Badgers bent on bouncing back

Joey Kaufman
Wisconsin players walk off the field as Illinois players celebrate their stunning 24-23 win over the previously unbeaten Badgers on Saturday. [Holly Hart/The Associated Press]

The buildup began late last week.

Fox announced its “Big Noon Kickoff” pregame show would broadcast from Ohio State, which was hosting Wisconsin, a juicy matchup that promised to feature a pair of undefeated Big Ten teams ranked in the top 10.

They just needed to survive the weekend.

While the Buckeyes handled Northwestern in a 52-3 beatdown Friday night, the Badgers faltered the following day. Favored by 30 points over Illinois, they were stunned, losing 24-23 on a last-play field goal.

In the aftermath, Saturday's game at Ohio Stadium lost some of its luster.

But Wisconsin coach Paul Chyrst talked up his team's resolve Monday.

“They're resilient,” Chyrst said. “We have to turn the page fast.”

The Badgers will need to show as much if they are to pose any serious threat to Ohio State, which has looked like a formidable juggernaut, winning every game this season by 24 or more points.

When the Badgers began game preparations for the Buckeyes, Chyrst compared their approach to ones from previous weeks in which they were coming off wins.

“Obviously, it was the first time this group this season lost, and yet I appreciated where they were at and how they approached today,” Chryst said.

Wisconsin has proven to be tough in the past. Since Chryst took over in 2015, his teams have lost consecutive games only one time. That was in 2016.

Wisconsin has continued to rely on a traditional offense, led by running back Jonathan Taylor, and a stout defense.

Taylor is the nation's third-leading rusher with 957 yards in his first seven games, as well as running for 15 touchdowns. The Badgers rank No. 1 in the nation in both total defense, surrendering 193.9 yards per game, and in scoring defense, with 7.6 points allowed per game (Ohio State is second in both, at 229 and 8.0, respectively).

But Wisconsin's passing game has also improved. Quarterback Jack Coan, who is in his first season as a starter as a junior, has thrown for 1,383 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions with a 76 percent completion percentage.

It's an uptick over his predecessor.

Alex Hornibrook, who started behind center for the Badgers last season, completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 1,532 yards, 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

In their loss at Illinois, the Badgers were sloppy in the second half, seeing a 20-7 lead vanish.

On two of their final three trips to the red zone, they finished without any points, missing a field goal and later losing a fumble.

Coan was also intercepted near midfield with a little more than two minutes left, a turnover that helped the Fighting Illini drive downfield to set up the game-winning field goal.

The Badgers finished with three turnovers at Illinois in a stretch of rare sloppiness. In their first six games, they had committed only five turnovers, and only once had multiple turnovers in a game.

As much as the Badgers must deal with their first setback, they face a thin margin for error against the Buckeyes.

Chryst stressed execution without pressing either as his team prepares for a trip to Columbus with the hope of pulling off the upset.

“We talk about it every week,” Chryst said. “When you play against a good team or are in an individual matchup against a good player, it comes down to what you do and how you do it.

“I would think there's a natural instinct to where you feel you might have to do more than normal. You can't. You have to do your best. You strive for perfection, knowing it'll never be that, but you really have to trust yourself, trust how you play and trust those around you. Then you go play and cut it loose.”