A lot of flattering things were said about Barry Alvarez over two days and it was even announced the field at Camp Randall Stadium will be named after him starting next season.
But the greatest gift he could have received on “Barry Alvarez Day“ would have been for the underperforming 2021 University of Wisconsin football team to finally show some of the characteristics of an Alvarez-coached outfit, to let the guy who helped build all of this walk out of the place on Saturday afternoon with a feeling of pride.
Instead, Alvarez had to depart feeling as though his party had been ruined by the performance of a program that looks unrecognizable at the moment.
Michigan 38, UW 17.
First, let’s get another ugly historical footnote out of the way: UW is 1-3 for the first time since 1990, Alvarez’s first season, following its eighth consecutive loss to a ranked opponent.
UW players heard the boos in the first half. They couldn’t help but look around with 9-plus minutes remaining in the game and notice how many empty seats there were on a day when the announced attendance was 74,855.
The place pretty much had cleared out by that point. Fans had either headed home or to a bar or tailgate to drown their sorrows. They had chosen to find something better to do with their time because, presumably, they were disgusted.
“And they have every right to be,” senior cornerback Faion Hicks said. “One and three is not the standard here. It hurts when you disappoint the fans, the program and even alumni. Just want to apologize to them, we have to play better and realize it’s bigger than us.”
More gross stats: The Badgers have led for only 2 minutes, 23 seconds of a possible 180 minutes in their three losses this season. They’ve been outscored 51-10 in the fourth quarter the past two weeks, with close games turning into humiliating scorelines in the blink of an eye.
UW coach Paul Chryst claims his team is practicing well during the week. He says he arrives on Saturday optimistic that they’ll turn things around.
But then the ball is kicked off and his team keeps making some of the same mistakes. He understands he sounds like a broken record in postgame interviews when discussing how inconsistency is the team’s biggest enemy right now.
Afterward, I asked Chryst if he’s angry. Or is there another word to describe where he’s at emotionally with his program mired in a major slump?
“I appreciate this group and the way that they’ve put it out there and therefore you want to do everything you can to help them have success,” Chryst said after the Badgers dropped to 9-10 since midway through the 2019 season. “And when it doesn’t happen, I look inwardly and what is it that I have to do different, have to do better? It’s driven by a lot of things, driven by competitiveness, driven by a care, driven by that’s your profession. I’ve got no problem (with) people that want to bitch about me because this is my job, this is where I’m at. I want to take it and not project it on the kids.”
Fair enough, and Chryst is right: Most of the blame has to be placed on his shoulders. He’s a loyal man, but that allegiance is going to be put to the test in the near future as UW keeps taking steps back.
Badgers special teams coordinator Chris Haering has worked under Chryst for 10 seasons, including three at Pittsburgh. It’s hard to find much in Haering’s resume to support him keeping that important of a role, especially after massive special teams breakdowns by UW in back-to-back weeks.
Offensive line coach Joe Rudolph is even more attached at the hip to Chryst. There’s not a position more important to the Badgers’ success over the years than the offensive line. UW needs that group to be dominant; right now, it’s a weakness and Chryst needs to decide how much of that is Rudolph’s fault.
Chryst, meanwhile, has some soul-searching to do with the future of the offense in general. UW’s three scoring drives against the Wolverines generated 184 total yards in 20 plays. The other 10 drives of the game for the Badgers: 35 plays for 26 yards.
It’d be one thing if this were a rebuilding year with the promise of a brighter future on the horizon. Instead, this is a roster loaded with veterans: fifteen of the 22 starters on Saturday are seniors.
So what now? The fourth quarter last week felt like rock bottom but UW kept right on digging, losing by three touchdowns at home to the Wolverines. Losing to Bret Bielema and Illinois next week would leave fans even more aggravated.
“I feel like they shouldn’t give up,” UW senior wide receiver Kendric Pryor said of fans. “But that’s why I say it’s really only about the people in the locker room. People are quick to jump ship. When we’re doing good, they want to be on your side. As soon as one thing goes wrong, (they) want to jump ship and not mess with us. Our mindset is we’re worried about us in the locker room, the 120 guys and the coaching staff.”
Meanwhile, the rest of us are left to wonder where this program goes from here. The past was celebrated Saturday and Alvarez got his deserved day in the sun, but it was impossible to ignore the dark clouds hanging over the future of the program.
Badgers fans flock to Twitter to vent about Wisconsin's poor play in loss to Michigan
First things first
Blame should be directed equally at coaching staff, QB, and O-line. QB development falls on Chryst’s shoulders. Mertz talking about winning a natty and launching NIL website before accomplishing anything at UW set him up for criticism.— Matt Baker (@bakermm23) October 2, 2021
Promote Leonhard before he leaves.
Not up to the challenge
Yes,we played 3 very good teams but we should be a good team too if we're ever going to be a playoff contender. Is it talent, coaching, fan support? Talent, I thought we were solid, coaching has to come into question, fan support been high. If 7-5 or 6-6 is the aim, then yes.— Paul Rosowski Sr. (@Pantablo) October 2, 2021
Ready to wait out the storm
After the Rose Bowl win in 1993, Wisconsin went through a tough 1994 season, were blown out by Colorado both home and away, and Donovan McNabb ran wild in a 38-0 opener in 1997 at the Kickoff Classic in the Meadowlands. Calling for Paul Chryst’s firing is ridiculous.— Jeff Ostach (@jeff_ostach) October 2, 2021
Numbers speak volumes
Next weeks loss at IL will be a nice cap to in already dead season again. 9-10 since middle of 2019. Chryst 10-17 against ranked teams. Losing record against teams above .500. His offense has been brutal. Hard not to give a players coach like Jim a chance. NFL player, walk on.— ChazB (@chazb33) October 2, 2021
Failing to hold the line
I think after today, the 100% Mertz fault can go away. He needs to improve things but clearly there are many, many other issues— Matt Uhlmann (@UhlmannMatt) October 2, 2021
Cooking up a hot mess
Defense is solid, but can’t be on the field 3/4 of the game. Offense showed glimpses, but not consistent enough. Protecting the ball, OL and special teams have been horrendous, not a good recipe if you want to win games.— Joel Schneider (@joelschneider25) October 2, 2021
I'm done blaming Mertz. This kid has all the arm talent in the world and I have zero reason to believe he shouldn't be at least a very serviceable Wisconsin QB.— TJ Ninneman (@tjninneman) October 2, 2021
This is 1000% now on the offensive coaching staff.
Time's running out
The schedule gets more forgiving from here. If they're still lost in the woods a month from a now, it's time to consider significant changes.— Kyle Cooper (@SportsCoop66) October 2, 2021
Way out of whack
300 less yds rushing vs the same team, on the road, with basically the same personnel a year ago. Explanation? If one team got that much better, then something in the offseason preparation needs to change— Matt Uhlmann (@UhlmannMatt) October 2, 2021
Looking for new leadership
I think it’s time we hand the keys to Jimmy. Bring in an offensive staff that’s creative, like Chryst used to be. How is our OL the weakest link on this whole team?— Josh Showers (@JoshShowers4) October 2, 2021
What better way to celebrate Barry Alvarez Day than replicate the 1-3 start in his first year at UW?!— Corey Otis (@CoreyWOtis) October 2, 2021
Headed for the exit
Defense deserves so much better. I think Leohnard leaves after this season— Eᴠᴀɴ DeLong (@delong_ed) October 2, 2021
Imitation is the sincerest flattery
Chryst needs to do with his offensive coaching staff what harbaugh did to his defensive staff last year— Fred Ehle (@FredEhle) October 2, 2021
It's not wrong
Same old story
OL is arguably worst part of the team, and they say they know how to fix it after every debacle yet continue to no show. UW can’t function with a bad OL. Something major needs to change.— Pat Richards (@pgrichards0407) October 2, 2021
Finding a bright side
Bad luck. Would have been close without Mertz injury. We ll finish strong!— Bill Prue (@BadgerBill89) October 2, 2021
So apparently last year was not an anomaly. How has this team regressed so badly?— Eric Eichelt (@EricEichelt) October 2, 2021
Spinning their wheels
Offense is trash and has been for years, JT covered up a lot. Oline, QB play not good nor showing improvement over time, vanilla offense on top isn’t helping nor going to attract talent. All points to poor coaching.— Michael Wilson (@wilsonmj73) October 2, 2021
That's one idea
If Mertz can’t go next start, turn the reins over to Deacon Hill.— Philip Bladen (@philipbladen1) October 2, 2021
Hard to argue
Worst Wisconsin O-line since 1989.— Jeff Kivett (@jeffkivett) October 2, 2021
That's putting it nicely
The offense just isn’t good— David Damgaard (@david_damgaard) October 2, 2021
Contact Jim Polzin at email@example.com.