Some honorable mentions from the Alvarez Era (given my age, that's what I'm competent to recall):
#1 Luke Swan (no argument with Brandon Williams): the Fennimore Flash didn't have the God-given talent that Williams did, but had the heart of a lion.
#2 Lee Deramus: Jamar Fletcher is the right pick here, but Deramus was a key cog in a hard-working team that brought the first Rose Bowl glory to Mad-town. Brian Calhoun would receive more votes if he had stuck around for one more year. Scott Starks had one of the great all-time Badger plays, returning Drew Brees's fumble for a touchdown to beat Purdue, vaulting UW to #4 in the nation (for a week or two).
#6 (pending) Isaac Anderson looks like he could be a great one. Better than Ike? That's a high bar, but I like what I see so far.
#9 Jonathan Orr: vs. Beckum? Tough call, I think. Two great ones.
#10 Taylor Mehlhaff: better than Samuel? No, but very important to the Badgers during his tenure.
#11 Darrell Bevell: 1993. 'Nuf said. Owen Daniels wasn't too bad, either. Either more important to the Badgers than their first black All-American (two times, too)? Probably not.
#14 John Hall or Kevin Stemke: apparently 14 is a [really good] kicker's number at UW.
#28 Anthony Davis: after his Freshman season, you always felt like there was a little more potential than he ever realized.
#29 Jeff Messenger: not at the front of the talent line, but a leader for the tough secondary for the '93 team.
#30 Zach Brown (also pending): I'm looking forward to seeing Clay and Brown as the two backs sharing most of the time. If he gets the snaps, he should take over the all-time #30 spot.
#33 Brent Moss: 1994 Rose Bowl MVP. "A tough out" as they say. A shame how his career went down, but before Fall 1994, he was as beastly a back as the Badgers had since Ameche and would've been a serious Heisman contender.
#39 PJ Hill: the Cap. Times limited this to players without any eligibility, surely PJ will take this spot when he leaves? I don't know. I've never been sold on him, and I'm still not.
#41 Terrell Fletcher: one of the better backs we've placed in the NFL; Chryst would drool all over a back like him. And he played second fiddle to Moss. Also at #41 Mark Zalewski: typifies the Wisconsin football story.
#44 Chris Pressley: for his academic exploits, but Donnel Thompson was a critical cog of those 98-99 teams, so academics alone don't get Chris there.
#45 Matt Berstein: beast of a fullback, but hard to say better than Greisen and his 7-year (and counting) NFL career.
#47 Eric Unverzagt: a staple for the '93 team, and an all-time linebacker name. Better than a 1937 first round pick for the Packers? Who knows.
Most of the lineman I recall made the list, but #67 Dan Buenning and #68 Mark Tauscher are notable exceptions on the offensive side. Two stick out on the defensive side (below).
#77 Anttaj Hawthorne: beastly defensive tackle. Difference between him and Wendell Bryant is Bryant played on a better Badger team.
#82 Elmars Ezerins: made some key plays in the 1963 Rose Bowl comeback including a fumble recovery that led to a touchdown; nearly blocked the USC punt at the end to give Wisconsin a chance to win. Besides, he's a friend's dad.
#88 Chris Chambers: didn't run great routes, but scored great touchdowns . . . and still does. Obviously can't beat out Pat Richter, but one of the better big-play threats we've had since I've been paying attention.
#89 (pending) Garrett Graham: a shoe-in; another in a recent line of great tight ends.
#90 Erasmus James: nasty at end; but for a nasty Gopher cut block, the 2004 sqaud might (and I stress "might") have made the Rose Bowl.
It was a strange game to watch. You read the box score and the Noles crushed the Badgers. They did. But it never felt that way until the second fumble return for a touchdown, and that was to start the 4th quarter.
At the half, I actually felt pretty good. The defense shut down the Noles, save for the last 33 seconds of the half, where they seemed to play like the half was already over. Ponder was nearly broken from hits he sustained from our line and linebackers. Sure, it was 14-3, FSU, but 7 of those points came from a flukey 75-yard bad screen-pass turned fumble recovery going the other way for a score on what had been a very promising drive. Another good drive ended in a field goal (to make it 7-3). So all in all, not that bad.
The second half started well, with a solid drive to kick another field goal making it 14-6, a one-score game (I might have gone for it on 4th and 2 the way we had run the ball), but taking the points was reasonable, probably the better decision). FSU's first series of the half, Valai forces a fumble, recovering it on the Noles' 22-yard line. Now we're in business. Or not. The fumble recovery is overturned. Tough for me to say that was the right call, but it was understandable, and being a Badger fan, of course I didn't like it. It was probably the right call. Then the Badgers surrender 22 yards on a 3rd and 19, and after a nearly 8 minute drive, FSU scores to go up 21-6. Still, the Badgers have had three very good drives out of the last four.
A big run from Sherer, and the Badgers are back in business. From FSU's 31, Hill drives up the middle for 6 yards, churning, twisting, turning, dragging players, . . . fumbling. Ok, down 15 points and driving, we really needed that, but the defense played so well in the first half and again forces a three-and-out. Except that Nzegwu was called for roughing the kicker on the punt -- without even touching the kicker. Bizarre. Still, doesn't excuse giving up the ensuing drive for a touchdown.
Now it's 28-6, and with only 18 seconds left in the quarter, it's looking a little desparate, despite the Badgers not looking that bad. We need points and execution the rest of the way. A big play, another 15-yard personal foul against FSU, and the Badgers are back in business at the Noles' 41. Sherer drops back, feels pressure, gets hit, fumbles, FSU recovers and . . . returns it for a touchdown. Game Over.
From then on, everyone plays like it's over. The offense goes three and out, the special teams give up a 17-yard punt return, and the defense allows a 41-yard scoring drive. At 42-6, in come all the reserves. The Badgers add a late touchdown against FSU's scrubs, and there it ends, 42-13.
I don't know that there was a single turning point, but if I had to pick one it was Valai's non-fumble recovery. To that point the defense played well. Afterwards? Not so much. But the Badgers were still in it, even after another fumble inside the Noles' 30, when the non-penalty against Nzegwu gave FSU another chance on their subsequent drive. Even then, we had a chance. Sherer's fumble ended the chance.
By the way, the ESPN announcing was really, really, really bad. Paul McGuire is awful, and Nestler and Griese are justifiably relegated to 4th tier status by the "World Wide Leader." Just awful.
So? Does this one go in the ever growing list of Bielema coached games with ugly second halves despite quality starts? Probably. Bielema didn't give up the turnovers and it was the defense, not Bielema, that gave up the plays allowing the long touchdown drives in the 3rd quarter after what seemed like stops. But it was Bielema's coaching.
Disappointing. Not really that we lost; it was that kind of a season. More that a game we could have won ended so ugly.
Disappointing that the senior-led defense wasn't more resilient when things didn't go their way. Disappointing to have three very costly fumbles and not get any turnovers the other way. Disappointing to dominate the run game the way we did and not come away with a touchdown until garbage time against FSU's scrubs. Disappointing that we got blown out, and that people reading the box score will think we were outclassed from the opening kick-off.
Thud. 2008 is over.
#44 Chris Pressley, Woodbury, New Jersey
Bielema joked at the Champs Sports Bowl presser that while our scout team can’t match FSU’s athleticism, he doubts the Noles scout team can replicate a 280-pound fullback. Introducing . . . Chris Pressley. Chris is a lineman’s kind of fullback. He only had two carries all year, but that’s not why he’s here; he’s a road-grader. Scratch that, he’s a very smart road-grader. Chris graduated last year as an academic all-Big Ten, and is keeping that up, with a perfect 4.0 in grad school, leading the way for the Badgers through the hole and in the classroom.
#34 Bill Rentmeester, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin
Our other hulking fifth-year Senior fullback, Bill also excels on special teams. He doesn’t carry the ball often (11 carries for 52 yards this season), but iced the Fresno State game with a key, leg-churning, draw play to pick up a first down in the waning moments deep in Wisconsin territory. His five tackles and key blocks for the kicking units have earned the attention of NFL scouts. Bill and Chris have been a great tandem of fullbacks and will be tough to replace next season.
#9 Travis Beckum, Milwuakee, Wisconsin
Came in as a 5-star recruit on the defensive line. A reserve linebacker and special teams player his true-freshman year, he, along with fellow reserve linebacker Andy Crooks, was switched to tight end his sophomore year. He immediately made a difference and was noticed as a semi-finalist for the Mackey Award (nation’s top tight end), and a Walter Camp second-team All American. In a 12-1 season that started with serious question marks regarding who on earth Senior John Stocco could throw the ball too, he quickly became the go-to guy. His signature drag route across the middle was nearly uncoverable and Stocco found him on it to seal the Capital One Bowl win over Arkansas. His Junior year, he continued to impress. He was a finalist for the Mackey Award and named a Walter Camp first team All-American. He led the nation’s tight ends in receiving yards and broke the record for catches by a Badger tight end. 2008 was largely a bust as he was hurt in the preseason and saw limited action before breaking his lower leg.
Outside of Travis, the Badger offense lacked star power throughout his time, but Travis was truly special. Big, fast, and sure-handed, he was the perfect weapon in a Paul Chryst offense and will likely be the best remembered player of the 2008 senior class.
Good luck to Chris and Bill as they take on the Noles, and good luck to all of them in whatever they do next, whether it's playing on Sundays or something else.
Audio of the interview of Joe after the Pro Bowl announcement here.
"I'd give this up anyday to be on a team that is winning 10 games and being in the playoffs . . ."
#49 Ryan Flasch, Germantown, Wisconsin
After redshirting at UNLV in 2004, Ryan transferred back to UW, but sustained a leg injury in camp, and missed the first season he was eligible for in 2006. Primarily a special teams player, most fans probably aren’t used to calling his name, but the Wisconsin faithful have a soft spot for the local boys who make good, and Ryan qualifies. This fan particularly appreciates student-athletes, and Ryan was one of this season’s Academic All-Big Ten honorees.
#48 Joshua Neal, Nashville, Tennessee
Like Ryan Flasch, Neal was primarily a special teams player and reserve linebacker through his time in the Badger uniform. He also assisted as a back-up fullback in 2006 when the team needed it due to injury problems. His name doesn’t roll off Badger fans’ lips, but his willingness to do what the team needed is the hallmark of a good teammate.
#4 Allan Evridge, Papillon, Nebraska
Originally recruited by Bielema at Kansas State, he played quarterback there as a true-freshman, but transferred to Wisconsin his junior year. Sitting out Stocco’s senior year, many (yours truly, for instance) thought he would be the next Badger starter. Perhaps due to an off-season injury, Tyler Donovan held him off to get the nod at starter last season. I’m sure he’s disappointed with how this season went for him, and probably he received too much of the blame for the losses against Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State. Probably not well-suited to the Paul Chryst offense, it just never quite worked the way he and his admirers expected for him in Madison. But he’s a tough kid, a good student, and he played hard for the Badgers.
Offensive MVP: Garrett Graham. It's no surprise that a tight end would excel in Chryst's system, but this season Garrett proved he doesn't take a backseat to anyone. Second on the team in receiving yards, and first in receiving touchdowns, Graham was the go-to guy all season.
Offensive Newcomer of the Year: No surprise, John Clay. The kid can ball. Another spring and fall of learnin' and this kid should be a star. He may be the closest Badger to an everydown NFL back in a long time.
Offensive Pleasant Surprise of the Year: Isaac Anderson. Finally healthy, if we have a quarterback that can get him the ball, this kid looks very nice.
Defensive MVP: Allen Langford. Coming off a season-ending ACL, Langford put together his best season as a Badger, led the team in pass-break-ups, and was second among the secondary in tackles. One of two Badgers named first-team all-Big Ten (Graham is the other). DeAndre Levy gets honorable mention.
Defensive Newcomer of the Year: O'Brien Schofield. A linebacker-turned undersized defensive end, O'Brien led the team in sacks and was second in tackles for loss (.5 behind the leader). The defensive line will be a concern next season, but it looks like at least one end is in good shape.
Defensive Pleasant Surprise of the Year: with some healthy competition from Chris Maragos, it's Jaevery McFadden. Coming in as the rookie middlelinebacker, starting the year with a broken hand, he lead the team in tackles, and it wasn't close. The linebacking corps wasn't all we had hoped -- heck, the defense wasn't all that we'd hoped -- but Jaevery did his part.
Special Teams Player of the Year: Philip Welch. 18 of 22, only one miss inside 44 yards, and a season long of 52 (4th longest in Badger history). 38 of 39 on PATs. Not bad for a Freshman.
Unsung Hero Award: Zach Brown. The second best running back on the team (with the ball), he's the most versatile in the backfield. Clay should be the everydown back, but Brown should spell him, and take the obvious passing situations.
Graduating Senior I'll Miss Most: Travis Beckum. This year didn't go the way he (or the fans) wanted for him or the team, but he's been a joy to watch and cheer for. We're all looking forward to a speedy recovery and seeing what he can do on Sundays.
12/15 Weekend Update: here are the awards the team gave Friday night (with several familiar names)
#75 Andy Kemp, Menasha, Wisconsin
When they talk about the big uglies from Wisconsin, they’re talking about guys like left guard Andy Kemp. A three-year starter up front for the Badgers, he’s also a three-year Academic All-Big Ten honoree. A consistent grinder of the kind the Badgers are now famous for, Andy is an unsung star.
#63 Kraig Urbik, Hudson, Wisconsin
At 332 pounds, right guard Urbik is the biggest of the big up front for the Badgers. A four-year starter, he kicked off his career as a second-team Freshman All-American after his redshirt year. Kraig finished this year a second-team all-Big Ten pick. ESPN's Ivan Maisel named Urbik an All-American in 2008.
#71 Eric Vanden Heuvel, Hudson, Wisconsin
Like Kemp, a three-year starter, but at right tackle. In addition to academic all-Big Ten honors, he was twice, including 2008, an honorable mention all-Big Ten lineman.
And I bet you haven't been thinking about . . .
#81 Dave Peck, Media, Pennsylvania
A three-year starter you can’t remember: Dave has been the team’s long-snapper for the place-kickers. Like the other lineman, he doesn’t get his own stats, but when the kicker is 38 of 39 on PATs and 18 of 22 on field goals (only one miss inside 44 yards), the snapper is doing the right thing.
Thanks guys! Enjoy Orlando, get after the Noles, and good luck post-Camp Randall, whether it's playing football on Sundays, or something that's easier on your body.
Bret started out by mentioning that they're back . . . again . . . in Florida.
Bobby is old and his comments about the first time FSU played a bowl in Orlando remind everyone that the Noles were a nothing before he got there.
Bret: good athletes at FSU. Story will be big strong Wisconsin vs. speedy Florida State, but we have Florida athletes, too. It's hard for our scout teams to mimic FSU because of the talent disparity. Players looking forward to game: great character in comebacks, despite disappointment at MSU towards the end.
Jimbo Fischer runs the FSU offense, and he will be the next FSU head man. Period.
Bowden put a good spin on the opportunity to play someone new, versus playing Miami or Florida twice.
Bret takes accidental swipe at Bobby's age. Talks about how much fun it is to watch the sport when you don't care who wins. He doesn't have the reference point that Bowden does; "the first question was about a bowl 33 years ago and I'm only 38, so . . ."
Bowden, Paterno, these are names of legends that Bret is a little starstruck by. Bobby appears amused.
Bielema isn't concerned about the Big Ten's rep. His first year they proved it against Arkansas, last season we beat Michigan who in turn beat Florida. The Big Ten is doing just fine.
8-4, 5-3 ACC. What's that mean? For one, they beat one decent non-conference opponent (Colorado, at home) and got the snot kicked out them when Florida visited Talahasee. Not too much shame there - the Gators would crush the Badgers, too. They feasted on Western Carolina and Chattanooga, and while outsiders might point to our close call with Cal Poly, I'd bet Cal Poly would feast on Western Carolina and Chattanooga, too.
So, 5-3 in the ACC. The ACC is a funny conference this season. Despite 80s and 90s powers, Miami, Florida State, and VaTech (not to mention consistently very good Boston College), the ACC just doesn't have a national title caliber team this year. What it does have, though, is a bunch of solid teams. A whole bunch. Ten of twelve are going bowling, and looking at their records against each other, every one of them is good one day, but suspect the next. The difference between 6-6 North Carolina State (PapaJohns.com Bowl), and 8-4 Virginia Tech (Orange Bowl) just isn't that big. FSU falls somewhere right in between (one Boston College loss from playing VaTech again in the ACC championship game).
The Noles even have a win over the aforementioned Orange Bowl-bound Hokies. Their three conference losses, not unlike the Badgers' five (good God, was it really 5!?!) conference losses are forgivable: Wake Forest (ok, that one sounds bad, but Wake is pretty good), Georgia Tech (who just beat pre-season #1 Georgia), and Boston College (loser of the ACC championship game). In addition to beating the Hokies, they had solid wins over Miami, Clemson, Maryland.
In short, Florida State is a solid, but not spectacular team. The Badgers will need a strong effort to beat them on what is basically their home turf.
More to come . . .
Speaking of the Big XII, does anyone care at all about the championship game (aside from Texas fans)? Seriously, we get to watch Oklahoma torch Missouri again? Oh, and #17 (9-3) Boston College playing #25 (8-4) Virginia Tech for the ACC championship (and the right to play Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl)? Someone hold me back, it's too much excitement to handle all in one week . . . yawn.
Actually, I like the ACC this year: very competitive conference, with no real standout. It makes for fun football, but not championship/BCS Bowl level football.
Speaking of conference evaluations, can anyone really say one conference is that much better than the rest? The ACC wins the depth award. 10 of 12 teams bowl eligible. Each of those 10 can reach out and bite someone on any given Saturday.
The SEC? Florida looks really good, but what's their defense like? Alabama? Who have they really beaten? LSU? Georgia? I like the Tide this season, and think they will give Florida a good fight, but their resume just isn't that impressive. Georgia is down (see loss to Georgia Tech), Tennessee is WAY down, Auburn is down, LSU is down, heck, even South Carolina is down relative to where they should be, which isn't that impressive. Kentucky and Vanderbilt? Please. Mississippi is up, so that's one.
The Big East? Don't get me started.
The Pac-10? USC is very, very good on defense, and their offense is better than you think. Still, the loss to Oregon State looks bad because, well, Oregon State just isn't that good. Neither is Oregon, Cal, or Arizona.
The Big Ten? Are we down because Michigan isn't any good? USC better not sleep on Penn State, but there's a reason the Rose Bowl isn't generating much hype. Ohio State? USC did destroy them (only a 3-point difference from USC's embarassment of Notre Dame). Michigan State, Iowa, and Northwestern, and heck, throw in our Badgers for kicks, are all good on the right day and poor on the wrong one (obviously that's a sliding scale).
So, back to the Big XII. Really? Do they play any defense down there? Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech make up the deepest bench of top-tier teams right now . . . I think. But I'm not at all sure their defenses are very good. Missouri is ok, but not great, same for Oklahoma State. So, yeah, I'll go ahead with conventional wisdom that the Big XII is the best (at the top) right now, but I won't be surprised if those high flying offenses get shut down come bowl season.
It brings me back to how conference comparisons are just pretty lame. They're all playing football and they all have good, mediocre, and bad teams.
By the way, what happened to Fresno State and Texas A&M?
This Saturday is the last chance for Ty Willingham to get a win at U-Dub this season. Without a monumental upset of Cal, the State of Washington won't have a single D-1 (FBS) win other than against itself (Wazzu over U-Dub in overtime). Ouch.
Last, but not least: Auburn. How do they justify firing one of their winningest coaches ever, with a 6-1 record against their most hated rival over the last seven years, who unbeaten and mere subjective sports writers' opinions away from a national title within the last five years? DUMB. Karma should relegate them to the SEC cellar for the next 20 years. And Syracuse's AD should be all over Tubberville like stink on stink.
Both games will offer good opponents for us: Champs Sports will offer a flawed ACC foe (aren't they all?), whereas the Insight likely offers a flawed Big XII foe (we, of course, are a flawed Big Ten offering).
Prestige? Seriously, we're going to evaluate prestige between two third-tier bowls? I'm not buying that Champs is that much better than the Insight. It pays more, but the money is shared in the Big Ten pot anyway (and after travel expenses, there won't be much leftover from either game), so it makes no actual difference to UW's program.
I'm not traveling and I get both the NFL Network and ESPN, so I'll watch either game, but Wednesday December 31st at 1:30 EST? That's DVR time for me and most people I know. This little thing called work. Sucks, don't it? Oh, and way more people have ESPN than the NFL Network. So Champs, on ESPN on a Saturday at 4:30 EST sounds like a clear winner.
Finally, who do *they* want? Does the Citrus Committee want to take a chance on the Wisconsin fan base skipping Florida this year? Or would they rather have the Minnesota fan base, riding a four-game losing streak with a blowout loss to Iowa, a not-close loss to Michigan, and a head-to-head loss to the Badgers? Oh, and with less helmetosity than Wisconsin?
I'll say this, the Insight Bowl is mad as heck at Notre Dame for losing to Syracuse (or Pitt, or North Carolina). Can you imagine the ratings bump if they could've had Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin? But no, no 6-6 teams picked over a 7-5 team, so the Insight gets Kansas. Kansas vs. Minnesota? Yawn.
For all Potrykus has lobbied against Florida this season, I think -- and hope -- we're headed to Champs. Think it would help if I went and bought something there for Christmas?
the Women's hockey team remained unbeaten (16-0-2) and #1 in the land. The men continued their improvement, reaching .500 for the first time, with wins over Michigan and Michigan State in the [Big Ten] Showcase at the Kohl Center.
The #22 men's hoops team warmed up for its big ACC/Big Ten challenge match-up with VaTech by beating UW-Milwaukee. The 5-1 women's squad rallied late to upset #6 Baylor and win the Paradise Jam tourney in St. Thomas.
The wrestling team beat Oregon State Sunday.
The only downside for the weekend was two losses for the Volleyball team means the women will miss the NCAA tourney for the first time since 1995.
I like the BTN, but did I mention that Wisconsin playing a California team wasn't selected for California BTN TV on Saturday? Seriously? I had to watch the Cal Poly replay on Sunday, recorded on my DVR late Saturday night.
Lame. And Comcast is lame for not giving me the overflow channels on the BTN.
Starting on offense: In Chyrst's offense, the quarterback needs to be able to throw the ball accurately. Sherer is more accurate than Evridge ever was. It may not have looked that way against Iowa, but the staff made the right decision to pull the plug on Evridge. It must've been tough on Bielema. He was with Alan at K-State and brought him here to play, not to be a backup. But a backup is what he turned into, and reasonably so.
Sherer has solid upside. He throws a nice ball and has pretty good pocket presence. His problems are more technique than talent: he waits too long to throw and he needs to cut down on the throws into coverege. These are things he can learn. I'm encrouaged by his development this season and his ability to place passes, both short and long. His seven starts this season (assuming the bowl game) will pay dividends in the next. I think we're one more year from Phillips being the man.
Sticking with the passing game: our receivers have a lot of potential. Isaac Anderson looks like he'll lead this crew for a couple more years, but Toon is progressing, and Gilreath's speed is a nice advantage. With two more years for Anderson and Gilreath, three for Toon, add in one more year with Graham at TE (a clear winner), this could be a special group that might remind us of Jonathan Orr, Brandon Williams, and Owen Daniels. That's high praise, but I think the potential is there.
Running Back: with the three guys, John Clay looks like the every down back. He needs to develop his skills in the passing game. I like Hill. He's been good for the Badgers, but he doesn't have the talent or strength that Clay does. He should continue to get carries, but Clay should be featured. Zach Brown needs to get more touches. He's versatile, runs hard, actually reads his blocks, and provides an excellent option in the passing game as a check-down. Clay should start, but Brown should be the next option.
Fullback? Pressley and Rentmeester were there when we needed them and played hard. No one that quite looked like Matt Berstein, but they were solid. Who's next? There are no other fullbacks on the roster. Looks like the 2009 offense will resemble the '06 offense: no fullbacks. As you'll recall, Chryst's offense works just fine that way.
The linemen: The guys who are coming back are solid. Two more years with Carimi and Moffit make me smile. Moffit could be the best center in the Big Ten his senior year. He did a great job in his first year starting and the line is a position that most players get better with every start. Josh Ogeslby played pretty well when he was called on and may start next season. He needs to focus on technique (as he has since he arrived in Madison), as his size has been there from the beginning. But will he beat out Jake Bscherer, who has also played pretty well? Not clear. Does one of them move to guard, instead? Bill Nagy will be a two-year starter at guard, beginning next year. The question looks to be who the second guard is. However it works out, this looks like a pretty solid unit all with decent game experience following this year.
Barring significant injuries, the 2009 Badger offense has real potential.
The Defense? The picture isn't quite as pretty.
Starting with the defensive line, O'Brien Schofield seemed to get better as the year went on as the only non-senior starter on the line. Does Jeff Stehle have what it takes? He hasn't had his name called much. Everyone else on the line will be a youngster without much experience at all. This unit will be a big questionmark heading into next season.
Linebackers: after three years of Casillas and Levy roaming the outside, it's time for a change. Will McFadden stay in the middle? I see St. Jean on the strongside -- which I like, unless McFadden goes there. Sorensen has played a bit, but not enough to get a good feel from him. Like the d-line, the linebacking corps for '09 is a real questionmark. Not a great sign for our front seven. Some one will need to emerge as a leader for these guys.
The defensive backfield looks pretty good. Goins and Brinkley came along well, they were just thrown into the fire too early. Between Carter, Maragos (perhaps moved to corner), Valai, and Pleasant, we should be set up in the safety spots. Hopefully Aaron Henry will return healthy at corner, and this should be a solid group. Not eye-catching, but solid.
On special teams we're still waiting to see Gilreath really explode. He has the speed, but maybe not the moves. On the plus side, having Welch and Nortman kicking looks very good for the next three years.
Overall the offense looks pretty darned good, the defense a little scary. Look forward to seeing what the front 7 does during the spring.
Everyone feels bad for Andrew Gardner, but a team wins and loses as a team. Cal Poly didn't quite do enough to win. And homefield advantage helps, even with a slightly dimished crowd. It did Saturday, rattling a D-1 FCS kicker into missing as many extra points as he's missed since high school.
So, the biggest negative from a nail-biting come from behind victory over an FCS opponent*? Our defense can't defend the option. We did alright against it versus Ohio State, but that was against a true-freshman quarterback in his first or second start. Lots of teams run the option. We need to be able to stop it. If Doeren wants to stick around as the defensive coordinator, he needs to figure out how to coach up his defense against the option.
The biggest positive? Coming back. It showed heart. The defense did what they needed in the end, and the offense kept fighting back.
Players of the game? Sherer and Clay on offense; Langford for the defense. He was the difference doing as well as he did against Barden, who looks to play on Sunday next Fall.
* I know Cal Poly is a good FCS team, and I know some of those teams can really play. However, they are limited by more than 20 fewer scholarships, facilities that don't approach BCS program's stuff, crowds, stadiums, exposure, budget etc. that they can't come close to recruiting like we can. Just like I said about UNLV after my visit there, we should never lose to a team like this; we should never have to go to overtime against them.
Like the best Paul Johnson Navy teams, though undersized, this Cal Poly team can execute. Unlike any Navy team I can remember, the Mustangs have a very dangerous wide receiver, Barden, and an efficient quarterback, Dally (20 TDs to 1 INT is very impressive). What makes them such an effective tandem, however, is the effectiveness of Cal Poly's multifaceted triple option.
To beat it, the Badgers need to attack it, head on. And that falls on the seniors: Chapman, Newkirk, Shaughnessy, Levy, Casillas. These are the guys who need to step up. I'm surprised to say it, but below is a video (courtesy of the Blue-Gray Sky) of Notre Dame, of all teams, showing how to defend the triple option against a smaller, well-disciplined opponent. How do they do it? They attack the line and overpower Navy's blockers.
The Badgers have the size (an even bigger advantage than the Irish had over Navy) and skill to do just that: disrupt the flow at every position. If they can shut down the run and force the Mustangs into obvious passing downs, that gives our secondary a better chance to double up Barden and gives Shaughnessy, Chappy, and Newkirk more opportunities to really go after Dally. Finally, disrupting their blocking can allow Valai, Levy, et al., to t-off on their outside-running slot and wing backs, creating turnovers -- a problem Cal Poly has had. They've given up 25 fumbles on the year.
When the Badgers have the ball, again, it's largely on the seniors to lead the way. Urbik, Kemp, and Vanden Heuvel, as well as Pressley leading the way for the backs. Our offensive linemen outweight their three-man front by an average of 70 pounds. And Pressley is as big as any of them. We need to pound on them early and often. And we need to hang onto the ball. Cal Poly has forced 24 turnovers on the year. Let's keep it at 24.
The Mustangs come into this game fired up. It's their first -- likely only -- chance to play in a stadium like Camp Randall against one of the big boys like Wisconsin. They want to prove they are up to it. As Barden said on Saturday, “I can’t tell you how many people on our team are excited to show Wisconsin fans, the Cal Poly following, the Wisconsin team that we’ve got just as much talent, just as much hunger to play the game, just as much competitiveness, and it’s our opportunity to show it . . . We’ve got a lot of guys looking to make a name for themselves. And the only way it’s going to happen is if we execute, play our game and win. That’s what I’m planning on doing.”
There's an easy way to shut down this kind of enthusiasm. First, when they step off the plane from California, it will be really, really cold. Not something they are used to in San Luis Obispo. When they head down the tunnel in front of 80K fans, they will look around in a bit of awe, and it will still be really, really cold. Here's the key: on the first play from scrimmage, our lineman need to own them. And on the second play. And on the third.
If we win the toss, we should take the ball and start pounding on them. Beating them into submission in the first 15 minutes will likely take their enthusiasm away. That cold will be just a bit colder, that crowd will be just a big more intimidating, and that 260-pound fullback, leading a 240-pound running back, will be that much less appealing to get in the way of. And they'll just want to get back to the FCS playoffs in one piece that much sooner. By the time Jump Around hits at the end of the 3rd Quarter, we want them shaking their heads, thinking, "damn, this is crazy."
Unlike Michigan last year, the present Badgers have no delusions of grandeur. We've suffered through a sub-par season and the players and coaches know they need this win to get to a better bowl (maybe any bowl). They know they need to go out and lick the Mustangs.
So, seniors. It's your time. Run down that tunnel one more time. Badgers are pound-for-pound one of the toughest critters out there, and you guys are a lot of pounds. Show 'em you're a Badger.
Cal Poly is 8-1 and ranked #3 in the Football Championship Subdivision (fka Div-1AA). They have played only one other FBS team, beating San Diego State 29-27 the second week of the year. For you Sagarin freaks, Cal Poly is currently ranked #100, ahead of prior Badger opponents Indiana (105) and Marshall (109). They average more than 46 points per game.
Cal Poly runs a triple option that relies heavily, but hardly exclusively, on the run.
They *spread* the ball around and everyone runs with it. Although they average nearly 300 yards per game on the ground, their leading rusher, "slotback" Ryan Mole has only 573 yards. The sign of a good option, six players, slotbacks, wingbacks, fullbacks, and their quarterback routinely handle the ball.
Quarterback Jonathan Dally was rated #2 in passing efficiency in the FCS division in 2007. This year he's even better, throwing 20 touchdowns to only 1 INT and averaging about 200 yards per game. Dally is also currently 2nd on the team with 526 rushing yards. WR Ramses Barden averages more than 120 yards per game through the air, and has caught 15 of Dally's 20 touchdown passes, good enough for first in their conference. At 6-6, he's a threat anytime the Mustangs are near the end zone.
One area the Badgers unsurprisingly have a "massive" advantage is along the offensive line. Here is a depth chart comparison ("the Thin Green Line"):
Cal Poly plays a 3-4 defense. On their line: DE: Gavin Cooper (6-3, 235), NT: James Chen (6-2 (260), DE: Sean Lawyer (6-1, 260). Their linebackers are on the slightly small end, but not dramatically (between 210 and 230). However, teams playing a 3-4 generally want a bigger linebacker or two to crowd the line. Cal Poly doesn't have that.
Contrast that with the Badgers' starting offensive line: Carimi (6-8, 301), Kemp (6-6, 315), Moffitt (6-4, 323), Urbik (6-6, 332), and returning to the lineup this week, Vanden Heuvel (6-7, 324). That's a lot of weight the Mustangs give up.
Their offensive line isn't very big, either: Right Tackle: Art Munoz (6-2, 270), Right Guard: Will Mitchell (6-1, 285), Center: Hal Kelley (6-0, 260), Left Guard: Maurice McClure (6-2, 275), Left tackle: Pat Koligian (6-3, 270).
It's a little hard to get much of a read on the Mustang defense because of the competition they play. They give up 370 yards of offense and 25 points per game. They have forced 24 turnovers, but are still -2 in turnover margin, having given up 26 turnovers (25 fumbles).
Finally, the Cal Poly place kicker isn't much to write home about. Gardner's gone 6-13, with a long of 36. He's 1-6 beyond 30 yards, and 5-7 under that.
The bottom line is that Wisconsin should dominate the Mustang defense. The question is, can they contain one of the wildest offenses in the west? A decent Big Ten team playing a highly rated FBS team? I've heard this somewhere before . . . the Badgers don't want to end up like this:
The Mustangs want to be next: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/sports/story/530428.html
Kyle Jefferson is out of the hospital, after two serious concussions in two years, is it time for him to hang it up? Without knowing more about Saturday's injury, I say it probably is.
Some highlight videos courtesy of the Big Ten Network (Rotel in your queso, right?) and UW. Oh, you can find all of the highlight videos for the year, plus some older ones, here: badgerfootballmedia
Here is UW's official game highlight video.
And some random notes.
First, Sherer was the Badger player of the game. Down 21-10 in the 3rd quarter, on 3rd and 7 from midfield, he escapes a tackle, rolls right, and fires a strike to Isaac Anderson, who takes it inside the 10. Key play on that touchdown drive. His subsequent 39-yard strike to Anderson effectively ties the game. And that doesn't take into account the one Anderson dropped that would've likely gone for 60+ yards. This was his best game so far, and here's hoping that having a starting quarterback with some experience helps us out next season.
Second, the hitting. Valai delivered a nasty blow on Minnesota's Soloman, taking off a huge chunk of his helmet. Didn't look intentional, but looked nasty. Similarly, the hit on Jefferson didn't look at all dirty, just unfortunate. Casillas lead with his helmet in the first half, but fortunately didn't hit the Goofer's helmet, nor did he hurt himself. Bielema's made it a point of emphasis with Big Ten refs, he needs to make sure he makes it a point of emphasis with his own team.
Allen Langford. Heard of him lately? No? It's because he's had a great year. He's been the only rock in our secondary and deserves a lot of credit for it.
Mike Newkirk. Great game, solid season.
Aubrey Pleasant. Nice game (though he ran under Weber's 4th and 18 completion in the 4th -- a better angle and he would've knocked it down, or even come up with a pick). Nice article on him in the State Journal. Good for him for sticking around for his degree. Glad to see he's gotten something out of it on the football field, too.
O'Brien Schofield had a great game, too. Let's hope that carries into next year, as he's our only returning starter on the defensive line.
David Gilreath has really come alive of late, and had two big plays again against Minnesota.
Paging Zach Brown? Word is he's dinged up. Hope it's not too serious.
Finally, Nick Toon looks to be coming along, and made a crucial pick-up, Badgers still down a touchdown, on 2nd and 19, he takes a crossing pattern for 17 + a 15-yard unecessary roughness penalty for a late hit on the sideline (which I actually thought was a little ticky-tack).
As for Minnesota: that ball-hawking isn't an accident. Remember the early days in the Alvarez era? Say, 1993? Our defense gave up a lot of yards, but picked up a lot of turnovers. Not that the Goofs are that good, but they do force a lot of turnovers. And Weber isn't there yet, but he's a solid player for them. With Decker back for another year, Minnesota's offense will stay dangerous. But thanks for the safety (he had all day to throw, he should've thrown it away).
More notes from: Badgercentric, Camp (and) Lambeau , and Dave Heller and Jeff Potrykus at the Journal Sentinel.
This season isn't over. Folks, don't overlook Cal Poly (8-1), #3 in the FBS (behind #2 Appalachian State -- remember them?), and averaging over 46 points per game.
Um, or the Bacon:
Whichever. The longest running rivarly in Division I. This will the the 118th meeting (Minnesota leads, 59-50-8).
Minnesota is without their star wide-receiver, Eric Decker, and quarterback Adam Weber appears to be backsliding. That's a good sign for Wisconsin's still-suspect secondary. Another good sign for the Badger defense is Minnesota is 11th in the Big Ten in rushing (if you're eleventh out of ten, you aren't very good).
The Badgers are fresh off of a beatdown of hapless Indiana that really got going when Jay Valai knocked the Hoosiers [already back-up] quarterback out of the game. While that was some tonic for what has ailed the Badgers this season, it doesn't convince me they have turned the corner.
Sherer has yet to prove he's the Badgers' quarterback for the future, but on the plus side, we bring the top rushing attack in the Big Ten against the 8th ranked rushing defense (and 8th in passing defense).
In offense vs. defense, (partially because of the Decker injury) the Badgers win on both sides of the ball. So if Minnesota is so lacking on offense and defense, how are they ahead of the Badgers in the Big Ten standings? Easy: they lead the league (+15) in turnovers (and Decker helped deliver the second ranked passing attack in the conference before he went out).
In short, the Badger should win if they hang onto the ball (so rush Clay and Brown more than Hill!). That said, the battle for the Axe, like any good rivalry, can get pretty crazy. In 1993 it brought me what remains the most painful Badger loss, in the Metrodome to a downright awful Goofer team, spoiling (just a little) an otherwise amazing year to be a Badger. The Goofs have had heartbreak of there own more recently:
(2005, Alvarez's last team; that's Casillas on the punt block -- #46 back then -- after Laurence Maroney had absolutely shredded the Badgers all day)
As recently as last season, a downright terrible Minnesota squad gave a pretty good, if slightly inconsistent, Badger team all they could handle.
So, what to expect? First, lots of yellow hankies; these are the two most-penalized teams in the Big Ten. Other than that, I see the Badgers pounding the ball all day long, but a couple of turnovers keep Minnesota lingering around until the 4th quarter, when Wisconsin finally puts them away.
In the recent past Camp Randall has been very good to Wisconsin against our Western neighbors (average margin of victory in last six home games: 22.5), and it will be again this year, bringing the Badgers one step closer to evening the score (with eight more to go).
One final heartwarming thought:
Work brought me to Las Vegas today and I'm one of those strange people that doesn't much like Casinos. As luck would have it, UNLV was playing at home against one of the top non-BCS teams, TCU. Not having anything better to do, I figured I'd head out there.
Las Vegas is, well, Las Vegas. Suspended reality. There isn't a thing here, at least not anywhere near the strip, that is real. Well, except for people losing money. Everyone here is in la-la land, getting away from reality. Makes for a strange crowd. Anyway, left that behind, and drove the 8 miles out to Sam Boyd Stadium (the Silver Bowl). The Las Vegas Valley is actually quite pretty, away from the strip, if you like high desert (lots of dry, red mountains).
Sam Boyd Stadium is small, probably around 40k at capacity, and tonight it was nowhere near it. The Runnin' Rebels were 3-5 headed into this game, with a big win over Arizona State and heart-breaking losses to Air Force and BYU. Anyway, at 3-5, the fan base for a non-BCS team isn't real fired up. There wasn't much in the way of tail gating, and the stadium was less than half-full. Though the Horned Frogs did a pretty good job bringing their fans along. In a half-full stadium, I was able to walk up to the ticket window and purchase a 45-yard line ticket for $29. Well, it was supposed to be $29, but the ATM at the casino gave me two $100 bills when I withdrew some cash. I gave one of them to the teller at the ticket window and realized when I took my money back out of my pocket after the game, that she gave me $81 in change. So the 45-yard line seat was $19. Much cheaper than hanging out in a casino for three hours.
It was kind of fun to see what a good non-BCS team looks like. TCU was solid. They run the spread pretty well and have a stout defense. They took their opening drive in for a touchdown, and their second drive, too. After that they put it in cruise, and after a final minute UNLV touchdown, won 44-14. And it could've been much worse, but for TCU's muffed punt, untimely penalties (we Badgers know something about that), and a pick, I think.
Anyway, the game wasn't that competitive, but I noted some other things. TCU's helmets are really purple. Really. Also, their place kicker, for kick-offs, is a toe kicker, not a soccer-style kicker. Can't remember the last one of those I've seen. Oh, and he was born without a left forearm (left arm goes just past his elbow).
UNLV's band is really small, but they make up for it with the "Rebel Girls." Future "gentleman's club" pole dancers? That's probably not very fair, but, you know, it is Vegas.
On my way out, I noticed a bunch of cattle right next to the east side of the stadium. That's a little different. Also, I was amused by the announcer's exhortation at the end of the game, "go ahead and take a chance on anything in our town, except on our roads."
And for a closing thought: I can't believe UNLV took us to the bell last season. Ridiculous. With the facilities and fan support they have, a game with them should never be close. Never.
From Las Vegas . . . until the next time.
This week is a big, scary test. After seeing the Big Ten's #2 rusher, Shonn Greene, torch our defense, the Big Ten's top back, Javon Ringer, must be giving Doeren, Levy, Casillas, and McFadden nightmares. And Hoyer isn't a world beating quarterback, but he's consistently good enough, and let's face it, he's better than Stanzi. So that's not good.
Conversely, since starting the season with a gimpy defense, we've got a new starting quarterback, a new starting tailback, a dinged up and re-shuffled offensive line, and we've lost our best offensive player for the season.
The good news is that Michigan State's defense isn't as good as Iowa's. On the other hand, it ain't bad. It held the same Iowa team that absolutely smoked us to a mere 13 points. It held a dangerous Northwestern to 20, and, ok, Ohio State smacked them around. But we're no Ohio State.
In the kicking game, the Badgers face the league leading punt returner, Jesse Johnson. Contrast him with Gilreath, who despite flashes of brilliance, is last in the league (#18) returning punts (#24 in kick off returns). The kickers are pretty similar, Welch and Swenson are both reliable -- if not world-beating -- kickers, and Nortman and Bates share a 41.9 yard punting average (middle of the conference pack).
After the depressing objective look, we can't even turn to intangibles for a little psychological boost. Sparty is +6 in turnover margin, against our -1. Bielema's Badgers are 4-6 on the road in the Big Ten and have never beaten a ranked Big Ten opponent in their house. Our last visit to East Lansing was one of the all-time low moments for the Badgers:
Let's face it, this game looks tough for us.
Is there any silver lining?
The last time the unranked Badgers played #21 MSU, we smacked 'em, 56-21 (2003). Also, we gain more yards and give up fewer yards per game (we're 4th in the Big Ten in both, they are 7th and 6th, respectively). Yeah . . . I'm reaching.
Keys to the game?
(1) Can the Badgers contain Javon Ringer?
(2) Can Hoyer force the Badgers to defend the pass?
(3) Can Chryst mix in enough effective passing plays (accurate pass followed by actual reception) to provide space for Clay and Brown to run?
(4) Can the Badgers win the turnover battle?
(5) Can the Badgers win in the kicking game?
Face it, by every objective and subjective measure, Michigan State should win this game. Every. One.
So? Ringer gets 175 yards on the ground, but Hoyer never gets going. Sherer is mediocre, but Graham makes some key grabs, and Clay and Brown (and a little Hill) combine for 160 yards.
I've just got a feeling.
A late turnover gives Wisconsin the lead, and Hoyer can't pull off the last-second victory.
Did it really take losing to Notre Dame for Washington to figure out Willingham wasn't coming back next year? Really? Remember when it wasn't shameful to lose to ND?
Pitt has lost to two teams: Bowling Green and Rutgers, and the hapless Scarlet Knights kicked their asses. What's that say about the Big East?
Kansas has lost to every good team they have played in the last two years (ok, save for last year's bowl game).
Texas Tech and Oklahoma State! Who knew!?!
Akron (4-4) won at Eastern Michigan.
Marshall (3-4) lost their third in a row, to UAB.
Fresno State (5-2) tough win over hapless Utah State
Michigan (2-6) lost to little brother; again, how are the Badgers one of those 2!?!
#13 Ohio State (7-2) tough loss to Penn State in Columbus
#3 Penn State (9-0) solid win on the road in Columbus
Iowa (5-3) took the week off to savor kicking our ass
#22 Michigan State (7-2) excersised some demons by beating big brother
Indiana (3-5) upset Northwestern; didn't see that coming
#20 Minnesota (7-1) believe that?!? Solid win over Purdue
Cal Poly (5-1) highly ranked FBS team, beat Southern Utah.
Anyway, Potrykus, at the Journal Sentinel gave him a shout yesterday in his Second Look column:
The debate among UW fans regarding UW's tailback rotation too often involves only junior P.J.
Hill and redshirt freshman John Clay.
Sophomore Zach Brown, who seems to do just about everything well, showed his value on UW's last scoring drive.
The Badgers faced third and 5 from their 25 on the third play of the drive. Sherer dropped back to pass and Illinois blitzed two linebackers, Martez Wilson and Brit Miller.
Wilson came up the middle and was picked up by center John Moffitt. Miller looped behind Wilson and came free between Moffitt and left guard Andy Kemp.
Brown, who was lined up slightly off Moffitt's right shoulder, saw Miller's path and slid to his left. Brown lunged at Miller and got enough of him to give Sherer time and a throwing lane to complete a 9-yard pass to tight end Garrett Graham for a first down.
Brown's smarts and his ability to block helped keep alive a drive that ended seven plays later with Sherer hitting David Gilreath for an 8-yard touchdown.
There's more to running back than carrying the ball, and Brown is the Badgers' best in the supporting role. He's also darned good with it (among other things, he reads his blocks):
through Illinois (carries, yards, average):
Hill, P.J.: 134, 613, 4.6
Clay, John: 90, 480, 5.3
Zach: 43, 239, 5.6
Also, remember true-frosh Brown in
2007, filling in for an injured PJ:
at Minnesota: 29 for 250, 8.9 ypc
vs. Michigan: 27 for 108, 4.0 ypc
at Ohio State: 20 for 63, 3.2 ypc (not great, but Clay and Hill nowhere to be found)
Edit: Potrykus isn't the only one. Another Badger blogger, over at Camp Lambeau, noticed another key play from Zach this weekend: http://camplambeau.blogspot.com/2008/10/wisconsin-v-illinois-one-moment.html
One of the most gifted athletes I can remember wearing the Cardinal and White. Came in a highly recruited defensive lineman and became a game-changing tight-end/H-back. Built to excel in Chryst's offense and should be a great player in the League.
Best of luck to you, Travis, in your rehab. Thanks for the memories.
(best I could do on the video)
Also, here: 2007 Capital One Bowl Highlights at :37, 2:05, and 3:09.
Gilreath, 48 yards the house.
That didn't win the game, but that one play changed everything. It gave the defense confidence. They started flying around just a bit more (and picked off two passes). It gave the crowd life. It gave the offense, most importantly Sherer, life. And it gave the Badgers a chance at saving the season. No, there will be no Capital One Bowl (nor better), but there is still some pride on the table, and that was the play the Badgers needed to fight for it.
I'm happy I was wrong about the result yesterday. Here's a follow-up on the keys of the game:
(1) Will Juice, et al., protect the ball? A resounding "no." His first pick, though he was on the move, was a terrible throw that sailed on him, ended an Illini drive, and led to the Badgers' first points. His second was underthrown into coverage allowing Wisconsin to build on its momentum after tying the game. And the third? It wasn't really his fault, but it ended Illinois' chance at a comeback.
(2) Will Wisconsin run effectively on first down? Not really. In the first quarter, yes, and sporadically throughout the rest of the game, but not enough to consistently give the Badgers a short field on 2nd and 3rd down.
(3) Will Sherer get Beckum and Graham the ball? Sort of. Beckum dropped two key passes (one really easy one) early and later left the game with an ankle injury. Graham was steady and made some key plays (including one that was negated by the Oglesby hold). But Sherer tried to force throws to his tight ends a couple of times.
(4) Will the Badgers' secondary limit Benn's YAC? A little. He had one big one and was trouble for Wisconsin all afternoon, but Juice's poor game helped out a lot.
(5) Will Gilreath shorten the field returning kicks? He did ok, but more importantly took the 3rd and 17 pass 52-yards for the tying score in the 3rd quarter. That was the play of the game.
Obviously I was happy with the outcome and the future is brighter already. That said, all is not right in Mad-town just yet. The Illini turnovers were the difference in the game, and our offense is still very shaky in passing situations. If Beckum is out again (I suspect he is), it won't help. I liked seeing Clay and Brown with the ball, and maybe, just maybe, the confidence the Badgers got from a solid win will carry over in the visit to East Lansing next week. They'll need it.
Given the trouble we had with Threat (!), Pryor, Clark, and Greene, it's tough for me to see how we stop Juice and Aurilius Benn, especially now that Illinois seems to have found a pair of decent running backs. Juice could stop himself (see Minnesota at Illinois), but so far our defense hasn't proven it's ability to get inside the opposition's head. Our front 7 has the talent and speed to keep up with Juice, but hasn't shown the skill -- and our D-line remains dangerously thin. Our secondary is a big liability against a playmaker like Benn. Illinois rips off yardage in big chunks as a matter of course, and I don't see any way we'll stop that.
When we have the ball we should be able to run the ball. It sounds like Clay will get the majority of carries, with Brown getting some, too. I would switch those, but it still sounds better to me than Hill getting the carries. Sorry, PJ. Your efforts have been appreciated, but you're not in the top two backs on the team. We need big chunks of yardage on first down to prevent Chryst from immediately going to the passing game on second down. Our problem is neither Sherer nor Evridge has shown the skill to run Chryst's offense, the one that turns Beckum and Graham into stars. And I don't know what about Illinois's defense will give our receivers better hands. Against Illinois's defense, we'll score, but enough?
One area of hope is Illinois's trouble on kick coverage. Maybe Gilreath finally breaks one?
Bottom line is that we need Illinois to turn the ball over to have a chance. My take on this game is Illinois 38, Wisconsin 20.
Two more reasons I'm not feeling confident:
(Badgers escape, with Stocco under center!): http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/boxscore?gameId=263010275
But I sure hope I'm wrong.
Here are the keys to the game:
(1) Will Juice, et al., protect the ball?
(2) Will Wisconsin run effectively on first down?
(3) Will Sherer get Beckum and Graham the ball?
(4) Will the Badger secondary limit Benn's YAC?
(5) Will Gilreath shorten the field returning kicks?
It starts at the top. Bielema has to stop pointing fingers in public (he needs to point them in private) and man up. He has done a poor job this season. Period. It isn't about his assistant coaches, his captains, his seniors, his freshman, etc., it's about him. The media asks what went wrong on a specific play, learn to politic, bring it on yourself, Bret. That's what leaders do, and you're supposed to be the leader.
Dave Doeren, get up in the box. You're the defensive coordinator and from the field you can't see what's going on. Get up there, and get your alignments straight.
Paul Chryst, go with what we can do, not with what you'd like to be able to do. Evridge? Sherer? Doesn't matter. Neither is a true game-managing quarterback. We've got to pound the rock. No more passes on first down, at least not unless necessary. Turn the big kids loose and let them wear the bad guys down. Especially in the red zone. Maybe next year we'll have a quarterback capable of running your system correctly (see Stocco, John, 1 each). Right now we don't, but we do have two excellent backs (Brown and Clay, by the way) to carry the load, and a big, strong, athletic offensive line. Play to their strengths.
Players? Time to man-up. Levy and Casillas, you guys have been starters for three years. It's time to act like it. There's no excuse for confusion -- or missed tackles -- in the linebacker corps.
PJ, you've had a good run, but you still haven't learned how to read your blocks and if I want someone to just bowl the other guys over, I'm going with Clay. Zach Brown is the only back who consisently reads his blocks, he should start, with a healthy dose of Clay battering folks. Hill should be used to spell them.
Receivers? You guys are on D-1A schollies. Dropping passes is weak. Very weak.
What's this team missing? The walk-on. Luke Swan, Jim Leonhard, et al. There is a long and distinguished list of top contributers walking on out of a desire to wear red. The key? Desire.
You're playing for the University of Wisconsin, the flagship university of a blue-collar, hard-working state. It isn't hype, glitz, flash or drama. Wisconsin is about hard work, and taking pride in that work.
Don't give up. It's a cliche, but winners are those that get knocked down, but get back up. Things look bleak right now. The media, opponents, and even our fans are all down on the Badgers, the coaches, the players, even King Barry is getting a little heat. If the guys on this team come together and show some fight, that's enough. If they come out firing against the Illini. If they hit MSU right back in a battle for the trenches. If they fight to keep the Axe. As Lou Holtz (good God, am I reduced to quoting him?) said, you're going to get knocked down again in your life. It's going to matter a lot more than football. Someone you love will get sick. You'll lose a job, something . . . When that happens, you'll know what to do.
You'll gather yourself up and take it on, just like you did back in 2008 when the chips were down. It's not the last play that matters, it's the next one.
Crazy? Not so fast. Sure, Wisconsin is 0-3 in the Big Ten, lost to Michigan and got clobbered by Penn State. The team is crashing, the quarterback has been replaced, and the starting left tackle and right guard are injured. It's not as though the defense has been anything to crow about lately, giving up the entire 4th quarter to the Wolverines, the last drive to a true-freshman Buckeye, and the whole game to the Nittany Lions. So, yah, there's plenty of room for skepticism.
Here's the thing: football is about individual match-ups. We all know the transitive property does not rule on the gridiron, and on Saturday we'll see a good example of that.
Why? Look at what these two teams do. Iowa is a running team. That's what they do. Stanzi is ok at quarterback, but not more than that. He's had one game over 200 yards passing, in the loss to Northwestern. More importantly, he's no threat to run the ball. None. That is what Wisconsin has struggled with: dual threat quarterbacks.
When playing a mobile quarterback, they have to leave their secondary out to dry to contain the spread running game. Losing Ike to the NFL and Henry to injury, Langford is the best they have at corner, and while decent, he's not great. Go back and look at the Penn State game. Look at that drive the Buckeyes put together. Look at Michigan's scoring drives (two of three; Threat's QB option run was the third). Spread attacks throwing the ball. Folks, that's not Iowa. Iowa runs a pretty straight-forward attack. They're going to run Shonn Greene at you until he's tired, then they're going to run Jewel Hampton at you.
Yes, they ran through Indiana like a hot knife through butter. As bad as Wisconsin looked last week, the Badgers aren't Indiana (2-4, with a blowout loss to Ball State). Newkirk, Chapman, Shaughnessy, Levy, and Casillas will stop the run.
Now, Wisconsin isn't going to get all crazy against Iowa, either. As much as Chryst would love to run a complex, NFL-style scheme, with a new quarterback under center, he's not going to. Clay and Hill (I'll say it again, it should be Brown and Clay) will carry the load against a solid Iowa front. Sherer will be called on to mix things up to Graham, Beckum, and the receivers, who may, or may not, catch what's thrown their way. But the Badgers will rely on the running game. What does Iowa look like against teams with a solid running game? 0-2 (21-20 vs. #23 Pitt, 16-13 vs. #21 MSU). And those two games are the model for this one: straight up battling in the trenches for rushing lanes.
Iowa lost to Michigan State because of turnovers. Plain and simple. Pittsburgh was a little more complicated, but going 4-17 on 3rd downs won't give you a lot of scoring opportunities (they were 4-16 vs. MSU), and missing a field goal in a 1-point game obviously didn't help. Now, both of these games were "winnable" for Iowa, but ifs, ands, and buts don't win games, points do. Ask Bielema about Michigan and Ohio State. Both were close games, but MSU wasn't really as close as the score indicates; MSU was protecting their lead from the middle of the 3rd quarter.
Now, if Wisconsin gets behind early, by more than a score, it will be interesting to see how they respond. A ten-point deficit early could do some real damage to an already shaky Badger psyche.
What does it all mean? Wisconsin's passing game is actually better than Pitt's, and not much worse than MSU's (Sherer probably isn't as good as Hoyer, but Chryst's schemes are better than MSU's with Graham and Beckum at full strength). Wisconsin's defense is up to defending the Hawkeye running game (though Greene will get his hundred, and Iowa will get on the scoreboard). And the Badger running game, like the Hawkeyes', will get its yards. Although Kinnick hasn't been good to Wisconsin over the years, in this case the opportunity to get away from Camp Randall and play with a chip on their shoulder in a hostile environment, rather than the luke warm reception they would get at home right now, is actually something of a benefit.
The Badgers are better than they looked last week. More importantly, they are playing a much different opponent. As I said, Wisconsin, 20-13.
A review of the review?
(1) Penn State's dangerous receivers vs. Wisconsin's secondary? Yikes. They ate us alive.
(2) Penn State's line vs. our front 7? Not bad, but not good either.
(3) Badgers' offense in the trenches? Not bad, really. But . . .
(4) Badger passing game? The starter was 2 for 11, 1 INT, 1 fumble inside our own 10. Ouch.
(5) Special teams: this (and QB play) was where a loss became a blowout.
Sure, they played a strong Ohio State close, but that wasn't the story among the Badger faithful. Nope. It was how the Badgers let another one get away. And let's be clear: we did. Just like the week before at Michigan.
So here comes Penn State. Always a stout defense. This year's spread offense is going gangbusters and has the Nits at 6-0 and #6 in the country. And this is the team that embarrassed the Badgers last year in Happy Valley, 38-7. UW is looking at an 0-3 start in league play. Ouch.
On the other hand, Wisconsin played Ohio State very close last week under the lights at Camp Randall. This team doesn't suck. So what's it going to be?
When Penn State's offense takes the field, the Badgers will see another first-year starter dual threat quarterback running the spread. Darryl Clark isn't the freak of nature that Pryor is, but nor is he a true freshman. In addition to being a good decision maker, he's got nine TD passes to only 1 INT; he's efficient. Joining him in the backfield, Evan Royster is having a solid year, averaging an astonishing 7.8 yards per carry. It's not rocket science: the Penn State offensive line is seasoned and solid. They make their presence felt. The Badger front 7, though solid and quick, will have their hands full, and better get their calls in on time. Newkirk, Shaughnessy, Chapman, Levy and Casillas will all have to have career days to contain the Penn State running game.
In addition, Deon Butler and Derrick Williams are both dangerous receivers who stretch the field and can make a big play anytime they touch the ball. Unlike last week's servicable receivers, these receivers are very dangerous. Although Allen Langford has been playing better than ever at corner, likely the Badgers best chance in the backfield is to get very physical with Williams and Butler, with Jay Valai leading the hit parade. As two sidelined Buckeyes will tell you, Valai packs a punch for a little guy. But is it enough?
When the Badgers have the ball, the battle royale will be in the trenches. Penn State doesn't like to use its linebackers on blitzes -- because they don't have to. Their front four are beastly. Of course, they are going against the best part of the Badger offense, the line, who are athletic, experienced; probably the best Badger line in at least four years. John Clay is working his way into more carries, which bodes well for the Badgers running attack, as he's proven to be the biggest threat carrying the ball. The Penn State linebackers are always good, but lack the star power they usually have. The Badgers should be able to establish the run, but won't get more than 150-175 yards on the ground.
Fundamentally, the Badgers have to pass better to have a chance. It will help to have our best "traditional" tight-end, Garrett Graham, back in the lineup for the first time since breaking his foot against Fresno State. He's a real asset in Chryst's offense which relies heavily on tight ends (and H-backs, a la Travis Beckum). But Beckum and Graham can't carry the passing game by themselves. Gilreath, Moore, Jefferson, and Toon need to catch the balls that find them, and Evridge needs to get them there. These are recurring problems, and it's hard to believe they will be cured this week against a talented Nit defense, with Scirrotto roaming back there to defend passes and land big hits.
Special teams are more or less a draw. Gilreath is a dangerous returner who could spell trouble for the Penn State kick0ff coverage, which has been subpar. On the other hand, Williams has gone the distance on two kickoffs for Penn State. Both teams have good punters, but Penn State's Kevin Kelly has been excellent kicking, whereas Welch has been good, but not great, on field goals for Wisconsin.
Although Penn State is unbeaten and #6 in the polls, I'm not entirely convinced they are the juggernaut they are made out to be. They had an excellent win over Illinois, but it wasn't a blowout and Illinois's defense isn't much to write home about. They only scored 20 against Purdue, and folks, Purdue's defense has nothing on the Badgers. In truth, this is the first solid defense Penn State will face. The Badgers are a little better under the lights at Camp Randall, and these teams are both Jekyll and Hyde at home versus on the road. The Badgers are much better at home, and the Nits are much worse on the road. So, the Badgers have a chance.
In a hard fought game, the Badger D will keep Penn State in better check than anyone has so far, and a couple of turnovers will keep Wisconsin in it. It won't be enough. Miscues on offense will continue to haunt what could have been a great Wisconsin team, and Penn State's playmaking wide receivers will be the difference. 27-17, Penn State.
Akron (3-3) with a nail biter over Kent State.
Marshall (3-3) got crushed by Cincinnati (who beat Akron by 3).
Fresno State (3-2) same old Bulldogs, lost to a bad Hawaii team the weak after beating UCLA.
Michigan (2-3) smoked by Illinois's play makers.
Penn State (6-0) beat Purdue easily, but didn't score much (20).
Iowa (3-3) turnovers cost them the upset over Michigan State.
Illinois (3-2) smoked Michigan.
Michigan State (5-1) escaped Iowa's upset bid.
Indiana (2-3) offense was ugly, save for one big play, in loss to Goofs.
Minnesota (5-1) the turnaround is working, but now comes the hard part.
Cal Poly (3-1) smoked South Dakota; these guys are decent.
Now, back to the season, with seven games remaining. Where do we go from here. First step, panic!
Well, no, not really. The loss to Michigan was distressing, especially after seeing how Illinois scorched them, but it is what it is. Take that game away, and no one is going to be too upset about losing a nail biter, by three, to Ohio State. That's not to say all is well, but dwelling on two losses isn't going to help. What will help?
(1) Quarterback play needs to improve. Bielema implicitly threatened Evridge's job this week. He'll start against Penn State, but the leash is sounding short. And it should be. His receivers aren't helping him, but look, a 5th year senior should be able to throw a screen pass accurately, and Chryst's offense depends on that.
(2) Who's the guy at running back? Clay looks like a beast-in-training, but he isn't there yet. There's more to playing running back than carrying the mail, and Clay just isn't the guy. But Brown could be. Hill doesn't seem patient enough to find the right holes, Brown is. And it's not like he's a midget out there. I'd start him, but hey, I'm not on the practice field every day.
(3) Receivers: you guys are Division 1 scholarship winners at a big-time college football program, you should be able to catch the ball. Use extra stickum.
(4) Defense. Well, to be honest, they really aren't bad. There's no shame in giving up 20 to Ohio State, and as ugly as it looked at times, they only gave up 21 to Michigan while the offense was leaving them out there to dry. And 10 against a Fresno State team that is averaging 37 in its other four games. So? Missed tackles remain a problem that needs addressing, especially with another dangerous spread team coming this week, and Illinois not too far ahead in the future.
(5) Coaching. Especially on defense, the calls are coming in late. Against Ohio State on the final drive wasn't the first time. There shouldn't be anything too difficult to figure out by the time the 4th quarter of a game rolls around. On offense, Chryst needs to keep the pedal down when playing with a lead.
What does it all mean? Ok, so expectations have been lowered for this season (again). But the season isn't over. There isn't a game on the schedule that the Badgers can't win, though Penn State will be very tough. Regardless of what happens this weekend (and the beating the Nits put on the Badgers last year should be ample motivation to fire the Badgers back up after two devastating losses), the Badgers still have a lot to play for.
So, bring on the fightin' JoPas and lets see what the Badgers can do.
(While an optimist by nature, I'm not an idiot; I'm seeing 8-4, with losses to Penn State and Illinois or MSU, probably Illinois.)