Erickson: Despite loss to OSU, it’s not all bad for Badger football

first_imgWhen it comes to the sports I cover, I never like to make predictions.People will ask me my thoughts on how the team looks for the coming season, and while I readily give an answer, once they start asking where I think that team will finish, I immediately refuse to answer or give a very conservative answer at the very least.During the summer, when the football season was quickly approaching, I started to get such questions, and I always maintained  the Badgers should at least get to the Big Ten Championship game. But now even those thoughts may be just out of reach.There’s no looking past it: The Badgers trip to Corvallis, Ore., wasn’t pretty.With the offense stalling and ugly play after ugly play, Wisconsin simply looked lost and completely un-Wisconsin like.The Badgers certainly can’t give such a poor performance again – otherwise they won’t make it to the Big Ten Championship Game, much less survive the season. So while I was already predicting the potential pitfalls that await Wisconsin Football further down the schedule, the play of the defensive line and the special teams left a little bit of hope inside the Pandora’s box that Wisconsin transformed into last Saturday.Us media members can easily blow a situation like Saturday out of proportion – but I think head coach Bret Bielema took care of that Sunday night when he fired offensive line coach Mike Markuson. Rather than continue to worry about Wisconsin’s play against Oregon State, it’s time to focus on the positives.The Badgers gave up an unfortunate 354 yards of offense, but only 78 of those yards came on the ground and the defensive line put up a stout run defenses.In fact, Wisconsin’s rushing defense is ranked 14th in the nation allowing an average of 59.5 rushing yards per game. That average also places them third in the Big Ten behind Ohio State (51 yards per game) and Michigan State (54.5 yards per game). Purdue, who rounds out the top four, allows an average of 78.5 yards per game.Once again, Wisconsin is among the Big Ten’s elite – but not in the way fans have grown used to over the past two years.There’s plenty of season left for the Badgers to turn their offense around, but the rush defense’s current standing is a vast improvement over last year’s when it finished sixth in the conference.Now the defensive line has yet to make good on its promise for more sacks this year (not a single d-lineman has collected one yet), but it has a total of three tackles for loss so far this year for a total 20 yards. Of the defense’s 125 tackles so far this season, the defensive line has accounted for 22.Oregon State’s offense manhandled Wisconsin – gaining an average 4.6 yards per play compared to UW’s 3.4 yards per play. OSU also ran 77 plays to UW’s 61, equating to 35:35 to 24:25 advantage in time of possession.But Oregon State only managed to score twice and once again, a credit to the defense for strong redzone play anchored by the defensive line.And the plus side at this point in the season – with plenty of schedule time left, the defensive line can only expect to get better as they gain more experience.As the defensive line showed consistent play, so too did the special teams, specifically freshman punter Drew Meyer.Meyer has punted 11 times so far this season, seven of which occurred Saturday. Over those seven punts, Meyer averaged 39.9 yards a punt and six of those punts were waved off for a fair catch.On the season, Meyer is averaging 40.5 yards per punt and has had one punt for more than 50 yards (51).A season ago, senior punter Brad Nortman punted only 48 times and averaged 40.5 yards per punt. This year, Meyer’s performance has earned the Badgers second place in the Big Ten, behind Purdue.After years of Brad Nortman controlling Wisconsin’s punting game with such solid consistency, of course there was initial concern when a freshman was pegged to take over the job, even a redshirt freshman with zero game experience. But Meyer has confidently taken over the position and thrived in a position the Badgers’ offense would rather keep off the field.Last year at this time, Russell Wilson was excelling under center and the Badgers looked unstoppable. Right now, last year is looking to be the exception rather than the rule in recent program history, including this year.The Badgers certainly aren’t performing where they should be yet, but these few positives are the one bright spot going forward. Those bright spots may be small in number, but it’s better than nothing at all. Kelly is a senior majoring in journalism. Still have high hopes for the Badgers? Let her know at [email protected] or send her a tweet @kellymerickson.last_img read more

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