The Wisconsin Badgers entered the Advocare Classic against No. 3 Alabama as 12-point underdogs looking to prove it could hand with the elite of the college football world. Instead, a series of injuries early on and Alabamaâ€™s overall talent led to UW being dominated in a 35-17 fashion on Saturday night.
Wisconsin suffered its first blow of the game on the first possession, as star safety Michael Caputo suffered a head injury on the third play of the game and would never return to the game. From that point on, it became the Derrick Henry show and Alabama had little trouble dispatching the Badgers.
The man who waited patiently behind star T.J. Yeldon last season came up big with 147 yards and three touchdowns on just 13 carriers. It didnâ€™t seem to matter if the Badgers knew what was or wasnâ€™t coming in the run game either, as Henry rolled over the Badger defense early and often.
Henry stepped out on the second drive of the game, busting through a series of defenders at the line of scrimmage and scampering for a 37-yard touchdown to give Alabama a 7-0 lead. His 37-yard touchdown run was the cap on a six-play, 90-yard drive at the midway point of the first quarter.
It appeared as if the Badgers would be up to the task though, as the Badgers answered back with some stout defense and a clearly improved passing attack. That passing attack led to a six-yard touchdown pass from Joel Stave to his favorite wide receiver, Alex Erickson.
However, that was just supposed to be the side show to the main event ofÂ Alabamaâ€™s Henry and UWâ€™s Corey Clement. That never materialized as Clement got just eight carries on the day before being shut down with a groin strain early on in the contest.
Without Clement in, the Badgers run game struggled to just 39 yards on 21 carries overall before basically being abandoned as the game began to get out of reach later in to the contest.
By the time the Badgers needed the run game, it couldnâ€™t actually use it thanks to a 14-point deficit in the early second half. Without the run game, Alabamaâ€™s defense turned the pressure up on Stave and the pass game just couldnâ€™t come up with enough plays to make a difference.
Thatâ€™s not to say Stave had a bad day, as he went 26 of 39 passing for 228 yards and two touchdowns. However, he did throw a late interception, was sacked three times and was hit numerous other times thanks to the Crimson Tide pressure.
Big plays became the story of the game, as Wisconsinâ€™s defense was forced to be on the field for just over 31 minutes of the game. Not only did it get gassed, but UWâ€™s defense was also gashed by Henry and Alabama in general.
Henry topped his 37-yard touchdown run in the first quarter with a 56-yard touchdown to break the game wide open for the Tide. That effort took a close 14-7 contest and put it out of reach for the Badgers at 21-7 early in the third quarter.
Alabamaâ€™s defense turned up the pressure and its offense began to dominate as well. On itâ€™s next possession, the Tide went seven plays for 67 yards and Henry capped off the drive with a two-yard touchdown effort.
It was all that Alabama needed, as Wisconsin could only muster a 43-yard field goal from Rafael Gaglianone in the third quarter.
UW would add a garbage touchdown down 35-10 late in the game, as Stave hit junior Rob Wheelwright for a three-yard touchdown with just 4:45 to play.
The defensive lapses were key, as Alabama had big play after big play when they needed it as well. Nick Sabanâ€™s bunch managed to average 6.4 yards per carry on the ground and 12 yards per completion en route to the win.
Wisconsin clearly was outclassed athletically in this one, especially so without Caputo in to allow the defense to function the way it does best. However, the effort was there from the outside linebackers, as Joe Schobert led the team with 13 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.
The problem was, few others were showing up in key situations, especially from the safety position.
Consider it a harsh lesson for a young spine of the Badgers defense, but it needs to be one they build off of.
Wisconsin will move on to hosting Miami (OH) next Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium and will be looking to prove that this Saturday was more about how good Alabama was than anything Wisconsin did or didnâ€™t do.