Nov. 1, 2011
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin linebackers coach Dave Huxtable was seated behind his office desk early Sunday afternoon -- breaking down film of Purdue's offense -- when he hit the pause button.
If you're asking if Huxtable, who has been coaching college football for three decades, if he's been through anything like the back-to-back losses at Michigan State and Ohio State, the answer is ...
"I have not,'' he said. "As long as I've been doing this gig, I've never experienced this.''
But the longer that he spends around the Badgers' players -- Huxtable joined the UW staff during the off-season -- the more convinced he is that they will have the resolve to overcome these two hits.
"I have no question,'' he said, "that these guys and this football team will bounce back.''
That process began shortly after the Ohio State students rushed the field.
"We've already got guys in the locker room stepping up,'' said defensive end Brendan Kelly. "We're a team that fights and we'll stay in the fight. There's no reason not to bounce back.''
While conceding "we ended up short again'' and "we made one less play'' than the Buckeyes, quarterback Russell Wilson stressed "keeping the faith'' and "staying positive'' this week in practice.
"We have to make sure people are on the same page,'' Wilson said.
Added tailback Montee Ball, "We have to make sure we stop the bleeding.''
That starts with preparation.
"We'll approach it the same,'' Ball said. "We'll attack the film room and correct mistakes.''
There's something to be said about the resiliency of youth.
But everyone was definitely hurting Saturday night; rightly so.
"It's pretty gut-wrenching, I'm not going to lie,'' said punter Brad Nortman.
"I'd say this one hit a little deeper,'' Kelly said.
"Back-to-back weeks is kind of unbelievable,'' said linebacker Mike Taylor.
The Badgers can still reach their Big Ten goals. But they're going to need some help.
"I definitely think this is a resilient ballclub,'' said safety Aaron Henry, "and the guys are going to continue to fight and claw until there's no more flight and claw left in us.''
Again, offense responds after sputtering
UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst talked about drawing "another clean slate'' for Purdue and building from there. "The beauty of it is that you can put all your energy into the week'' he said.
Will the coaches have to closely monitor the psyche of their players?
"Certainly yes,'' Chryst said. "But I really think you have to do that every week. If they have success in game, are they locked in for the next game?
"If you're consistent with your messages, I think the consistency helps the players when they're good (wins) or when they're viewed as tough (losses).''
The Badgers managed to rush for only 89 yards at Ohio State.
"Our run totals were down,'' Chryst said, "and part of it was that we had some third downs where we could have converted and given ourselves more snaps.
"There was also the field position; we had six drives inside our 20, and two inside our 10. But I still thought we had a chance to change our field position and we didn't.''
At the start of the fourth quarter, Wilson was flagged for an intentional grounding penalty even though it appeared that he had stepped outside of the tackle box.
That left the Badgers with a third-and-23 from their own 6-yard line. That drive ended with a punt and a short field for the Buckeyes, who increased their lead to 20-14 with a field goal.
"Russell thought he had left it (the tackle box),'' Chryst said, "and once you're out, you're out. But when you leave it to a judgment call, those are 50-50 sometimes.
"There were other opportunities to change the course of that game and we didn't.''
Was it fair to say that the Buckeyes were more physical at the point of attack?
"I thought there were times when they were,'' Chryst said. "I thought there were times when our guys were. It was a good battle up front; two good fronts. You're going to win some, and lose some.
"When you're playing good defenses, that's going to be the case. That's why you have to stay the course and keep playing. That part of it I loved -- I loved the response and the way they kept going.''
Defense looks to step up
Despite the second-half rally, the Badgers were still guilty of breakdowns on defense and special teams; a theme that has emerged over the last two Saturdays in East Lansing and Columbus.
"It never comes down to one particular play or one particular player who loses you the game,'' said UW defensive coordinator Chris Ash. "It's a combination of things in all three phases.
"I'm frustrated that we had opportunities to win two games on the road against quality opponents and we pretty much gave it to them for whatever reason.
"We know that we're good enough to win those games. We know that we're good enough to be in those situations and make plays.''
Wisconsin's starting linebackers made their share of plays against the Buckeyes. Mike Taylor had 22 tackles, Chris Borland had 13 and Kevin Claxton had 10.
It was the first time the Badgers had three players with double-digit tackles in the same game since 2006. Taylor's 22 tackles were the most since 1998 when Bob Adamov had 22 against Purdue.
"Twenty-two is a lot of tackles but in watching and grading the film, it was legitimate,'' Huxtable said. "He was around the football and that's what you expect linebackers to be.
"They should be leading the team in tackles. That's what you require out of the position.''
Through the first eight games, Taylor has 86 tackles and Borland has 84. Henry ranks third on the defense in tackles with 39 (or 47 fewer than Taylor). Claxton is the fourth-leading tackler with 32.
"Kevin had his most productive game,'' Huxtable said. "Being a senior, that was the last opportunity for him to play against Ohio State and he was excited.''
What will be the carryover for the players against Purdue?
"We're going to come back even stronger,'' Ball said.
"We still know how good we can be,'' said Kelly.
"I think it just make us more excited to come out and get a win,'' said Nortman.
Chris Ash cut to the chase.
"The biggest thing is that we have to make sure we have confidence,'' he said, "and we still believe that we can be as good as we thought we could be at the start of the year.''