TV Problems

I like Badger basketball, but I'm just not into it the way I am football, so it won't get as much play here (I'll probably pay more attention to hockey). Still, big game tonight with #2 UConn. In fact, it's the only game tonight between ranked teams. Thank goodness for Fox Sports Net, I'll be able to see some it. Unlike three Saturdays this fall, Akron, Indiana, and Cal Poly.

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.

The 2009 Lineup?

So, the regular season is in the books. Some thoughts on next season's lineup (thoughts on outgoing Seniors to come later).

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.

AAR: Cal Poly

Well, looks like I was the vastly over-optimistic homer, and the good folks over at Badgercentric basically nailed it. It's not often that you win a game you never had a lead in during regulation. For all the games the Badgers blew this season, it was nice to pull out a second one in a row. More thoughts below the highlights . . .

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.

Preview: Senior Day

Ok, boys, this is your final exam. In addition to being their last trip through the tunnel at the Camp, this game really rides on the seniors delivering the goods.

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.

41-13, Wisconsin.

About the Mustangs . . .

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:

A prediction later in the week. For now, the best part is that my brother is a Mustang. For the first time ever, we have a college sports rivarly!

A Win, a Loss, and Some Notes

35-32, the Badgers charged back from a 14-point halftime deficit and more or less owned Minnesota after the break. BUT (that's a bit but), once again struggled with an 11-point lead late in the 4th (no offense, defense gave up big plays). This isn't a trend, it's the norm. And it's not good.

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.

In closing:

Preview: Goofs at Wisconsin

I've never really been a Goof hater, but dern it, they are the enemy. This is what it's about folks:

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).

On Wisconsin!!

One final heartwarming thought:

We Interrupt This Disappointing Season . . .

We interrupt this unbelievably disappointing, headscratching, pillow throwing, beer drinking (ok, that's every season), coach-questioning, etc. season, to report on a road trip to UNLV.

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.

Seriously . . .

Why can't this team hold onto a lead in the 4th quarter?