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September 29, 2013

Self-inflicted wounds bite Badgers

COLUMBUS - Gary Andersen said it best- it's hard enough to go on the road and beat a good team. But the Wisconsin Badgers made it much harder on themselves Saturday night at Ohio Stadium, where key penalties and a few defensive lapses helped the Buckeyes hand the Badgers a 31-24 loss.

The Badgers were penalized eight times for 54 yards on Saturday, including five false starts and two others that negated what would have been momentum-changing plays.

Conor O'Neill was flagged for a facemask on Braxton Miller, who fumbled the ball on the play. Leo Musso came up with a fumbled punt deep in Ohio State territory, but an illegal formation penalty negated the play and forced the Badgers to punt it away again.

The Badgers would have other chances in the game, but Andersen said it was especially frustrating to see so many of the game's key plays come down to penalties and other unforced errors.

"That's the game of football," Andersen said. "When it's unforced errors, that's what makes it extremely frustrating. If it's a team where they make the plays and put the ball in the right spot or block it up the right way, that's a little easier to deal with."

Wisconsin's other big mistake came at the end of the first half, just after Joel Stave cut Ohio State's lead to 17-14 with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Sam Arneson. Miller drove the Buckeyes down to Wisconsin's 40-yard line with 16 seconds left in the half, but Wisconsin defensive backs Dezmen Southward and Peniel Jean lost Ohio State wide receiver Corey Brown between them.

Miller found Brown in the end zone for a touchdown that was eerily similar to his game-winning touchdown to Devin Smith against the Badgers two years ago, but Southward said the score he and Jean gave up on Saturday night hurt just as much.

"It changed the game completely," Southward said after the game. "It was basically cover three. They had three verts and ran the skinny post between me and Peniel Jean. It's basically a play that should absolutely never happen. It was just a bad play in general, no miscommunication."

"At the end of the day we have to be better," Southward said. "The team that was out there for four quarters today wasn't Wisconsin."

It was certainly a tough way for the Badgers to lose, especially since their division and conference title hopes largely rode on winning Saturday's game in Columbus. But if Southward is right and the Badgers didn't play up to their true potential, they'll have to find their groove soon after their bye week. They don't have much room for error if they want to keep their hopes of defending last year's Big Ten title alive, and further penalties and mental mistakes could make that margin even slimmer.

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.

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