They really didn’t; which hurts even more when you consider how well their Big Ten-leading defense played.

I’m aware that the refs may have cost them the game on one of the more bizarre phantom calls I’ve ever witnessed in the Alex Erickson punt return “fair catch” call. And then again by overturning a seemingly game-clinching touchdown catch by Jazz Peavy. And then, just for good measure, one last time on a no-call of what I think was pretty clearly defensive pass interference.

In what has been a wacky year of college football refereeing, this may have set a new low. It’s hard to tell, partially due to the Miami-Duke mishap but also partially because it’s still hard to comprehend all of these calls at once, but the poor refereeing put an unfortunate on an otherwise bizarre game.

Here is the fans’ take on the refs’ performance:


To be fair, coach Chryst said after the game that the refs technically made the right call on the Erickson punt return touchdown that was called back. based on the rule. I think we can all agree the rule needs to be changed. Everyone but the refs knows that deserved to be a touchdown. Frankly, I have more issues with the overturned Peavy touchdown catch in the waning moments of the game. The subjective catch-rule doesn’t even apply in college football, so there’s much less room for them to change that decision. Peavy said after the game: “No doubt in my mind that was a catch…I don’t understand it.”

You be the judge whether or not it was a catch:

But, if we can be honest with ourselves, there’s far more at play here than just iffy refereeing. At the end of the day, today’s loss epitomizes the 2015 Badgers. Week in and week out, this defense has played exceptionally well, and the offense has struggled to move the ball amid poor offensive line play in the running and passing game. Today was nothing new.

It’s incredible the Badgers were even able to contend in a game in which they lost the turnover battle 5-0. Northwestern’s first three possessions started in Wisconsin territory, and yet they only managed to come away with seven points because, again, this defense is amazing. Every turnover led to great field position for the Wildcats, and every time the Badgers defense answered the call.

There isn’t too much more to say about the defense and its performance. The Badgers’ linebackers were everywhere throughout the day, led by stars Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert who combined for an impressive 27 total tackles. Northwestern’s running back Justin Jackson is a very good all-around runner and the focal point of their offense. He was able to break one long run and extend a few plays, the fact that he was held to 4 yards per carry is a testament to how well this linebacking core continues to play. To me, Schobert and Biegel have both proved their worth as legitimate NFL prospects.

The only thing left to talk about is the abysmal play of the Badger offense. They finished the day with -26 rushing yards on 26 attempts. Yes, you read that negative sign correctly. That number is largely skewed by college football’s silly need to count sacks as negative rushing yards, but it still is an indication of the Badgers success on the ground. The offensive line struggled to create holes against a very good Wildcat defensive front. Corey Clement looked solid running the ball but is clearly still not 100% and it’s tough to get into a rhythm on limited snaps. He confirmed this notion in post-game interviews.

The line also struggled in pass coverage, which led to six Stave sacks on the day. Stave’s first interception was the direct result of right tackle Beau Benzschawel getting beat off the line of scrimmage. Stave was hit on his blindside as he threw, the ball hit off a lineman’s helmet and was intercepted by Northwestern. The Wildcats instantly had the ball in the red zone and went on to score a touchdown. This would be their only touchdown of the day.

Stave later fumbled when the pocket collapsed, and he took a crucial sack on second-and-goal from the one-yard line with under 30 seconds on the clock. Running back Dare Ogunbowale made a very heads-up play and hiked the ball and spiked it with six seconds left when it was apparent Stave was shaken up after the sack. The Badgers weren’t able to capitalize, but it was a bright spot in an otherwise dull day of plays for the Badgers.

Even if you win the time of possession battle and the penalty battle like the Badgers did, you are asking far too much of your defense to turn the ball over five times and win. On top of that, the Badgers were an ugly 2-13 on third downs. Part of this is due to poor execution on first and second down, and part of it falls on the shoulders of Stave. His inability to make his progressions and limit his mistakes, compounded by the completely inefficient running game, has resulted in one of the worst Badger offenses in recent memory.

The defense still played well enough to keep this team in the game, and the resilience the Badgers showed was impressive and noteworthy. They hung in there until the final whistle and seemingly won the game several times only to have victory snatched from their hands by the referees. It’s unfortunate tonight’s bizarre game had to happen on Senior Day, but the fight this group showed is encouraging.

Next week they take on a hungry Minnesota team, and the Badgers will have fresh motivation in the form of Paul Bunyan’s Axe. They will have many things to fix on offense, but this team has shown they’re hungry to win games. Finishing the regular season on a high note should be enough fuel for this team. If not, the coaches might just have to bring snowballs to practice.