Henson: Offense ineffective once again in big game

first_imgSurprised?You shouldn’t be.Another ranked team, another road loss and another reminder that Wisconsin fans should always temper their optimism heading into the Big Ten season.Spartans 34, Badgers, 24. Welcome to Big Ten play, where UW is now 1-8 against ranked teams under Bret Bielema.But this year was supposed to be different.This was supposed to be the year things clicked for Bielema and the Badgers. The year they justified their high pre-season ranking.The year where UW would finally notch a road win over a ranked-conference opponent.Still waiting.Yeah, winning on the road is hard. A loss to the 24th ranked team isn’t the worst thing in the world and there is plenty of time to get this thing headed in the right direction. Use whatever excuse makes you feel better.But I was convinced the Badgers were better than the Spartans. They’re not.Bielema knew his team was outplayed Saturday, but like the rest of Badgernation, he believes UW is capable of better.“I just told our guys in the locker room, and this is no disrespect to Michigan State, that they got beat by a team that played better than they did,” Bielema said. “That is an important factor for us to use to move forward.”Wisconsin is a good football team, like they’ve been so many times before over the last decade. Problem is, winning the Big Ten title requires you to be great.UW looked far from great Saturday and two major misconceptions about the 2010 Badgers have become clear, particularly on offense, where UW was supposed to thrive.Misconception No.1: The Wisconsin offense is a dominant unit.With the reigning Big Ten player of they year in the backfield, a returning starter at quarterback and a wealth of experienced receiving options surrounding him it was easy to assume the Badgers would form one of the best units in the nation. Thing is, that needs to be proven on the field, not in preseason magazines. The Badgers have plenty of talented players, but when the intensity increases and the stakes rise, UW’s stars seem to crumble. It happened against OSU and Iowa last year and it happened Saturday.John Clay, widely considered the best running back in the conference, was held under 100 yards against MSU. No touchdowns.Scott Tolzien, widely considered one of the most efficient signal callers in the conference was 11-for-25 against MSU.Nick Toon and Lance Kendricks, widely considered two of the best receiving options in the conference, were held to four catches for under 50 yards combined against MSU.To beat good teams, especially on the road, your star players need to show up. They need to carry you. They need to raise their games against stiff competition.You know who carried the Badger offense Saturday? James White, a true freshman playing in his first career Big Ten game, that’s who.The offense with tons of experience, with a plethora of options, needed a freshman running back to keep the game within reach. And the vaunted UW time of possession statistic? 36:24 to 23:36 in Sparty’s favor. There’s one explanation for Michigan State’s ability to convert third downs at will late in the fourth quarter against a worn-down, helpless defense.“We know we have the guys to go out there and compete,” Clay said. “We started slow in the first half and the second half, we started picking up – but by the time we started clicking, the game was over.”Misconception No 2: This offensive line is comparable with the ones on display in the late 1990s.When Ron Dayne ran his way into the record books and carried Wisconsin to Rose Bowls, he wasn’t doing it alone. There were five O-lineman who opened up gaping holes and allowed Dayne to reach the second level with a ton of speed. Opposing secondaries didn’t stand a chance by the time Dayne broke through the line.In those days, everybody in the stadium knew the ball was going to Dayne and it didn’t matter. UW ran it down the defense’s throat anyway.It doesn’t work that way anymore.This Wisconsin line isn’t at that level. Coming into 2010, onlookers thought this O-line resembled those found on UW’s Big Ten championship teams and it was a reason to think Rose Bowl. Again, still waiting to see the line wear down top Big Ten opposition.Against good defenses there is the occasional big hole for Clay to hit but defenses have proven over the last two years that they can limit the 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year by stacking the box (under 100 yards against OSU and Iowa in 2009). If White didn’t bounce his runs outside and just outrun everyone with his pure speed, who knows what the UW rushing stats would look like Saturday?But the worst part of the O-line’s performance was the pressure they allowed on Tolzien. The senior quarterback was continually hit, and hit hard as the Spartan pressure forced a number of arid throws.UW needs to look no further than MSU’s O-line to see what an effective blitz pick-up looks like, as Kirk Cousins picked apart the Badgers when the pressure came time and time again.At the end of the day, one road loss against a ranked team doesn’t eliminate any chance for a Big Ten title. One poor performance can be overcome. This team has the talent to beat good teams.But the Badgers once again have given themselves little margin for error. Once again, they have sputtered out of the gates in conference play.Now the underachieving perception Wisconsin fans are all too familiar with is beginning to rear its ugly head.Throughout the whole offseason the Badgers worked to convince everyone they were different than the overrated Wisconsin teams that failed to live up to the hype before them.With week one of conference play in the books, they’re looking exactly the same.Max is a senior majoring in journalism. Think the Badgers are destined to crumble under high expectations yet again? E-mail him at [email protected]last_img