Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard and the Badgers had no answers against Ohio State.

A lot missing in loss to Ohio State, longtime OL coach Bob Bostad to lead Wisconsin’s ILBs and more

Zach Heilprin

We hope you’ll start your day with us here at Landof10.com as we work to prepare you for everything that you need to know – Monday through Friday – around the world of Wisconsin sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, hockey or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.

Today is Friday, Feb. 24, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.


So about that second half …

The biggest question coming out of Wisconsin’s win at home against Maryland on Sunday was whether the team we saw in the second half — the one that shot 51.5 percent and outscored the Terrapins by 17 points — was the return of the Badgers from the first three months of the season. Or was it just a fluke for a team that was still trending downward with shaky performance after shaky performance? If a worse-than-the-score-indicates 83-73 loss to Ohio State on Thursday night is any indication, then it’s definitely the latter.

The Buckeyes, sitting in a tie for 12th in the Big Ten entering the night, did whatever they wanted inside, outscoring the Badgers 18-2 in the paint before halftime while building a 13-point lead. Wisconsin’s defense, so strong for much of the year, was torn apart by Ohio State’s hot outside shooting (10 of 16 on 3-pointers) and rebounding supremacy (38-25).

Coach Thad Matta’s team was scoring 70.1 points per game and hitting 43.7 percent of their shots this season. Against Wisconsin, those numbers were 83 and 50.0.

It was an inexcusable effort from Wisconsin, one lacking the urgency and drive that coach Greg Gard got from his guys against Maryland. It looked as if it were the Buckeyes fighting to stay in the race for a Big Ten title and the Badgers were the team whose year would come to an end without a trip to the postseason.

Instead of keeping pace with Purdue, the Badgers lost for a third time in four games, and what was once a two-game lead in the Big Ten is now a one-game deficit with Wisconsin heading to Michigan State on Sunday. The Badgers haven’t won in East Lansing since 2004.

What proved to be a brief return to normalcy against Maryland is now long forgotten. The Badgers can be that team, but they aren’t right now. And with so little time before the postseason begins, it makes you wonder whether they’ll be able to right the ship before a promising season ends in epic disappointment.

Hired as what?

There may not be a more accomplished offensive line coach in Wisconsin history than Bob Bostad. In his six years at Wisconsin — two as tight ends coach and four as the line coach — he oversaw 11 players who eventually would get drafted into the NFL, including three first-round picks.

So when the news broke Thursday night that he was returning to Madison it made perfect sense. That is, until you saw the position he’s expected to coach — inside linebackers.

What? A guy who played the position at Division III UW-Stevens Point back in the late 1980s but who has never coached a year of defense since his first gig as a graduate assistant in 1990 is all of a sudden going to be the coach of the guys who run the defense? You’re going to pair a first-year linebackers coach with your new defensive coordinator, Jim Leonhard, who himself has just one year of coaching experience? I say again … what?

The move makes little sense other than coach Paul Chryst desperately wanted his good friend and longtime co-worker on his staff no matter what. We don’t know who applied or who Chryst spoke with, but it’s impossible to say there wasn’t a better and more accomplished candidate than Bostad, especially with the talent Wisconsin has at the position.

That’s not a knock on him. He did play the position and might be a very good inside linebackers coach. But he’s never done it, and therefore nearly every defensive coach in the country is more qualified.

Based on what we know, the only way this move makes sense is if the Badgers thought, like many expected, the NCAA would approve the implementation of a 10th assistant coach, and it would begin immediately when and if passed in April by the Football Oversight Committee.

Seemingly, Bostad could have been brought in to serve in an offensive role and an experienced inside linebackers coach could be hired after the proposal was approved. Instead, the NCAA released an amendment to the proposal earlier this month that would push the start date of the 10th assistant to Jan. 9, 2018, perhaps leaving Chryst with nowhere to put Bostad but on defense for the time being. A stretch, I know.

Bostad is a heck of a coach, and Chryst knows him as well as anyone. But for those who thought Chryst’s promotion of Leonhard was risky, this goes beyond that. It’s a major wait-and-see endeavor at a position vital to Wisconsin’s defense.

Not all bad

If there was one glimmer of hope in Thursday’s loss at Ohio State it was the return of Bronson Koenig’s shooting stroke. Coming into the night, the senior was 8 of 35 from beyond the arc in his last six games. Against the Buckeyes, Koenig drilled 5 of 9 from 3-point land on his way to 27 points. In the process, he broke Ben Brust’s school-record for made 3-pointers in a career.

The big night comes a week after Koenig was forced to sit in a loss to Michigan as he dealt with a calf injury suffered Jan. 24 against Penn State. Now healthy, the streaky Koenig might be ready to close his career with a flurry.

That said, Koenig being so good from deep won’t mean a thing if the other two members of Wisconsin’s ‘Big 3’ — Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ — don’t do better than 11 combined points on 4 of 11 shooting.

Catching up