When asked this week if he believed the offense was trending in the right direction after its performance in the University of Wisconsin football team’s win at Illinois last week, Tyler Beach said yes. But the senior left tackle quickly made it clear he doesn’t view the 24-0 victory over the Fighting Illini as the starting point of a turnaround.
Beach thinks a breakthrough of sorts came six days earlier during an offensive players-only meeting. Some of that group’s leaders, including fullback John Chenal, had decided enough was enough following the 38-17 home loss to Michigan on Oct. 2.
It was time to get some things off their chest and, the following day, a meeting was called to do just that.
“It was kind of cool,” Beach said. “You heard from different perspectives. Even young guys were speaking up. It was awesome seeing guys do that.”
Beach acknowledged that players-only meetings, especially when it’s just one side of the ball in the room, happen all the time. UW coach Paul Chryst even encourages the practice, telling players the team belongs to them, not him.
But this meeting was much different, according to Beach, and it was necessary considering where the Badgers were at that point: 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten Conference.
The offense had generated only 210 total yards against the Wolverines, including 43 on the ground. UW’s third defeat of the season followed a similar storyline to the previous two: The defense did everything it could to keep the Badgers in the game and got little to no help from an anemic unit on the other side of the ball.
“We were disappointed,” Beach said. “You could tell there was a lack of confidence sometimes in the huddle. I feel like that meeting kind of brought everybody together and that everybody was like, ‘We can all trust each other here and we can all say what you have to say.’”
What followed that meeting was a good week of practice. Beach said he noticed a different level of focus, a changed mindset.
It carried over to the game against Illinois, with the Badgers rushing for 391 yards. That was their highest total since finishing with 403 against Purdue late in the 2019 season and their second-highest since Chryst took over the program in 2015.
“We brought a different level of physicality,” Beach said.
Should we be skeptical about any progress shown by the Badgers because their opponent last Saturday is in the midst of a massive rebuilding project? Of course, especially considering UW only had to be one-dimensional to roll past the Illini.
The next step for this offense is finding some balance. Another pedestrian passing performance at Illinois from Graham Mertz, who went 10 of 19 for 100 yards with an interception, wasn’t a killer because of how dominant UW was on the ground.
But as the Badgers reach the midway point of the season, they’re No. 12 in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (171.6) and No. 13 in passing efficiency rating (100.7). Their interception total (nine) is the second-highest in the conference and they’ve thrown the fewest touchdown passes (three).
“We’ve got the pieces,” senior wide receiver Kendric Pryor said. “We’ve got the guys. It’s just being able to put it all together, the run game and the pass game and just have that complete offense. We’ve got the guys that can make plays.”
It’s time for the Badgers to prove it, to put everything together and show this offense is truly headed in the right direction. Do it against Army (4-1) in a non-conference finale at Camp Randall Stadium and do it again next week at Purdue. Only then will there be any hope the Badgers can ruin Iowa’s special season on Oct. 30.
That it took a players-only meeting shows the level of desperation this offense had reached through four games. Beach declined to go into specific details about what exactly was said in that room nearly two weeks ago, but he called it a productive session in which players walked out of that room feeling like they were on the same page.
“We were drawing a line in the sand,” Beach said. “We just want to win out the rest of the year and win big.”