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Same story, different game. The Wisconsin Badgers become the fourth straight BCS team to narrowly escape the Utah State Aggies on their home turf. Texas A&M did it '09 by 8 points, Oklahoma did it in '10 by 7 points, Auburn did it in '11 by 4 points, and Wisconsin did it by 2 points.
Wait a second, I see a trend here; if things continue in their current pattern, next season the Aggies will lose to BCS opponent X by 1 point, then in the 2014 season they will tie BCS opponent X to force overtime where they will lose, in the 2015 season they will tie BCS opponent X to force overtime where they will win, and finally in 2016, the Aggies will beat BCS opponent X by 1 point! I'm calling it right now! Watch out 2016 BCS opponent X, the Aggies will dominate you by 1 point!
In all honesty, Saturday's game was as gut wrenching as it gets, but moving forward there are some good (and bad) things to look at:
-The Defense: Once is an exception, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend. Impressed doesn't begin to explain what I saw from Utah State's defense, they dictated the line of scrimmage all game long. No wait, they didn't dictate, they imposed their will! Sure Montee Ball ran for 139 yards, but it took him 37 carries to do it. That's 3.8 yards per carry for one of the best backs in the country. Constantly they stuffed the Wisconsin offense on 3rd and short situations, the play by play in the 1st half reads like this:
- 3rd and 1 Montee Ball rush for loss of 2 yards
- 3rd and 1 Montee Ball rush for no gain
- 3rd and Goal Montee Ball rush for no gain (led to a FG instead of a Touchdown)
- 3rd and 1 Montee Ball rush for loss of 1 yard (led to a missed FG on 4th down)
The longest rush they gave up all game was the 17 yard touchdown run in the 3rd quarter after a shanked punt gave the Badgers a shortened field (we will get to special teams later). The Badgers were 3 for 15 on 3rd down. On the road, in one of the most hostile environment in college football, a place where Wisconsin was beating opponents by 33.5 points per game, Utah State's defense allowed 234 yards, 16 points, and forced a key turnover that led to a Matt Austin touchdown. It's fair to say, when your defense is playing like that, you're going to have a better than average chance to win every game you play.
-Special Teams: While we've all seen leaps and bounds in the offense and defense under Gary Andersen, the special teams has failed to keep up.
Where to begin; oh, I know, the momentum changing punt return for a touchdown. Kenzel Doe took the breath right out of Aggie fans with it, everything up to that point was going the Aggies way. A problem that faces Utah State is many of their defensive starters are on the cover teams, not giving them enough rest. Andersen addressed it in his press conference on Monday and said they needed to create more depth there so players like Zach Vigil and McKade Brady aren't on the field for 100 snaps. He's right, it's a lot to ask of them.
Next, the bad punt by Tyler Bennett that gave the Badgers great field position, leading to the Montee Ball touchdown. Two consecutive bad special teams plays led directly to a 13 point swing and a Wisconsin lead that they never gave up.
Lastly, the Josh Thompson missed field goal. Quick question, can any one in this state kick a field goal? I can't remember a season when I've seen so many missed field goals by local teams. Priority number 1 for the staff has to be special teams. No matter how good the offense and defense are playing, if you can't cover kickoffs and punts, or kick field goals, you're not winning.