Football walks perilous road

first_imgWith little “big picture” improvement, the Wisconsin Badger football team is “walking on edge.”I get the feeling that at any moment the ground could fall out from under them, and the team won’t be able to recover. But that’s just me.Over the course of three games, the offense has been for the most part fine, but the defense has played soft.Beyond the seemingly hesitant play is the notion that the defense is playing “blind.”Elijah Hodge admitted as much during the postgame interviews after Saturday’s game. Safety Aubrey Pleasant added that a lot of what The Citadel ran, Wisconsin had never before seen on tape. Granted it’s difficult to know exactly what to expect against a team you have never played, but at the same time something is wrong with that image. How can a top-10 football program go into games with its eyes closed hoping that somehow, someway it’ll be fine?The thing is, I don’t believe that’s the only problem right now. Neither does head coach Bret Bielema.Each week Bielema has voiced his concern that the defense is getting beat on the edge, that it’s losing leverage on the football and that players aren’t squaring up to the ball carrier. Each week a few players overrun tackles or just flat-out get beat, especially through the middle of the field. And each week Wisconsin’s defense has gone into half wondering, “What happened?”That “What happened?” reached a point Saturday where the fans got so fed up with the Badgers’ unacceptable first-half play that they booed the team off the field.While fans sometimes are too boisterous, letting a whim get the best of them, most do know that a 21-21 tie with The Citadel isn’t right.”Fans are going to go with what’s going on out there,” cornerback Allen Langford said. “I mean, we really didn’t show too much of a good defense out there, so I can expect it.”Those bad habits can be fixed, but so far, I have read the first three chapters, and it doesn’t appear the plotline is moving in any discernable direction. Intrinsically, the defense is the same; it starts off bad and finishes OK against what most would deem lesser opponents.The only saving grace, beside a running back who can simply will his team to victory and a lot of individual talent, is the team’s ability to make corrections at halftime. Of the 65 points allowed this season, 42 have come in the first half and 28 have come in the first quarter. More than 65 percent of opponents’ total yards have come in the first half.I know a win is a win and that every time Wisconsin has faced a fork in the road where its two options are winning or losing, the Badgers have come out on top. But it’s a perilous road to be walking.It seems almost imminent that these bad starts are going to catch up to the Badgers, and they’ll fall — fast and hard. There won’t be a second chance. And while this team brought back a great number of starters from last year, there won’t be those leaders who can right the ship.”We have to establish some leadership on defense,” Langford said. “We have to get the little things corrected on every down.”Maybe, like Langford admitted during his postgame interview, this team isn’t as good as everyone thought. Maybe they weren’t ready to compete at a high level. Maybe losing leaders like Joe Stellmacher and Mark Zalewski has really changed the way in which the Badgers play — the way in which they can succeed.Whatever it is, there seems to be no immediate answer for the team’s first-half struggles. For now, running back P.J. Hill is carrying an awful lot more than just the ball; he has the entire season resting on his back.It’s admirable that he thrives in this environment, calling for the ball with the game on the line and knowing in his heart that he can and will do whatever it takes to carry the Badgers to victory, but the defense needs to help him out. It needs to make stops and needs to cut down on blown assignments.Last year, the team didn’t start off all that great, but at least it showed some stability, especially in the first halves of games. The coaching staff will solve the first-half riddle at some point. It just may not happen soon enough.Kevin Hagstrom is a senior majoring in journalism and economics. Share your thoughts on where the Badgers are headed as the Big Ten season approaches by reaching him at khagstrom@badgerherald.com.last_img

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