Sometimes, a football team’s problems on third down actually go back to the two downs that precede it.
But that was only partially the case for the University of Wisconsin, which endured an embarrassing 2‑for-14 third-down performance on Saturday in the 10-7 loss at Oregon State.
In a game in which most of the Badgers’ offensive statistics were woeful, the 14.3 percent conversions on third downs stood out. UW failed on its first 12 third downs, before finally picking up its last two while running a 2-minute offense on its final drive.
Of UW’s 12 failed third-down chances, six were 4 yards to go or less, which is a manageable distance.
“You have (some) long ones, but the ones in that manageable distance you must get and we didn’t,” offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “Some of those, for different reasons. There’s only one place to look — that’s at me.”
UW set the tone in the first quarter when it failed on its first three third downs of 3, 5 and 1 yards. The first was a pass breakup, the second was a sack when the offensive line couldn’t handle a stunt and the third was when right guard Zac Matthias got knocked back a couple yards on his butt on a run by Montee Ball.
Canada actually did a nice job mixing up the pass and run on first down in the first half, calling five of each. Seven of those plays gained 4 or more yards, which is the goal.
Only in the second half were UW’s third-down woes associated to struggles on first down, when five first-down running plays averaged 1.2 yards, with a long of 2.
To compound the problem, the offense had just one explosive play of 20-plus yards — a 26-yard completion to Jared Abbrederis in the second quarter. Later in the series, Abbrederis was knocked out of the game with a chest injury and a concussion.
UW has just five explosive plays in two games. Teams that can’t generate big plays need to sustain drives. Right now, the offense can’t do either.
“We’re not taking a ton of shots (down the field),” tight end Jacob Pedersen said. “That’s not what this offense is. We’re going to hand the ball off to Montee. We’ve got to have that O-line get a push and let Montee do his thing.”
The Badgers failed on a second third-and-1, throwing an incompletion, before Ball finally converted their last one on a 12-yard run. That came with about 2 minutes left and was the first time all game that they moved the chains on third down.
“There were issues everywhere, from quarterback to wideout,” wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. “The O-line, trying to get all of that shored up with protection, route technique and reads by the quarterback, the tailbacks blocking who they are supposed to block — it’s a team deal. … It’s all of us. We all need to get better.”
Starting defensive end Brendan Kelly practiced and declared himself healthy for the game against Utah State on Saturday night. Kelly missed the last game with a hamstring injury.
“It happened on the last play of practice on (the previous) Wednesday,” Kelly said. “I wish it would have happened on a Monday or Tuesday, because I probably would have been playing. It was less than three days out from the game when it happened.”
Tight end commits
Troy Fumagalli, a tight end from Aurora, Ill., gave an oral commitment to UW for the class of 2013.
The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Fumagalli participated in the Badgers’ summer camp and attended the season opener against Northern Iowa, then jumped on UW’s offer not long after it was extended.
“I decided to commit because Wisconsin is a great place with a winning tradition,” Fumagalli told BadgerNation.com. “It’s a place that I can see myself succeed at.”
He is regarded by Scout.com as a two-star prospect and ranked No. 78 nationally at tight end.
Fumagalli, who had two older brothers play at Dayton, attracted interest from a host of schools and told the Chicago Tribune he had offers from several Mid-American Conference schools but UW was the first Big Ten program to put something tangible on the table.