To the dismay of Wisconsin Badger fans everywhere, seemingly every game Wisconsin’s offense struggles out of the gate, often tripping over its own feet.
Over the past two games, the offense has had five first quarter drives. Two ended in turnovers, two where three-and-outs and only one of the drives ended in a touchdown courtesy of a 40+ yard run by Jonathan Taylor. The two turnovers and two three-and-outs, however, stick out like a sore thumb.
Ranked 21st in scoring in the first quarter in the FBS, Wisconsin is averaging 8.6 points, though that does not tell the whole story. The defense has scored two first quarter touchdowns without needing the offense. With out those plays, they would be further still down the rankings.
With around 10 drives per game, all of them are crucial. And Wisconsin is feeling a sense of urgency.
“I think as a collective whole there is a sense of urgency to get shit going,” starting offensive guard Beau Benzschawel said without mincing words.
One of the things tripping up the offense could be defensive schemes or blitzes that a team has not used over the course of the season and therefore was not on film.
“I just think defenses definitely try and give us a wrinkle, stuff we haven’t seen on film. I think it’s all about adjusting on the fly and learning how to play the game,” fullback Alec Ingold said.
Adjusting on the fly clearly has not been the easiest thing for the offense though, and slight mistakes can make all the difference.
Just in the last two games alone, quarterback Alex Hornibrook underthrew a wide open receiver and had the pass intercepted, Jonathan Taylor has lost a fumble and receivers have dropped passes.
“We can’t have a three-and-out or dropped balls here or there. It’s everyone doing their part collectively because we have to take advantage of every drive we have,” tight end Zander Neuville said.
With raised expectations comes raised scrutiny, so the smallest mistakes get amplified. One of those areas being put under a microscope, especially with the release of the first College Football Playoff ranking, is the strength of Wisconsin’s schedule.
Only beating Purdue 17-9 and only beating Illinois 24-10 does not look well on paper.
Games like those two have given many fans concern and given the Playoff Committee pause as they slotted the undefeated Badgers ninth.
For the players who study their conference opponents year in and year out, though, they see any game in the Big Ten as a challenge and every win, no matter by how much, as good.
“A lot of people will have the misconception that there are going to be games where we go in and just blow teams out,” Neuville said. “But I mean, we’re playing in the Big Ten, every team has good players and they’re all good teams. So when we come away from a game like Saturday, as long as we get the win we’re happy.”
Benzschawel reiterated the tight end’s sentiment about how tough the Big Ten is, and as the perennial Big Ten West champions, Wisconsin always has a target on its back.
“I think what a lot of people don’t understand is how hard it is to win in this conference. No matter how bad a team may seem on paper, they’re always going to give us their best, they’re always going to fight us with all they got,” Benzschawel said.
With injuries piling up, especially on the offensive side of the ball, it would be easy to point to that as the reason for recent struggles.
Not for Wisconsin though.
“You never want injuries, but at the same time, every team is going to have injuries throughout season. It’s just one of those things where guys have to be ready to step up,” Neuville said.
The offense is struggling out of the gate. There is no question about that, especially in recent games. Unlike last year though, Wisconsin is deep into the season with control of their destiny in their hands.
“I think we all know, like any season you have to take it one game at a time, but you know, two-thirds of the season is down and we’re undefeated. We’re happy with that but we know we have a big stretch of games coming up so we have to just take it one game at a time,” Neuville said.
Next up for Wisconsin will be Indiana on the road. With a tough defense they will be a good test for a slumping offense looking to continue their undefeated season.