By Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –
MADISON, Wis. — In the wake of Wisconsin’s five-point victory over Northern Iowa, the message Chris Ash delivered to the members of UW’s defense was familiar and expected:
Anything less than four quarters of quality play is unacceptable and can get you beat.
“We understand we left plays on the field that shouldn’t happen,” said junior free safety Dezmen Southward, who had a critical missed tackle on Northern Iowa’s second touchdown Saturday. “We wanted to be solid. We wanted to be consistent. And we wanted to be crisp. And on 90 percent of the plays we were.
“But it’s not about those 90. It’s about those 10 percent that we’ve got to get.”
Ash, in his second season as defensive coordinator, believes the players understand the need to avoid lapses that result in big plays.
“They’re not dumb,” Ash said. “They were disappointed.”
Coach Bret Bielema believes the players get it.
“We can’t give up big plays,” he said. “No matter what happens, just don’t let them get in the end zone.”
Yet both appear weary of talking about the same issues that plagued the defense in 2011.
“It’s time that collectively we put together a 60-minute game,” Ash said. “If not, we’ll ride the roller-coaster like we have in the past until we realize that.”
Will it take a loss for the message to sink in?
“It’s not going to take that,” Ash said. “This was a good learning opportunity. We played excellent football for the first 21/2 quarters.
“I don’t know if it was a mental lapse or what it was. But we just didn’t have that same focus and intensity at the end that we needed.”
Ash confirmed that mental mistakes contributed to all three touchdown passes.
Linebacker Ethan Armstrong lost visual contact with wide receiver Chad Owens in the slot and allowed him to cut inside for an easy 2-yard touchdown catch.
Linebacker Mike Taylor took his eyes off tailback David Johnson for about a second, which allowed Johnson to get open down the sideline for a 31-yard touchdown catch.
When Taylor and cornerback Marcus Cromartie blitzed from the left side of the UW formation on a second-and-10 play, no defender slid over to the vacated area. That resulted in a 55-yard touchdown pass to Johnson.
Both of Johnson’s touchdowns came on simple wheel routes along the right sideline. Those plays are in the playbook of most teams, including UW.
“We see it every day at practice,” Ash said. “It’s not something new. It’s not something we hadn’t seen.
“With the particular calls we were in a couple guys just didn’t play it right.”
Ash sounded equally troubled by the Panthers’ two fourth-down conversions, both of which led to touchdowns.
On the first, quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen lofted a pass over Taylor and Cromartie for a 21-yard gain to the UW 6 to convert a fourth-and-4.
The Panthers scored their first touchdown three plays later.
On the second, Cromartie lost contact with Owens on a fourth-and-7 play. Owens made a difficult catch near the sideline for an 8-yard gain.
Kollmorgen hit Johnson for the 31-yard touchdown on the next play.
“He let a guy get outside, lost leverage on it,” Ash said of Cromartie. “We’ve got to be able to get off the field in those critical situations.”
Perhaps the most troublesome aspect of UW’s defensive performance in the opener was this:
Northern Iowa gained 47 yards on 15 plays (3.1 yards per play) in the first half. The numbers jumped to 259 yards on 39 plays (6.6 yards per play) in the second half.
“It is the same thing we’ve been preaching,” Ash said. “Great players and great defenses play 60 minutes.”
Although the players appear to understand that message, if they fail to suffer from lapses the result will be a loss at some point this season.
Wisconsin defense tries to learn — again — from lapsesIn the wake of Wisconsin’s five-point victory over Northern Iowa, the message Chris Ash delivered to the members of UW’s defense was familiar and expected: Anything less than four quarters of quality play is unacceptable and can get you beat.