Paul Chryst and Joe Rudolph aren’t demanding the perfect game from Wisconsin’s offense.
Yet UW’s head coach and the team’s offensive coordinator both understand the unit needs to be more efficient with four regular-season games remaining.
“It is execution,” Chryst said. “It is consistency in the execution. Take a look at the last game. You’ve got two drops on third down. That changes your drives.
“The focus has to be on: ‘How do you play better football?’ And better football leads to consistency.”
Next up for No. 4 UW (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten) is an Indiana team that is improved defensively under first-year coach Tom Allen. But the Hoosiers (3-5, 0-5) struggled defensively in a 42-39 loss last week at Maryland.
The Terrapins rushed for 174 yards and three touchdowns, and quarterback Max Bortenschlager passed for two scores and averaged 17.1 yards per completion as Maryland wiped out an early 14-0 deficit.
Allen was frustrated because he thought the defense lost intensity after a hot start.
“We had a little emotional letup,” Allen said. “When they punched back, we didn’t have a counterpunch.”
Indiana leads the nation in forcing three-and-outs at 6.8 per game. UW leads the nation in third-down conversions at 53.5 percent but converted just 5 of 12 of those chances at Illinois, went three and out three times and Alex Hornibrook threw an interception in the second quarter.
“You’d love to just go out and roll every series,” Rudolph said. “We had three three-and-outs, one turnover and four drives where you look about as good as you can look.
“Sometimes it just comes down to making a play. It comes down to finishing a catch, to finishing a protection, finishing a run. ... I’d say we’re getting there.”
The breakdowns that have hampered the offense at times this season were evident in the 24-10 victory at Illinois.
UW’s first offensive series lasted three plays and produced just 1 yard, largely because of missed blocks by right guard Beau Benzschawel on second down and left tackle Michael Deiter on third down.
The second series, which began at the Illini 40, produced just 6 yards on three plays. A missed block by fullback Austin Ramesh contributed to a 1-yard loss on second and 3, and Hornibrook threw the ball away on third and 4.
“You want to start fast and be crisp from the start,” Deiter said. “But it’s not always going to be that way, so you’ve got to step back and just keep fighting.”
UW appeared to have momentum after an impressive 92-yard touchdown drive, but the interception on the next series, on second-and-7 from the Illinois 46, momentarily blunted that.
UW finished the half with two scoring drives to build a 17-3 lead, but its first two possessions of the second half ended because of miscues.
“What we’ve done this year,” Deiter said, “it has been one guy here and one guy there on certain plays, where if one guy (executed) it would be a 60-yard run or a really good pass.
“We have to be more consistent, because there’s plays where it is all 11 of us and you can see it go. And there’s plays when it is only nine guys doing the right thing.”
To be fair, UW was without tailback Jonathan Taylor (left ankle) for more than half the game, and it appeared Chryst was content to play conservatively with a 14-point lead and the defense in control.
“I’m confident we are going to put together a complete game soon,” Deiter said. “Because you didn’t have the best game one day, it shouldn’t weigh (on) you the next game. Because you have all week to prep and you go into each game with the confidence you’re going to have a complete game.”