Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will drop a few F-bombs in practice this week, but not the kind you think.
OK, probably the kind you think, too. But Chryst will relay a clear message to his players as they prepare to host Arizona State on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).
"You can use finish in a lot of ways," Chryst told me Monday. "Finishing the play means making the play. Finish means playing hard the whole play. Finishing drives means you're putting the ball in the end zone. And finishing games."
Wisconsin sits at 2-0 after wins against UNLV and San Jose State, and the Badgers haven't found themselves in real danger of losing either game. The offensive numbers have been good, as Wisconsin ranks in the top 40 nationally in rushing (245 ypg), scoring (34 ppg), pass efficiency (144.3 rating) and total yards (439 ypg).
But when it comes to finishing, the Badgers are struggling a bit. And for a program with higher aspirations than another nine- or 10-win season, it's unacceptable.
Wisconsin has come up empty three times in the red zone in its first two games, matching its total from all of last season, when it tied for third nationally in red zone efficiency (53-for-56, 94.6 percent). Although one of the empty possessions took place with a kneel down at the end of the San Jose State win, the Badgers' red zone numbers don't include a Nick Toon fumble at the 2-yard line on a play that began outside the red zone.
Last year, none of Wisconsin's empty possessions in the red zone ended with a turnover.
"That'll get you beat," Chryst said. "You point out, ‘This is why we didn't finish. Or you do this, and you do finish drives.' If it's a negative, often times it's just a small detail. Take care of that, pay attention to those details, and then we have a chance for the results to be different."
Chryst will stress red zone efficiency this week in practice, but he'll also point out examples where Wisconsin finished in a positive manner. After San Jose State drew to within 13 points last Saturday, Wisconsin killed the final 5:42 off the clock behind running backs John Clay and Montee Ball, and a veteran offensive line.
Clay has been a bright spot so far this season, rushing for 260 yards and four touchdowns in the first two games. Ball and dynamic freshman James White also look good, although White is responsible for a red zone miscue as he tried to reach the ball across the goal line against San Jose State, only to have it knocked away for a lost fumble.
"They've done some good things," Chryst said of the backs, "but that group’s no different than any of our groups. We can get a lot better. I feel like we've left a lot of yards on the field. We've got to be a lot better at all spots, and running back's no different."
Badgers head coach Bret Bielema said Monday that the Arizona State game "couldn't be better timing," as Wisconsin needs to test itself before Big Ten play begins Oct. 2 at Michigan State. Chryst has plenty of respect for Sun Devils defensive coordinator Craig Bray and calls the ASU defense "athletic and explosive."
If Wisconsin doesn't tidy up its play, it might fall short of the finish line Saturday.
"Guys know what finish is," Chryst said. "When they don't, you make sure they understand what it is. You try to make it a habit."