By the second half, it was ugly, but how did we get there? It's amazing how just a few things create a landslide.
First, the punting game. Nortman's a quality freshman, but he's a freshman, and punting killed us in the first half.
At the end of the first quarter, things were going ok. Nortman's 15-yard punt, from our own 37, gets Penn State started at their 48. Still, the defense gives up one first down, holds, and forces a 50-yard field goal. Really, there's no complaining about that.
The teams then exchanged three-and-outs, but punting hurts the Badgers, and Penn State takes over at their own 49 at the end of the first quarter. They march down the short field, and score. It's 10-0 with 11 minutes to go in the second. Still, not too bad. One 49-yard drive, and one 15-yard drive for points.
The Punt Return. Poor coverage, a flashy return man, and just like that, the Badgers are in a pretty big hole. But? All of the sudden, the Badgers put together a heck of a drive with only two third-and-shorts, then a third and goal from the 5 (thanks, in part, to a stupid penatly on our offense). Still, it's 17-7, the Badgers have only surrendered 10 points on defense (on two short drives), and it's not time to panic.
The ensuing kick-off is touchback, and the Badgers only surrender one first down before forcing a Penn State punt, with just under two minutes to go in the half. Things are looking up. But not for long.
Literally, as the Badgers break the huddle the announcers remark that the Badgers just need to make sure they don't do anything dumb . . .Evridge fumbles and Penn State recovers on the 16. One throw into the end zone, incomplete, but pass interference, and Penn State has a first down on the 2. A single two yard rush, and it's 24-7 and nearly over.
Looking at the first half, you see a bad punt (3 points), one short drive (7 points), a punt return (7 points), and a fumble inside our own 10 yard line (2 plays, only one for an actual gain = 7 points). Wisconsin was losing the field position battle, but had only given up one "drive" for points, and that was only 52 yards. Three plays (the 15-yard punt, the kickoff return, and the fumble) and Penn State had a huge lead.
Not that there weren't serious problems on offense. At this point, Evridge has completed two passes. Two. Only six incompletions, but plenty of pass plays that didn't end with the ball being thrown (including the fumble). On the ground, the Badgers had gone for about 100 yards. Not bad.
On to the second half which begins badly.
Penn State comes out throwing. Five throws, each going for double digit yardage (including the 15-yard pass interference penalty), and Penn State has a 24-point lead. Penn State's burners, Butler, Williams, and Norwood, just abuse the Badger secondary. Not too surprising, going after a Badger weakness and exploiting it. But in all seriousness, this is only the second drive Penn State has mounted. That's only one more than the Badgers, but it puts Wisconsin in a 24-point hole.
We get the ball, but with a manageable 3rd and 2, only pick up one. Three and out. Punt.
Here's the defense's true embarassment. 3rd and 20 from the Penn State 8, and Norwood gets free for 21 yards. Inexcusable. Now, remember the drive before? Penn State receivers versus Wisconsin DBs. Thre passes: 21 yards, 25 yards (ok, to the tight end, but still), and 44 yards, Butler for the touch.
Now the Badgers are down 31, and it's Evridge's last stand. Keep in mind, Penn State still has only sustained three drives. Outside of those three drives, Penn State has gotten three first downs (four, counting the 14-yard pass interference on the 16-yard "drive" after the fumble).
Evridge throws another incompletion, his seventh of the day (against two completions), Clay goes for 4 yards, then Evridge completes his third pass of the day . . . to the Nits. His numbers on the day, 2-11, 1 INT, 1 fumble, no chance. And Penn State takes over on the Wisconsin 48. Two first downs, and Penn State kicks a field goal. Again, not a bad result for the defense (would have been nice to stop them cold, I'll grant you). And it's 41-7. Frankly, the two-field goals surrendered were examples of the defense playing pretty well.
Sherer comes in and provides an immediate shot in the arm, with two nice passes for 36 yards. After a nice run from Hill, Wisconsin is on the Penn State 27 and Sherer forces one at the goal line. Intercepted at the 1, it gets returned 55 yards. Penn State takes over against a broken defense with 28 seconds remaining in the 3rd quarter.
The 4th quarter begins with mild reprieve, as Penn State's Clark makes his only mistake of the day, throwing a pick of his own at the Wisconsin 5, and the Badgers return it to the Wisconsin 42.
By now it's past desparation time. With 12:25 remaining, down 34 points, what is there to do? Get Sherer some live practice, that's what. He does ok, moving the Badgers down to Penn State's 28, but after a false start on 3rd and 6, on 4th and 11 he scrambles backward 12 yards, then fumbles the ball, giving Penn State the ball on their own 45. Two promising drives in a row, no points, good field position for Penn State, and a 34-point deficit in the 4th quarter. Sheesh.
The Badgers force a three and out, but can't do anything themselves. After a punt of our own, Penn State again takes over in great field position, at their own 49 and oh, by the way, the game is over anyway. Did the defense give up on that last drive? Sure. So the Badgers gave up a few more points. Frankly, my dears, I don't give a damn.
Wisconsin runs a few plays, and that's the game.
So let's review: while the game was in reach, the defense gave up three "long" drives, only two over 52 yards. Evridge went 2 for 11, with a pick and a fumble (10 points), and let's not kid ourselves into thinking that Sherer looked that much better (though he did look better). The punting game was abysmal, giving up field position, including a 15-yard punt, and the touchdown. The defense nabbed one turnover, but it was late in the game when things were already decided.
And that, friends, is how you get massacred playing a very good team.
A review of the review?
(1) Penn State's dangerous receivers vs. Wisconsin's secondary? Yikes. They ate us alive.
(2) Penn State's line vs. our front 7? Not bad, but not good either.
(3) Badgers' offense in the trenches? Not bad, really. But . . .
(4) Badger passing game? The starter was 2 for 11, 1 INT, 1 fumble inside our own 10. Ouch.
(5) Special teams: this (and QB play) was where a loss became a blowout.
So what now? That's a question for tomorrow.