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Today is Monday, Oct. 31, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Badgers finished Nebraska
Wisconsin did on Saturday night what it couldn’t in the last two matchups with unbeaten top-10 teams — finish. Faced with the exact same scenario two weeks prior, the Badgers fell to Ohio State in overtime.
Linebacker Vince Biegel, watching from the sideline that night as he recovered from foot surgery, was in the middle of it this time around and had no intention of sending fans home with their hearts ripped out again.
Vince Biegel: "We weren't going to let another overtime, night game slip past our fingers." #Badgers
— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) October 30, 2016
What Wisconsin has accomplished this year, a season in which it could be argued that the Badgers are playing the most difficult schedule in school history, is bordering on ridiculous. Inconsistent quarterback play, a still developing running game and injuries ravaging the roster haven’t stopped Wisconsin from surpassing everyone’s expectations to sit at No. 8 in the country two-thirds of the way through the year.
It had the potential to be a special night… and it definitely lived up to the hype. https://t.co/zr4nFDiqdH
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) October 31, 2016
Nebraska proved that the paper tigers label some had given them coming into the game was inaccurate. The Huskers fought all night and were in position to steal a victory after a missed extra point by the Badgers in overtime.
What the Huskers found out, though, was the will of the Wisconsin defense far exceeds reason. Whether it was inside linebacker Ryan Connelly slicing through for a tackle for loss on second down or safety D’Cota Dixon knocking down the final last-gasp pass from quarterback Tommy Armstrong, these Badgers are growing and learning.
The failures against Michigan and Ohio State didn’t take the will out of Wisconsin. It just fueled the fire more, and the entire country saw that on Saturday night when the Badgers finished off its third top-10 team this year.
It’s a problem
Wisconsin has a quarterback problem, one created by unsteady play and a head coach unwilling to commit to one guy.
Paul Chryst has continually said this year that for his team to be the best it possibly can be, the Badgers will need both Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston. But that’s not accurate. Wisconsin won’t be its best until Chryst chooses one guy and sticks with him. The same confidence he instilled in Joel Stave by naming him the starter in the spring of 2015 and never wavering has been replaced by uncertainty for Hornibrook and Houston, never knowing when a poor throw or decision will land them on the bench.
Chryst was asked after the Iowa game if he realized the can of worms he was opening by bringing Houston into the game for a few series after not playing him for a month. He brushed it off as a non-factor but on Saturday night against Nebraska it reared its ugly head, as he rotated the two liberally and largely without impact. The duo combined to throw for 114 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. And for the season, they’ve thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9).
Going back and forth feels like a departure from Chryst’s personality, one that likes to limit drama and strives for consistency. In fact, it seems like something one of his predecessors — Gary Andersen or Bret Bielema — would do and get killed for by the media and fans.
Perhaps the most egregious aspect of it is there isn’t a plan going into a game on how the rotation between the two will work, which Houston confirmed after Saturday’s win.
“No, there’s never a plan,” the senior said. “It’s kind of how our coaching staff goes. No plan. It’s just whatever happens, happens.”
Houston says he’s cool with the arrangement, and he should be considering it’s allowed him another chance to play after most, including him, thought he had seen the field for the last time when Chryst turned to Hornibrook as his starter to open the Big Ten season. But not everybody is OK with the going back and forth, and then having to answer questions about it after a game.
“I think we need to solidify that role as the season goes on, hopefully the next game,” Wisconsin running back Corey Clement said. “We just don’t want any distractions.”
It’s remarkable that the Badgers have played one of the toughest schedules in the country and sit at 6-2 with a very good shot of ending up in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game despite the uncertainty under center.
It speaks to the tremendous coaching job Chryst and his staff have done, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But the quarterback problem needs an answer and not one that consists of playing both guys.
A first step
It wasn’t without its issues — 17 missed free throws and 15 turnovers among them — but the Wisconsin basketball team’s 86-58 exhibition win over UW-Platteville on Sunday afternoon also showed how much growth the Badgers have made since fans last saw them in late March.
Whether it was guard Khalil Iverson stepping out and hitting a 3-pointer or point guard Bronson Koenig slamming home a dunk on a fast break, coach Greg Gard’s first official team in Madison isn’t the same bunch from a year ago.
Highlights from today's exhibition
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) October 30, 2016
All 17 players got in the game, but it was the first 11 or 12 who create intrigue for Gard. And it’s something that will play itself out over the next week or so in advance of the season opener on Nov. 11 against Central Arkansas.
“No, I don’t know right now,” Gard said when asked if he had a number in mind of how many guys he’ll play this year. “I think sometimes it may be based on who’s playing well, who’s struggling, who’s in a groove, who’s not.”
The team depth could manifest itself in different ways, whether it’s throwing fresh bodies at teams, playing certain styles based on the matchup or even playing up-tempo on offense and a full court press here and there on defense. With the varying style of players Gard has, it’s almost a coach’s dream to find a way to maximize all of them.
Granato era off to a great start
Rebuilding a once-proud Wisconsin hockey program to its former glory is far from a finished product, but Tony Granato and his staff are off to an excellent start a few weeks into the season.
The Badgers traveled to upstate New York this weekend for the first true road trip of the year and returned to Madison with a pair of victories, including one against No. 18 St. Lawrence on Friday night.
— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerMHockey) October 30, 2016
Wisconsin could find themselves ranked in the national polls for the first time in more than two years when they are released on Monday. That, along with the exciting, high-scoring offense (4.3 goals per game) the Badgers have shown through six games, has more people talking about the hockey team, which should lead to more turning out at the Kohl Center on Friday and Saturday nights.
Just landed in Madison @BadgerMHockey 4 wins in 6 games. Halfway to last year's total. Equal to 2014-15 total. 28+ to play
— Brian Posick (@brian_posick) October 30, 2016
Again, this won’t be a quick process for Granato. When you win just 12 combined games in the past two years, there are going to be setbacks this season. But it’s clear that the arrow is pointing up on a rejuvenated program.