Already a few days after the Wisconsin Badgers shocked the world and took down the LSU Tigers, the initial shock has worn off. We take a look at five things we learned from Saturday’s game will point to an answer.
1. The defense will keep the Badgers in every game.
LSU came into the year as a possible pick to win the National Championship, but they left humbled by Jack Cichy and company. Led by star running back Leonard Fournette, the Tigers were assumed to have a powerhouse offense. While somewhat effective late in the game, they were held at bay.
The Tigers were held to only 257 total yards, 14 first downs, and only two successful conversions on third down on 10 attempts. Led by strong defense line play, the Wisconsin linebackers were able to get the job done.
“I feel very confident,” Cichy said on Monday. “I love my D-line, I feel like we have one of the best D-lines in the country and I’m confident that they are going to do their job and it makes my, [Ryan] Connelly’s job or T.J. [Edwards]’s job a whole hell of alot easier.”
With starting inside linebacker Chris Orr out for the year after suffering an ACL injury in the game on Saturday, the defense will be looking to other players to step in and make up for lost production. While the loss of Orr is a blow to this defense, the Badgers seem to have someone ready to fill in. In Saturday’s game, Orr’s replacement redshirt sophomore Ryan Connelly, a former walk-on walk-on, stepped up and was tied for second on the team with 7.0 tackles.
The next man up indeed stepped up for the Badgers, even with former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda on the other sidelines.
“The biggest difference for the front seven, I’d just say the way we were able to defeat blocks,” Cichy said. “A lot of times with Aranda’s scheme it would just be, one for one and then this guy is going to make the tackle and this is going to fit. But with Wilcox he kind of gives us free range and trusts the technique.”
2. The inexperienced offensive line battled well.
2015 was a year that the offensive line wouldn’t mind forgetting. Coming into 2016, it seemed to be on the verge of being a similar year for the offensive line. With stud lineman Dan Voltz retiring abruptly from football late in August and injuries limiting practice time for other linemen, expectations were not high for this unit.
After leading the Badgers to a total of 134 rush yards against the #5 team in the nation, those expectations may be on the rise.
“Guys played physical,” Coach Paul Chryst said at his weekly press conference Monday. “What helped that was that they were prepared.”
Starting running back Corey Clement couldn’t say enough about how well the offensive line did.
“Oh, those guys fought through a lot,” Clement said. “Starting with Ramczyk, he does an awesome job. Those guys up front really feed off of each other, their camaraderie is great and you really have to give your hat off to Deiter. He’s running the show down there as well playing at center and you got to trust in and believe in it.”
3. Bart Houston made some bad decisions, but there were plenty of good things to take away from his performance.
The Badgers have only known their starting quarterback for a little while now, but it seems the quarterback competition fueled the play of now-starter Bart Houston.
Although he did throw two interceptions and did not throw any touchdowns, Houston proved he could be effective, especially showing great chemistry with tight end Troy Fumagalli. Houston finished the game with 205 yards, 74 more passing yards than LSU, and a 61% completion percentage.
Houston was effective enough to get points on the board, and showed his maturity by recognizing that touchdowns are not everything in a defensive battle.
“Touchdowns are what we want, but we have to put points on the board,” Houston said.
4. Improvement is a must.
“What I’m excited about is that there’s a lot of areas where we can get better,” Chryst said.
That was the theme of Monday’s press conference. While Chryst wanted the team to build momentum off of a big win, there were many areas of improvement that the head coach saw.
For example, Houston’s situational awareness is clearly not up to par. A prime example was his redzone interception early in the game.
“Situational awareness is where [Houston] can improve,” Chryst said.
More on things the Badgers can improve upon on Wednesday.
5. Wisconsin cannot overlook their next opponents.
Next up, the Badgers take on Akron, fresh off of an 8-5 2015 season that included a bowl win for the Zips. Coming off of the high of an upset victory, the Badgers are calm and focusing their energy on the upcoming game.
“It’s a big game, every game is a big game and I think we just got to approach this week with energy and it all starts with practice,” Cichy said.
Focusing on the game ahead proves easier for the Badgers, as they know how important momentum is heading into the meat of their schedule where Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa loom.
“These next two weeks are very important,” Clement said. “We want to go into, I’m not saying these aren’t big games but we talk about Michigan and Michigan State and all these other great opponents who are in the Big Ten. We want to go into those games with as much momentum as possible, especially going into their undefeated would only help our edge.”
Photo courtesy of Morry Gash/Associated Press.