On a dreary, cold, snowy Saturday morning, Wisconsin football kept their focus on the pitch, not the weather conditions. Looking for their eighth straight victory, and perhaps a step closer to a playoff birth, Wisconsin took down a struggling Illinois football team. However, the win was not accompanied by its fair share of learning moments.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s Wisconsin victory:
Offense needs to solve their first quarter struggles
In today’s high pace, high scoring FBS, Wisconsin cannot afford to continue out of the gate sluggishly. After the first quarter horn Saturday, Wisconsin had totaled a respectable 89 yards, which seems like a solid start, especially with a 7-0 lead to that point. Upon closer inspection, 82 of those 89 yards were rushing, and Wisconsin’s only scoring drive was doomed to be their third straight three-and-out but was bailed out as a result of an illegal substitution penalty on fourth down.
In future, potentially more high octane matchups, Wisconsin mustn’t rely on their defense, however dominant, to protect their stagnant early offense. Working from behind is never where a team would like to be, and if Wisconsin can’t solve their early woes, it may become an exploitable characteristic.
Hornibrook has to find his groove early, rather than ease into the game gradually, limiting turnovers and working through his reads. Should Wisconsin hope to take down top four teams in the future, they have to solve this glaring pattern.
The offensive line could be the true hero of this season
Often times, those who score or make the flashy play are given the spotlight. Linebackers who lay out big hits or wide receivers who shake a defender out of their boots are revered among viewers. In terms of win production, an offensive line can make or break a contending team.
The Wisconsin offensive line is among the most mobile in the country. Across the board, the front seven are able to shift effectively, pulling tacklers in a multitude of situations, creating massive holes and perfect pockets for the offensive attack.
Jonathan Taylor, while freakishly talented, owes part of his high production to the boys leading the way in front of him. There are times during games, like Saturday, when Wisconsin ran 13 straight run plays. For most teams, such a homogenous attack would normally spell trouble, but in Wisconsin’s case, it showcases the trust Paul Chryst and the rest of the staff has in their offensive linemen.
Moving forward, knowing that the offensive line is not an area that needs improvement allows the team to focus on its more unpolished areas.
Lack of scoring dominance against a bad team is a troubling pattern
To beat a dead horse, Wisconsin’s defense wins games. The offense, however highlighted, has been lackluster against bad teams. Versus an abysmal and inexperienced Illinois defense, Wisconsin never really got going. Hornibrook never got into a rhythm, wide receivers dropped ball after ball, and an injury to Jonathan Taylor made a one-dimensional offense even worse.
A top-five team should have pummeled an Illinois team that’s lost all of their Big Ten schedule games from the start. Instead, the defense did an excellent job of bottling up any Illinois momentum, but the offense looked like they were playing a marquee matchup all afternoon.
When those eventual big games roll around, Wisconsin has not demonstrated an ability to dominate both sides of the ball. Instead, it feels like only one half of the team shows out. Compiling complete wins should be easier against a team like Illinois, but Saturday was far from a solid win. If this pattern continues into what could be a Big Ten Championship matchup, Wisconsin will be dead in the water.
Bonus Takeaway: Michael Dieter has a new home
The big man can score, time to put him in the slot.