MADISON, Wis. — When members of Wisconsin’s football team convened to watch film of their season-opening performance, they had an opportunity to view the game through two lenses.
They could be discouraged about a first half in which they fell behind by 10 points, experienced communication breakdowns and committed too many penalties. Or they could be encouraged about a second half in which the defense posted a shutout and the offense scored 49 points — part of 59 unanswered points in a 59-10 rout of Utah State.
They chose the latter. But just because they are embracing optimism entering Week 2 against Florida Atlantic doesn’t mean they are forgetting about the issues that plagued them.
“We already have a half of everything possibly going not our way,” Badgers left tackle Michael Deiter said. “And that’s football. Sometimes it does everything to make sure you don’t have success, and you have to find a way to make it go. I think we did. And that’s something that will happen again in this season.
“We already have a taste of how to bounce back: stay calm, don’t panic. It’s a good learning experience for everybody.”
Of particular concern were early struggles on the offensive line, as well as a high penalty count. Last season, Wisconsin committed only 3.4 penalties a game, which ranked second in the FBS. On Friday night, the Badgers committed 9 penalties for a total of 73 yards. Four of those penalties came in the first quarter.
Tight end Troy Fumagalli was flagged for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty; Zander Neuville drew an illegal block in the back penalty on a kick return; cornerback Nick Nelson was caught holding; and Lubern Figaro was called for an illegal block on a punt return.
Later, linebacker Chris Orr was offside; right tackle David Edwards had a false start; nose guard Olive Sagapolu was flagged for encroachment; running back Chris James threw an illegal block on Derrick Tindal’s run; and the team was called for sideline interference.
“The pre-snap penalties, you try to minimize,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “You’d really like to eliminate them, but you want to certainly minimize them. We had a false start, and defensively we jumped. We had the two blocks in the back in the kicking game. Those are bigger penalties than any other because of the swing of yards. They end up being 30-yard penalties instead of 10 or 15 or five.
“Not one kid went and tried to, ‘This’ll be a good time to commit a foul.’ I don’t believe that. But we’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to clean it up. It starts with guys being accountable, not being anxious. Certainly in the end, it’s too many. And we’ve got to address that.”
Wisconsin’s offensive line required time to jell on Friday. Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook was sacked twice on the opening drive, and left guard Micah Kapoi didn’t identify a blitz fast enough on the second sack. Kapoi started in place of Jon Dietzen, who had offseason ankle surgery and missed time in fall camp. Dietzen was partially responsible for Hornibrook’s third sack later in the game.
Chryst noted that on the second offensive play of the game, two Wisconsin linemen ran the wrong way on a play. The opener marked Deiter’s first start at left tackle and center Tyler Biadasz’s first college game.
“They threw a lot of pressures at us,” Deiter said. “There were some looks that were new. So obviously there’s always going to be a little bit of a pain with that at first. But we throughout the season have to do a better job of adjusting faster. In my opinion, it took a little longer than we needed it to, which is something that’s got to be a point of emphasis.”
Chryst also indicated there was work to be done from the running backs. Jonathan Taylor, Bradrick Shaw and Chris James carried the ball a combined 32 times for 186 yards and 2 touchdowns. But Chryst said there were small mental mistakes and an occasional lack of patience that prevented bigger runs from materializing.
Through it all, however, Wisconsin was able to find its footing in time for a comfortable victory. The Badgers will attempt to build on their second-half success against a Florida Atlantic team that lost its opener 52-19 against Navy.
“We know about the jitters you have and the newness of the game,” Badgers receiver A.J. Taylor said. “But that definitely wasn’t really Wisconsin football. We’ve never practiced like that. I just think it was one of the things that happened. We were a little bit out of it and we had to find our identity. We’re still trying to find our identity. But that was a good little eye opener of how we don’t want to start.”
Safety Patrick Johnson (left arm) and running back Bradrick Shaw (right leg) were listed as questionable on Wisconsin’s preliminary injury report Monday. Johnson is the backup free safety behind Natrell Jamerson. Shaw earned the start against Utah State and carried 18 times for 84 yards with 1 touchdown.
The rest of Wisconsin’s injury report remained the same as last week. Running back Taiwan Deal (right leg), wide receiver Kendric Pryor (facial injuries from moped accident) wide receiver George Rushing (left leg) and fullback Jake Whalen (head) remain out.
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