The Wake-Up Call: Expectations rise for Wisconsin, suspension for Boutte, Orr can be replaced
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This is your Sept. 6, Wisconsin Wake-Up Call. While a majority of you had Monday off for Labor Day, the Badgers did not. Just days after taking out LSU in thrilling fashion at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, the team was back at it, getting ready for its game with Akron on Saturday. But before we look ahead, let’s see what you may have missed.
Expectations will rise, but how high?
In the wake of Wisconsin’s shocking upset of LSU, the season so many predicted would end with the Badgers sporting their worst record since finishing 7-6 in 2008, has gotten a shot in the arm.
As detailed by Jesse Temple at ESPN.com, a win over the No. 5 team in the country — a group that was expected to challenge for a national title and had NFL talent all over the field — will likely lead to a dramatic increase in what Wisconsin fans think should be achieved in the second year of Paul Chryst’s tenure.
There’s no doubting that the performance was better than expected. The defense, despite being without six starters from a year ago and then losing another on the first play of the game, was fantastic in the debut of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. The offense played smash-mouth football, controlled the clock and made just enough plays to overcome two critical mistakes by first-time starting quarterback Bart Houston.
But what does it all mean? Wisconsin was picked to finish third in the Big Ten West, largely based on a schedule that will see them open conference play by visiting Michigan State and Michigan, facing Ohio State at home and then going back on the road at Iowa in a matter of five weeks.
The win over LSU doesn’t make that stretch any easier. It actually makes it tougher, with those squads knowing the Badgers won’t be a pushover.
The likelihood that Wisconsin makes it to their Oct. 29 game against Nebraska with a better than .500 record still remains extremely low. Not that they played juggernauts, but Michigan and Ohio State each showed why they are among the favorites to take the Big Ten, winning by a combined score of 143-13, while the Hawkeyes rolled in their first game with a 45-21 win over Miami of Ohio. Only Michigan State struggled in Week 1, beating Furman 28-13.
In reality, we have zero idea how good those teams are, and the same holds true for LSU. Similar to the Tigers, that 2008 Badgers squad had NFL talent all over the field, including nine starters that would end up getting drafted. They began the season, like LSU, inside the top 10, before crashing and burning, ending the year not ranked in the AP Top 25.
None of this is take away from what was a historic win in school history on Saturday. When you do something — beating a nonconference opponent ranked in the top 5 of the country — for the first time since 1974, you should enjoy it. But it should also be enjoyed because the rest of the first half of the season is unlikely to be as festive as the opening weekend at Lambeau Field.
A one-game suspension? For that?
Not surprisingly, LSU’s Josh Boutte’s punishment for his cheap shot on Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon was lighter than what many were calling for. The senior right guard was tagged with a one-game suspension for the personal foul that got him ejected from the end of the Badgers’ 16-14 win over the Tigers on Saturday.
The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the offense, though. Certainly not if you take the view of ESPN’s Trevor Matich:
Trevor Matich holds nothing back on the hit LSU's Josh Boutte made after D'Cota Dixon's Int for Wisconsin.https://t.co/WLhSMQryb4
— Mike & Mike (@MikeAndMike) September 5, 2016
While that may be a bit of hyperbole on his part, it’s not inaccurate.
Still, the biggest issue with the whole incident is the response by the adult parties involved. Following the game, LSU coach Les Miles called the hit “logical,” saying Boutte didn’t see Dixon fall to the ground after the interception. Two days later, with video clearly showing Boutte saw Dixon on the turf, Miles labeled it a “mistake” in the statement put out by the school, which is an insult to the word.
A false start is a mistake. A guy running the wrong route is a mistake. What Boutte did was intentional. And for Miles to say it was anything but is sugarcoating the vicious nature of a hit that could have resulted in a major injury to Dixon.
Missing a game against Jacksonville State, like Boutte will, is a slap on the wrist that was signed off on by the SEC. And one wonders whether there would have been any kind of punishment at all if it was Mississippi State on the schedule next as opposed to an FCS team.
Badgers can overcome the loss of Chris Orr
It may be callous to say, but Wisconsin is better suited than most to deal with the season-ending knee injury sustained by linebacker Chris Orr. The sophomore went down on the first play of the game against LSU, tearing the ACL in his right knee.
A fiery and vocal leader, Orr will be missed. But he was replaced by redshirt sophomore Ryan Connelly and the defense didn’t miss a step against the Tigers. They limited running back Leonard Fournette to 39 yards in the first half, before he found some success after the break and finished with 138 yards on 23 carries.
“It’s definitely hard to step into a role like that so early in a game, especially against a great team like LSU. But credit to Ryan Connelly,” Wisconsin outside linebacker T.J. Watt said Monday. “Preparing all week, not knowing he was going to get those reps, then coming in off the bench and having a tremendous game was huge for us.”
Connelly will continue to be a part of the defense, but the loss of Orr should be further softened by the return of T.J. Edwards. He went down with a foot injury prior to fall camp, but on a report released on Monday, he was listed as questionable for Wisconsin’s game against Akron this week.
The redshirt sophomore was the only inside linebacker to start all 13 games last season, and he was the Badgers leading tackler, finishing with 84. His return should bolster a defense that has many already talking about whether they could rival the unit from last year, which led the country in points allowed per game.