MVPs were the offensive and defensive lines. It's a team sport, and the guys in the trenches -- as a team -- won that game.
That is all.
(and now back to my regularly scheduled absence)
And yet? We could only just have had a nicer reception than we received. Ok, so it wasn't quite "Welcome to Ohio State, good luck," a la my first visit to Notre Dame wearing the opponent's colors, but it wasn't far off.
Maybe it was because we all wear the same color? Maybe OSU doesn't fear us (most of their fans seem to respect our program)? maybe we were well-behaved and gracious so they returned the favor? Whatever the reason, other than a mild comment at the gas station in Dayton and some mild (and deserved) post-game ribbing more associated with my own stone hands, the home crowd was gracious and welcoming.
From the walk across the Olentangy river to the woman on the jet way also returning home through DFW, our interaction with fans of the Ohio State University was universally positive.
We got the rain out of the way on Friday, which provided a muni golf course in Dayton to us all to ourselves. Saturday began with a beautiful, crisp fall day in the Midwest. Partly cloudy, sunny, and alternately warm and slightly chilly depeneding on whether the sun was behind a cloud.
We began the day with the drive into Columbus on I-70. We listened to Jim Tressel graciously dealing with callers looking for retribution against Jay Valai ("we can't spare any energy to waste on that; we need to go play a solid, fundamentally sound football game.") and questioning the team's fashion ("if brining gray sleeves back is really all we'll need to win those BCS games, I'll take a look into it!"). We arrived at our hotel at Capitol Square in time to watch the Badger players stroll through the lobby on their way to the game.
Then we caught a cab down to campus. Not wanting to get stuck in traffic, the cabbie dropped us off on the north side of the Schott. That gave us a chance to walk through some tailgating. We crossed the Lane Avenue and walked over to Woody Hayes Drive to cross the Olentangy over to the hulking north side of Ohio Stadium with its dome edifice.
Within a few minutes we reached our gracious hostess on the phone who guided us past the old basketball stadium to her Ford Expedition parked at the base of the Lane Avenue Bridge still on the stadium side of the river. While we helped her set up some tables and food (lots of food!), her father returned with appropriate technical support and the missing coax cable to get the satellite dish and TV up and running.
Under a Buckeye tent, beers in hand, and grill heating up, we settled into the Georgia @ Tennessee game. A party of four, fresh in from New York and decked out in Buckeye paraphenalia, arrived, introduced themselves, and added a bunch of beer and food to the already overstocked tables.
Over the next few hours (and beers) several more internet friends from the CFN Big Ten message board joined in the fun bringing along their guests. While everyone brought a nice contribution of beer, soda, and/or food, I cannot say enough about our hostess's hospitality. She and her dad provided brats, burgers, chips, potato salad, all the fixings, sweets, beer, an HD TV on a satellite feed, a shady tent, a lovely smile, and a welcoming attitude all to a bunch of strangers she "knows" from the internet.
You always wonder how such a meeting will go. Having never laid eyes on these internet personalities, you wonder what they will be like in person. Will you have anything to talk about? Will your non-CFN friends who don't know "the Board" and its personalities feel like outcasts? Will it all be very awkward?
As with CFN-inspired meetings past, this event once again fulfilled my high opinion of our little online community. In addition to our lovely hostess, every guest added something. We chatted, ate, watched football, drank (a little), laughed, and all got along very well. Not just well, but "next year in Madison" well.
After two-and-a-half quick hours, we were having too much fun to make it to the nearby "skull sessions," though I'm sure they would have been great. Despite the time we were having, my non-CFN friend and I decided to take a stroll around the campus to get a little feel for the place. What we saw reminded us of college in the Midwest. Nice old brick buildings with some gothic flair mixed with more modern [as usual, science] buildings and a scattering of drab 60s builds that probably everyone Midwest wide would love to see replaced.
Throughout our walk there was nary a nasty comment from the Ohio State fans. To the contrary, we received several well-wishes and welcomes. Returning to the tailgate after our stroll, we had time for a final bite and last pre-game beer before filing into the stadium for the main event.
The Show at the Shoe:
We walked up the stairs to the visiting section in the north-east corner of the Shoe (up diagonally from the "E" in the "Ohio State" end zone). Just walking around the Shoe is impressive. It is a giant and imposing tribute to one of college football's elites. Inside is no different. Emerging from the tunnel, the height and steep angles of the stadium are imposing. We climbed the steepest stadium steps I've ever walked to get to our towering seats.
As we walked through the tunnel out to Section 8C, TBDBITL emerged from their own tunnel, well below us and to our right. They whipped the crowd up with the Buckeye Battle Cry before the obligatory playing of the opponent's fight song, frankly, the oddest sounding rendition of On Wisconsin that I can recall (while forming a well-done Motion W on the field). Then Carmen Ohio before performing script Ohio, which just looks cool. I'm sure the sousaphone player who dotted the "i" loved doing it, and it was cool to see, but I was a little surprised at how understated it was, and how quickly it passed.
The school's Army, Navy, and Air Force cadets ran up a giant American flag for the national anthem, and as they say in baseball, "play ball!"
I wrote more here, but I should add a couple of things. First, I held my head high at the end. There are blowouts where one team completely outclasses the other. Then there are blowouts where one team was better, but the final score resulted from a handful of unfortunate plays rather than a game-long domination in all phases of the game. This was the latter kind.
The Badgers can't make the mistakes Ohio State forced them to make and still survive against such a good team. Nonetheless, this young team can build from the experience and especially the defense can point to things they did very well.
Buckeye fans need to remember that in the first half, with the game still in doubt, Pryor led them 88 yards in just over a minute to take the lead and retake the momentum that Wisconsin had steadily built. The next time he touched the ball, the game was decided and it would have been irresponsible for Tressel to allow Pryor to air it out when nothing good could come of it, and plenty bad could. He's a work in progress. He's shaky (as I said before the game), but he didn't take a meaningful snap in the second half, so don't worry too much.
The crowd was solid throughout, though never really got deafeningly loud. Had the tight game that defined the first half carried through the second half, surely the crowd would have turned the volume up to 11, but as it was 9.5 was fine.
After the beat down, we trudged back to the tailgate to help break down. We had a few more, and watched the first quarter of the Michigan/Iowa tilt. With the parking lot clearing out, we had time for a random toss-around of the old pigskin, where I flashed my stone hands, and took a little mild ribbing from some less-than-sober tailgaters nearby. It certainly wasn't nasty, and it was appropriate to compare my lack of skill to the Badgers given the outcome of the game.
We got everything more or less wrapped up and jumped in a cab to hit our post-game spot. On the way to German Village we had quite the colloquy with our east-African cab driver about whether we were headed to Blanks or Planks (imagine "who's on first"), which resulted in him hitting a traffic cone before he got his eyes back on the road (lesson: always wear your seatbelt in a cab!). It didn't do any damage, and my friend's sharp eyes caught Planks on South High before we rocketed too far past.
It was a solid end to the evening as we consumed plenty more, watched Florida beat LSU back, and Iowa hold off Michigan. Things slowly petered out and after last call our hostess gave us a lift back to our hotel to end the evening.
In the elevator on the way up to our room my friend turned to me and said, "that was a perfect day." And it was. Well, except for the Badgers losing. A few more beers (God only knows why), and we called it a night.
I think when Paul Chryst takes a look at the game tapes, he'll see that Zach Brown was often (maybe always) open for the outlet on passing plays when he left protect to go to the flat. Against a team that was dominating the line of scrimmage as much as OSU was, I would think we'd want to hit that pass a few times to slow them down just a little.
That said, I thought Chyrst called a solid game. Bielema's call to fake the kick was brilliant. There wasn't one person among the 108 thousand not on the Badger sideline who saw that coming. That's why it worked.
Doeren, too, called a nice game. The Badger defense came to play. After such a big blow, there's one sure bright spot: the play of the Badger defense. Now, some perspective: the last drive of the first half was unfortunate. I didn't think it was the tipping point (the second INT was, then the kickoff return was the nail in the coffin), but as Potrykus points out for the Journal Sentinel, fans are starting to wonder why we keep seeing these late rallies work. I actually called the "give up a long pass for a big play" defensive alignment to the folks around me in the crowd just before it happened. The Buckeye fan in front of me thanked me for making the call.
Sometimes I should just keep my mouth shut.
The Buckeyes didn't do anything in the second half, but before everyone declares how bad Pryor is, consider that it would have been irresponsible for Tressel to let him open it up with a 15-point lead.
Nonetheless, solid effort by our defense. Particularly O'Brien Schofield who was rallying the troops even at the very end. That's leadership. And at least those of us up in section 8C appreciated his fire.
We knew we couldn't make the mistakes we made against Minnesota and win. We did, and lost.
Iowa is another opportunity and one I think we have a good chance in. But we'll need to limit the mistakes.
And if their line is dominating us in the passing game, Paul, look for Zach coming out of the backfield a few times. It was there on Saturday.
As if we didn't all know that without me writing it . . .
MSU has the better linebackers, but I think the Badgers have a better defensive line. Moreover, the Badgers offensive line is, I think, a better run-blocking line (though retarded in progress due to injuries). Finally, I'm confident the Badgers have the better tailbacks.
Slight edge to the Badgers.
BUT . . .
It could be wet tomorrow. Turnovers?
While the Badgers have the better +/- (+2 vs. even), we have also put the ball on the carpet much more than MSU (it's just that we've caused more turnovers, too). In a wet game ball security could be the determinative factor. That worries me. A lot.
PS. For those curious about my tepid enthusiasm for the Badgers on this one, look no further than Scott Tappa's write up this morning: http://badgercentric.blogspot.com/2009/09/2008-revisited-game-4-and-michigan.html
(2) Zach Brown is the best back on the team. Period.
(3) Good to see Moffitt and Nagy back in there. That bodes well for conference play.
(4) Gilreath was as bad as Clay hanging onto the ball.
(5) I liked what I saw from Phillips. He's a nice changeup. The problem is how to handle him in a close game where the offense is struggling. Do you put him in for the changeup, or does that risk ruining Tolzien's rhythm.
(6) I like the young players, but Schofield is by far the best player on our D. I think the best four are probably Schofield, Watt, Taylor, and Maragos, in that order. Maragos is a real leader.
(7) Toon is looking great.
(8) Still having penalty problems.
(9) Great to see Kendricks get involved. We have so many quality targets to throw to. Which leads me to . . .
Finally, is there any doubt that the player of the year in non-conference play is Scott Tolzien?
You can't overlook anyone, right? I can, and I will. I hope the Badgers don't.
And that's the thing. They won't. I'm fairly confident the Badgers have a 1-point escape over Cal Poly seared in their collective memory. And thus, the triple option will die a quick death at Camp Randall.
How did I get there?
The triple option works for teams like the academies and FCS squads because so few teams employ it. So you have one week a year to prepare for this crazy offense that just doesn't look like anything anyone else on your schedule is doing it.
But that's not all. The other thing that inevitably happens (and this should sound familiar) is that the BCS squad underestimates its competition. Those little Cadets/Middies, or Mustangs, as the case may be (or Terriers, sure, Terriers, too), the BCS squad just knows they will physically dominate them. (This is also what makes Paul Johnson's Georgia Tech such an interesting experiment; they don't have any drop off in talent and size.)
Then they don't. That scrappy, undersized teams comes out, survives the punch in the mouth, and starts scoring points. About the second quarter the BCS guys looks up at the score board, see they are really losing this game, and start taking their week-long coaching and preparation seriously.
And normally the BCS squad comes back and wins. But sometimes they need a kicker to miss three extra points to get there.
And that's where this year is different. The Badgers won't spend any time overlooking the Terriers. They don't want a repeat of Cal Poly and should come out in the first quarter to prove it.
Oh, and the Terriers' best back is out with an injury.
So anyway, I'll watch the game, but I'm overlooking it because I know our squad isn't. Go Badgers.
Seriously, some guy from NIU puts together a 10-minute deal of their loss, and a Fresno State fan puts together 5 minutes of the Bulldogs whuppin' up on us (I always like highlight videos showing all the great plays the losing team made).
Anyway, BigAlJeff has done some nice work, but can we get anyone on this game-by-game?
Likewise, Chryst earned his money on Saturday. The setup and play to Anderson was spectacular, as was Clay's touchdown. Well played.
Some thoughts, in no particular order:
(1) Maybe it was the flu, but I remember thinking the secondary would be a strength for the defense. It sure wasn't today.
(2) Man, do I like Schofield. He's a player.
(3) Tolzien! He's also a player.
(4) Our running backs look good, but our line looks bad. And remember when I was worried about depth on the line? Yeah, how's that going?
(5) Clay ran with a lot more purpose this week.
(6) Still thinking about the line: I sure hope not having the flu, and having Moffit back in there makes the running game work better (though Konz did a phenomenal job, given what he was asked to do).
(7) If our line can start blocking for the run, this could be a special Badger offense. Seriously. And I think we only lose Graham and Turner next year (though those are big losses).
(8) The defensive line and the linebackers made the right adjustments. After looking like a seive in the first half, they looked good in the second.
(9) I loved the 57-yarder to finish the first half, but Welch still looked shaky; even his 22-yarder for the win was just inside the upright. He needs to spend extra time in the McClain center this week.
(10) Gratifying, if stressful, win. 2-0.
I've got a little more over here, but here's Fresno State in brief:
(1) Stop the run up the middle; contain the edges.
(2) Improve our running game to manage the clock (though rotating eight defensive lineman will help regardless).
(3) Improve in the kicking game.
(4) Stay out of the infirmiry.
Fresno State is pretty good, but Wisconsin is better. Put a stamp on the Bulldogs, a good tune-up for Sparty in two weeks.
Check the Bulldog Bounce to see what the Bulldogs think about this game (it's interesting).
Michigan is now about #30 in the AP poll as a result of beating Western Michigan. Ok, nice win, but it was Western Michigan. Decent MAC team, yes. Does it really erase a 3-9 season? I don't think so.
Speaking of which: Notre Dame's beat down of Nevada? Nevada, like Western Michigan, might be a decent non-BCS squad, and yeah, ND looked good, but isn't that what should happen in that game?
Week two is a lot more telling for both of those teams.
Miami at Florida State. They looked evenly matched, with good offense, but mediocre defense. Does that mean both teams are "back?" No, it means they were evenly matched. Let's see what happens.
Back to our league for a minute. Ohio State struggled with Navy. Guess what, lots of teams struggle with Navy. Pardon me if I don't all of the sudden think OSU is going in the toilet.
Speaking of which, Penn State destroyed Akron. Shouldn't they?
And Iowa struggled with Northern Iowa. That's not good, but it also doesn't make the season. Talk to me in a few weeks about the Hawkeyes. For now they are 1-0.
Minnesota struggled at Syracuse. Playing on the road is tough -- ask LSU about that (or Maryland). While I still question how good the Gophers are, like Iowa they are 1-0. Let's see how they handle Air Force and Cal in their new house.
MSU and Northwestern won big. Like Penn State, shouldn't they?
And the two remaining teams? Ok, I'll pile on on these two. (1) Juice has never been that good. Color me unsurprised by the Illini's loss to Mizzou. (2) Indiana is still Indiana. I'm prepared to live with both of those conclusions after one week.
Oklahoma State . . . solid win over Georgia, but I'm not sure either team is really that good.
Boise State . . . who is going to beat them? If ever there was a team with a one-game season, they are it. Here's hoping Fresno State and Nevada turn in good years and push the Smurfs.
But, kudos to BYU. If they are in the BCS hunt in November, they will have earned it, beating Oklahoma on the road, playing Florida State, and their decent conference foes Utah and TCU.
One last thing: the Boise player deserved it. I'm ok with suspending Blount for the rest of the season because he couldn't collect himself, but for the punch itself I think only a few games would have been enough. The Bronco in question got what he paid for.
New front seven? Check.
Nine-win season? Yeah, I think so.
Now, I'm a glass 3/4 full kind of guy, so it's always worth taking me with a grain or two of salt, but there's no reason this Badger team can't win nine games. The schedule is weak, and more than anything else people are overanalyzing last season.
It sucked. It happens. Get over it.
NIU is a decent MAC team and will put up a fight. But their defensive line and linebackers won't be able to handle our rushing game. 1-0.
Fresno State will throw a lot of runs at our front seven, but they aren't as good as they were last year, and our offense should be better than it was last year, on the running game alone. 2-0.
Wofford is a decent FCS team. Period. 3-0.
Michigan State -- hmm. This game is a toss up. It's in Madison. That's good. They have a new quarterback and a new running back. That's good. It's the week after they play a big game (also on the road) against Notre Dame. That's good. They don't have any more talent than we do. That's good. They are a well-coached team. That's bad. Toss up, but I lean win, and I don't think that's a big stretch. 4-0.
First road trip, to Minnesota. Sure, they return a whole bunch of folks and they'll be anxious for this game to showcase their new home. Good people, watch their last five games last season. They are an ok team, not any more than that. The only reason the game last season was close was poor ball security on the Badgers part. 5-0 (yes, this revises my earlier thoughts on this game).
Ohio State: 5-1.
Indiana: 8-2. Just kidding. 7-2.
Michigan: they will be a decent team by the time this game comes around, but still playing with a true-freshman quarterback (no, Sheridan won't be in the rotation by this time), no more than a decent offensive line, it's in Madison, and we won't have another epic collapse. We'll have to work for it, but 8-2.
Northwestern. Damn. Bielema hasn't proven to be very good on the road and their defense will handle our running game. While they aren't a great team, they are a good team. 8-3.
Finally, Hawaii. June Jones is gone. This team isn't that good. 9-3.
Basically, I'm finding myself not buying into Minnesota and thinking we'll split MSU and Northwestern. I think MSU is a little overrated right now. They have a couple of big holes to fill, and it's not like they are USC.
This Badger team should have a potent, if run-heavy, offense, and a decent defense. Not a great team, but a pretty good team. Just like 12-1 didn't make Bielema a genius, 7-6 didn't make him a disaster. Solid team, solid record, not a lot of frills.
I don't have anything against Phillips, but it seems like fans get all amped about him more because of his recruit rankings than anything else. Yes, it's nice that he can run. That's a bonus. But in Chryst's offense delivering the ball on time is more important . . . much more important. So I was wrong about Sherer (outspokenly wrong; put me in my place wrong). But the bigger picture for me remains the same: our quarterback needs to be able to deliver the ball reliably.
When Phillips is described as "erratic" during good times (and throws four picks in eleven attempts during bad), that's not a good sign. Will he improve? Of course he will. But for now, Chryst needs a guy who can deliver the ball and with the player makers we have on the receiving end, Graham, Toon, Kendricks, Anderson, Gilreath, Appleton, etc., it's that much more important that we use them.
Brown is listed first at tailback, but with an "or" Clay. Again, that reflects what I would expect, about a 60/40 split in the snaps.
Two surprises on offense: Mo Moore is listed as second string WR, rather than Kyle Jefferson. That's a good sign for Moore and a bad one for Jefferson. As expected, Gilreath is a #2, the starters are Anderson and Toon. The other surprise (mild) is redshirt freshman Kevin Zeitler ahead of Bill Nagy at right guard. However, this might just be more of a reflection of Nagy's lack of practice time due to injury (he still hasn't gone full speed/contact). I suspect Nagy will win that spot back as he gets fully healthy.
Two tight ends are listed as starters (and while they include a fullback depth, that's more for show than anything else; don't expect much traditional fullback action in Madison this year). The tight ends are listed as Graham or Kendricks and Kendricks or Turner.
On defense some mild shakeups: as expected the ends are Schofield and Watt. The tackles are Stehle and Moore "or" Butrym. Moore is considered more of a natural end, but is needed inside. I suspect that "or" decision will be made based more on the team the Badgers face.
Linebacker is where the real surprise is. McFadden is, as expected, one OLB. However, the other is redshirt freshman Mike Taylor over Blake Sorensen, who isn't even on the depth chart at OLB (true freshman Chris Borland is #2 behind Taylor), however, Culmer St. Jean is listed first at MLB with another "or" . . . Blake Sorensen. It's no surprise to me that Sorensen doesn't have the speed to play outside, but I wasn't aware that he put such a push on at MLB. Still, I expect to see St. Jean a lot more.
The safeties, as expected are Valai and Maragos, with freshmen backing them up. The corners are Henry and Devin Smith (who unseated Niles Brinkley), with Brinkley and true-freshman Dez Southward listed as "or" backups to Smith. Expect Southward to see the field as a nickel back pretty often. The coaches are pretty excited about him.
No surprise amont the kickers, Nortman and Welch, but the returners are Gilreath for punts (with Fenelus and Henry -- that last one's a surprise -- listed as "or" backups), and for kickoffs it's Gilreath and Fenelus.
Brown over Clay? Taylor over Sorenson? Anderson over Gilreath? Smith over Brinkley? Who are the starting DTs? How does the offensive line shake out with all of the injuries?
Lots of good stuff due in tomorrow. And practically no new news today, which makes it tougher.
On an unrelated note, I've taken to penning some stuff for the Badgers page at the Bleacher Report. The first was a revised version of what I posted here the other day on quarterback potential, the second was a missive on my current worries about the defense, here.
Indeed, every report out of practice this week indicates Phillips is the guy (Adam Hoge says Phillips took over 60% of the snaps yesterday). Jeff Potrykus (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) hedged and said maybe the staff knows what Sherer brings to the table, and they are just trying to evaluate where the other guys are. Maybe. Probably not (the coaches provided all the clues needed to connect the dots prior to the Donovan and Evridge decisions, I have to assume the same is true this year).
According to those practice reports, while Dustin Sherer still makes bad decisions, Phillips is still "erratic" and also throws picks (to quote Potrykus this week: "Phillips still isn't a polished passer. Nevertheless, more often than not the ball arrives on time and in a place that allows the receiver to make a play." [In a different article] "However, [Phillips'] throwing was erratic."). Based on these reviews, it sounds as though the coaches are implementing the above theory: if it's close, go with the guy still developing. So here we go.
Generally I don't disagree with the theory: Phillips will continue getting better, so let's go with him rather than someone who's likely already peaked (or near it). The problem comes when we're in a tight game -- maybe down a score -- and Phillips has been playing badly: throwing incompletions and picks, trying to do too much with his feet while our best receivers in 5 or more years languish unused. Do you put someone else in?
With all the talk about Scott Tolzein being a safe #2, wouldn't you rather have the guy who has the bigger arm and the potential for bigger plays lead you back (not to mention 7 career starts): you know, like the strikes to David Gilreath in last year's Illinois game and Isaac Anderson in the Minnesota game? Do the Badgers then effectively end up with a two-quarterback system? That dog don't hunt.Last season when Bielema addressed the quarterback derby he talked about the obligation to go with the guy who gives the best chance of winning today, not next year. If Chryst and Bielema have in the back of their heads that maybe Sherer is really that guy, and not Phillips, will they be too quick to give Phillips the hook? We can't have that.
Now, I've been a Sherer proponent, but the chorus is pretty loud that he hasn't made the strides the Badgers need him to. Assuming that's the case (and the coaches and folks attending practice know better than me), then it's time for someone else.The coaches are at the practices and want to win even more than I do. I trust they will make the right decision on the quarterback. But that doesn't mean I'm not nervous about it. I think it's next Wednesday that the starter is announced.
Whomever we go with, it's got to be concrete. Period. Can you give a guy the hook if he's awful (see Evridge vs. Penn State)? Yes, but if they have any doubts about their decision it will end badly.
Pick someone and stick with him.
So, anyway, this brings up what a blog really is, and what it isn't. In my view, it's not professional journalists writing short stories that aren't tied to the paper's morning edition. That's just online news content. It's not UW putting out fluff pieces. That's propoganda. A blog is some independent out there recording their thoughts on the web. Now, some folks have done it well enough to actually make a living at it (in the sports world there's Brian at MGoBlog and . . .? Anyone else?). But most folks are just doing it for the fun of it, and because they know the journalists aren't really allowed to include all the invective opinion we little people can write.
Want news? Go to JSOnline or the BadgerBeat (they are both good for it). Want propoganda and details about two-deeps, rosters, etc., videos of presser's with Bielema et al, and game highlight films? Go the UWbadgers.com. Want real opinion pieces that are more likely to include a little UW history and fan perspective? That's where the blogs come in. Anyway, rant complete.
This guy? You're partially right, but on Bielema?
Look, I don't know if Bielema is the answer. He's certainly done some things I wasn't happy with. He's done some things I was happy with, but in hindsight were wrong. He hasn't been perfect. But where all the crazies get this, "UW will never win under Bielema" from is beyond me. Seriously.
Oh, but you have numbers on your side, right? I mean look: 12-1, 9-4, 7-6. Clearly a team on the decline. Clearly Barry Alvarez's legacy is tarnished, left in tatters by a coach who doesn't know what he's doing.
Well, I'm a lawyer in my day job, so I like precedent. Let's look at some:
10-1-1 . . . 8-3-1 . . . 4-5-2. Anyone recognize that? Ok, another:
10-2 . . . 9-4 . . . 5-7. How about that one?
So what happened? In 1993 Barry led the breakout season that was a sign of things to come and was golden every year since, right? Um . . .
Returning a bunch of stars in '94 (notwithstanding Brent Moss's troubles), we started the season highly ranked (#10), got smacked around by Colorado (55-17, for those who don't recall the pain), and ended up beating #25 Duke (yeah, Duke), in the Independence Bowl (and we remained unranked). Not what we wanted, but not awful. Then it all came crashing down: 4-5-2, including another embarassing loss to Colorado (at the Camp, 43-7, we were ranked #21) and painful ties to Stanford and Illinois (the last tie in college football, and the most boring game in the history of Wisconsin football; thank God I decided Thanksgiving was more important).
That was it. '93 was a flash in the pan, and Wisconsin was back to the Morton era. Well, not quite. Ron Dayne saved the program, or that's how the script goes. In '96 we started unranked (not even receiving votes), went 8-5 but lost to all but two teams with a winning record (Utah in the Copper Bowl, and 7-5 Stanford), and finished the season unranked. In '97 we started the season #24, but after another embarassing loss (remember when Syracuse was good?) we dropped out, and ended the same way, with a brutal loss to Georgia in the Outback Bowl, finishing unranked, just as we had the prior three years (8-6 overall, beating one team with a winning record, 7-5 Iowa).
We all know what happened next: we were "the worst team ever to play in the Rose Bowl" (until we stunned national title contender UCLA), then we beat Stanford to become the only Big Ten team to ever win back-to-back Rose Bowls. And then?
That's right, we started 2000 with seemingly all the pieces in place, ranked #4 in the country, and instead went 9-4, beating a good Oregon team (10-2), but only beating two other teams with winning records (Western Michigan and pre-Big East Cincinnati; forgive me for not alerting the presses) before beating 6-6 UCLA in the Sun Bowl to finish the season at #23. Then? 5-7. And that's when people started wondering if Barry had passed his prime. The same people who are now arguing that Bielema has permanently ruined Barry's legacy and needs to go . . . now.
And it isn't as though Barry rocketed back from that 5-7 season, any more than he did from the 4-5-2 season in '95. 8-6 (losing to 3-9 Indiana and only two conference wins), 7-6 (beat a good Ohio State team, but the only other conference win over a winning team was Michigan State); that was when everyone started wondering if Barry had gone all Joe Tiller on us. The voices were loud: Barry needed to go. Then we narrowly missed the Rose Bowl in Barry's last two years, and sent him out with an epic beat down on Auburn.
Under Alvarez (of whom I'm a big fan, by the way), the Badgers finished in the top 25 only 6 times in 16 seasons, with two big gaps interspersed: '93, '98, '99, '00, '04, and '05 (see here).
So, Bielema goes 12-1 (#7), 9-4 (#24), and 7-6. Not the trajectory we like, but not without plenty of precedent from none other than "King Barry." So let's save the "trashing his legacy" talk for a little further down the road. How about we start by cheering for the Badgers and hoping (not without reason) that they have a good year. And what's the standard? Well, if we're holding up Barry's legacy, I'd go with about 8 wins against a pretty mild slate. That's what the King did.
I, for one, think we'll be a little better than that.
Purdue rose from the dead when Joe Tiller took over in 1997 (prior to that 9-3 campaign, Purdue hadn't won more than half their games since 1984. They even parlayed an 8-3 year into a Rose Bowl a few years later. But after the epic 2004 contest with the Badgers in West Lafayette, it was all down hill for the Boilermakers. It's true, they managed 8-win seasons in '06 and '07, but the magic was gone. Tiller finally bailed out last season (his worst at Purdue), to make room for Danny Hope, like Bielema, a hand-picked successor to the coach who put Purdue football back on the map. On to the review . . .
(1) Danny brings new Hope? What's the word on his view of things? More basketball on grass? Needed infusion of new blood, or mistaken, unimaginative inside hire?
Boiled Sports: First, well done on the obligatory “Hope” pun – we can’t help but do this all the time, too. As for Danny, our early thoughts were that it was a marginal hire, more evidence of the program not thinking big, etc. But we’ve gotten to know more about him and he’s intense. He’s demanding. He expects a lot and makes no excuses. We’ve sort of fallen in love with Danny. He’s dreamy. Well, okay, maybe not that great… but we’re impressed thus far. The guy has the right approach, in our opinion, and has many of us excited about a season that really in any other era would be more dreaded than anticipated.
As for what to expect from Coach Hope, it doesn’t sound like he wants to run the ball any more than he has to. We would expect some “pass to set up the run” looks but with an inexperienced receiving corps, he’ll have no choice but to expect a lot out of the running game, too. Balance will be key – and elusive.
H&R: I view it as a needed infusion of energy. One of the biggest unofficial stories around the program the last few years is that Tiller grew tired of all the legwork needed in recruiting. Things got a little soft, and last year’s 4-8 season was the result. Hope gives us a new enthusiasm that the players are picking up on. In my interview with The Daily Gopher I talked about the idea of O.N.E. (Opportunity Now for Everyone) and how the entire team is on board for it. Coach Hope has this team believing it can compete in any game, something we lacked in recent years.
(2) The offense lends itself to big numbers for the quarterback, but Kory Sheets was the bigger star recently: are the faithful excited about Jaycen Taylor, or hoping for unexpectedly big things out of Joey Elliot? Or will one of the younguns force his way in to the starting spot under center?
H&R: A lot of people are comparing Elliott to coach Tiller’s first quarterback, Billy Dicken. Dicken also had little experience and was overcoming a shoulder injury, yet he went on to be an all-Big Ten player in 1997. Elliott has similar skills and background, so who knows. Taylor will likely split the running game with Ralph Bolden, who had a spectacular spring, Dan Dierking, and incoming freshman Al-Terek McBurse. I doubt any of them will put up the numbers Sheets put up, but combined they may be better.
Boiled Sports: You’ll surely see Caleb TerBush gets some snaps under center this season, and don’t be shocked to see some tricks and surprise formats. This offense needs to be creative this season and what better way than to do some kooky stuff? I’d say the faithful are indeed excited about Jaycen Taylor being back. Sure, he tore up his knee, but assuming he’s healthy – which it appears he is – he’s a huge asset to have in that backfield. But, again, Elliott is going to need to keep defenses honest to avoid them stacking the line and pummeling the RB corps.
The buzz is good about Elliott and having a senior leader in there who is a game manager isn’t the worst thing for a team like this.
(3) It feels like for all the high octane, Purdue's spread struggles in the redzone. Is this true, and if so, what is the fix (that you hope to see this season)?
Boiled Sports: That’s probably a fair impression to have, especially in the past year or two. For some inexplicable reason Curtis Painter was never a lock in the red zone the way some of his predecessors were (Orton and Brees, for example, made you feel pretty sure you were getting in there). That said, though, we don’t worry about the spread not being reliable in the red zone – we worry more about the inexperienced players being able to step it up there.
The fix, if there is one, is that boring answer of balance. Everyone likes to watch a passing, exciting team, but for this team to succeed at all, it will need strong running performances in multiple looks coupled with accurate short passes from Elliott and the occasional deep ball. In the red zone, Elliott will need to be able to thread the needle with some zip and also be able to make the decisions needed in D1 college football. Sounds obvious but he’s yet to be relied on to do that.
H&R: My hope is that we have games where we don’t completely abandon the running game. The most frustrating drive I remember seeing came at Hawaii in 2006. We got the ball at the 10 yard line and twice had to overcome 15 yard penalties, but we ended up losing the ball when Painter pitched it off a fullback’s thigh on a first and goal from the two. We basically drove 118 yards and got nothing because we got too fancy instead of powering the ball ahead. I look to see more of that this year, as Frank Halliburton is a dedicated fullback with experience. (4) A few years ago it felt like the Boilermakers rattled off dangerous wide receivers as often as big name quarterbacks; is there anyone who fits that bill this season?H&R: That is the biggest question facing our offense. Keith Smith could be an all-Big Ten talent, but only Aaron Valentin has any other significant playing time. The majority of Valentin’s receiving yards came on one play against Indiana last season. WE have several of our Florida freshmen coming in who will compete for playing time at receiver, as well as converted DB’s Royce Adams and Tommie Thomas. Your guess is as good as mine as to who will actually step up.Boiled Sports: Keith Carlos, Eric Williams and Gary Bush. Boilermaker fans should get to know those names. We’re not sure they’ll be the kinds of wide receivers you’re referring to but they should be impact guys.
(5) 26 points seems like the magic number for Purdue against Wisconsin (and most other teams, too, I think). Purdue is 5-0 against the Alvarez era Badgers -- yes, history began in 1990 as far as this Badger fan is concerned ;-) -- and with the notable exceptions of the Michigan and Northwestern games, the defense looked surprisingly solid last season. Can the Boilermakers win a low-scoring game in Madison this season?
Boiled Sports: Assume you mean 5-0 when scoring 26 points or more [ed.: actually, I screwed that all up: in all five wins Purdue scored 26 or more, but they were actually 5-1-1 when scoring 26 or more, and 0-7 when scoring fewer than 26]. Which seems like a reasonable assumption against most teams – 26 points is a lot and any decent defense should be able to hold that more often than not. In fact, if the Boilermakers score 26 a game this year, we’ll be expecting a good bowl game. But as to your question, against the Badgers, yes, we think it’s possible that Purdue could win a close, low-scoring affair in Madison. Possible, but not likely. Let’s put it this way – it needs to be a low-scoring, defensive affair if Purdue hopes to win this game at all. We’re of the opinion that Wisconsin is on a downward trend under Bielema, but their defense usually brings the pain and Camp Randall is a tough place to win. Of course, the Boilers last two wins over the Badgers were in Madison so, really, who the hell knows?
H&R: Absolutely! I think for the first time in years we will be a much more run-oriented team. As a result, we will have longer drives and keep our improving offense rested. I am encouraged that aside from the games you mentioned and the embarrassing performance against the run at Notre Dame, the defense wasn’t that bad. It did a lot of bending without breaking against a very good Oregon team. Against Ohio State a fantastic defensive performance was wasted by no offense and one special teams mistake.
(6) The 4-8 record last year hides several pretty darned good games against very good teams (Oregon, Penn State, and road games at Ohio State and Iowa). Was the team just always one play away, or were those teams content to run out the clock (clearly not Oregon, who needed last minute heroics, if I recall correctly). Do you take anything away from that heading into this season (Steele always points out close wins and losses in his previews, I think).
Boiled Sports: That’s a nice thing to say about our boys, but those games you mentioned were an 0-4 effort for the Boilermakers, no matter how close they might have been. They were quite frustrating, actually, because as good as those teams were, Purdue was in all of those games, as you noted. And if Curtis Painter had anywhere NEAR the season he was expected to have, Joe Tiller’s final year goes very differently. The defense came to play last year and has only gotten better, so we’re of course hopeful that the offense can cobble something together and make it an exciting year, where maybe a couple of those close ones and solid defensive efforts actually go our way.
H&R: The Oregon game really set the tone. There were a handful of plays in that game that made a huge difference. If we hold on to win, we would finally have gotten a win over a ranked opponent and it would have given us a ton of momentum. We had Brandon King get an interception with nothing but green grass in front of him only to be chased down from behind. We had to settle for a field goal on that drive. Before halftime, all we needed to do was run out the clock, but Painter threw an awful interception that led to a field goal, making it 20-6 at the half. We also gave up a punt return for a TD and got too conservative in settling for a long field goal to end regulation. We had strong swirling winds that day, but instead of moving closer for a game winner we settled for a 45-yarder. I think if we get that game and Painter doesn’t get hurt against Minnesota we would have had at least 3 more wins.
(7) The epic 2004 game (you know the one) ended up being the high-water mark for both teams this decade (at least as far as national rankings go), but your boys fell a little harder. What's it going to take for Purdue to start challenging the top of the conference again?
H&R: Time. I am encouraged by the types of players Hope is bringing in on the recruiting trail. The overall talent level will be much better in two years. I honestly don’t think we’re that far from the rest of the Big Ten right now. I think outside of Penn State and Ohio State (and we don’t play Penn State this year) you have a conference full of even teams. Someone can make a big jump that way, so why not us?
Boiled Sports: We’ve discussed among ourselves and on our podcast (and probably other places) the fact that the 2004 Wisconsin game was truly the tipping point for Purdue football. It was Tiller’s best chance at climbing the mountain: no early stumbles, favorable scheduling (toughest games at home), established big-game QB in Orton, and so forth. The 5-0 start, College Gameday in West Lafayette, a night game on national TV with actual national title chase implications and the #5 ranking in the nation. And then a ten point lead in the fourth quarter. Then The Fumble happened and the program was never the same. And we’re not being melodramatic – that was it. The team went into a death spiral, losing their next four games (all of which should have been wins) and Tiller folded. He was a beaten man after that and never seemed to have the same drive and “Cowboy Joe” approach that had gotten them to that point.
Why am I rehashing all of that? Because that’s what we’re up against. The morning of October 16, 2004 was likely the apex of Purdue football as we know it with potential everywhere we looked. And now the challenge is to begin climbing back to where that’s possible. The climb should have begun long ago, but it didn’t and Tiller coasted another four seasons. That seems to have ended now, attitude-wise, and we think Coach Hope has us on the right track. That’s the first step. Next is believing they can compete up there again and there’s no reason to think they can’t at least scare some big guys this year. Recruiting will be critical, especially when you need to get a few 2-3 stars who blossom, catch some breaks, etc. Can it happen? Sure. Will it? Hard to say. At the start of 1997, the concept of being ranked in the top 5 was a pipe dream none of us would dare to openly discuss. And within 7 years, there it was.
(8) The perception is that Purdue is so much a basketball school that you guys have played basketball on grass since 1997; what's something people should know, but don't, about your football program?
Boiled Sports: Well, for one thing, nobody associated with Purdue football has called it “basketball on grass” in about a decade. That was something Tiller said in his earliest days, when discussing the switch in styles that he was unleashing on the rest of the plodding Big Ten. The basketball on grass approach peaked during the Drew Brees years, which ended after the 2000 season. We don’t mind that people perceive the Boilers offense as an exciting thing – but it’s not really basketball on grass anymore. It’s just a spread, like a lot of teams play.
For another thing, while Purdue may be perceived by some as a basketball school, Ross-Ade Stadium is the home of the “Cradle of Quarterbacks.”
H&R: It’s the cradle of quarterbacks, baby! I love basketball first, but Mike Phipps, Bob Griese, Gary Danielson, Len Dawson, Drew Brees, Mark Herrmann, Jim Everett, and Kyle Orton have all made names for themselves at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Finally, does anyone really care about that darn drum?
H&R: I love the drum! When I was a student, they had the 80th anniversary of the drum. One of the original members of the drum crew was still alive and came back for the halftime ceremony. The dude had to be at least 95, yet he still was able to jump and hit the drum. We joked he would be partying at Harry’s after the game. That, and seeing Neil Armstrong hit the drum is very cool.
Boiled Sports: You know, I don’t know why everyone takes shots at the drum, quite frankly. This is like me saying, “Hey, what’s the deal with that tuba in the Wisconsin band?” You’d say, “In the band? What are you talking about? What’s that got to do with football?” And I’d say, “Oh, nothing.” And you’d say, “Yeah…FACE!”
Seriously, the drum is a part of the marching band. If that’s the best thing fans of opponents can come up with to mock, it’s time to hang ‘em up.
Sounds like it's 1-1 in the cares about the drum question; in any case, perhaps it's time to hang up this preview of the Cradle of Quarterbacks, pre-season, 2009.
I like Sherer as the starter, but the thing that annoyed the coaches last Spring, and the thing I'm worried about with him, is turnovers (like the pick-6 he through in the Spring Game). So, is it Sherer?
Speaking of which, I continue to wonder who are the fans who post / participate on the Journal Sentinel's cite. Seriously, they are off the charts crazy. For the latest example, their "Who would you like to see start at QB for Wisconsin?" Current results?
69% Curt Phillips. Now, I think this guy is an exciting prospect, but remember, this the guy Chryst says still can't make the throws.
15% Jon Budmayr. Seriously, more for a true freshman who didn't play his senior year in high school than for the returning starter who beat Minnesota and Illinois, and played well enough to beat Michigan State?
10% Dustin Sherer. 1 in 10? I know he's not likely to replace Peyton Manning anytime soon, but how did this guy earn such disdain (and based on how the poll works with my internet service, I've now voted for him twice just to see the results)?
6% Scott Tolzien. No one has ever seriously talked about him starting. He must be a good guy and all, but how is there only a 4% difference between him and Sherer?
I just don't get it.
Oh, and Nagy is a little more dinged up than we knew about, but should still be ready for the openor. And Clay is big, but a good big. Or so they say.
As much as the commentor crazies at various places (JSOnline, BadgerBeat, Badger message boards, etc.) want everyone to believe that the Bielema Badgers are the second coming of Morton's Badgers, it's hard to believe they will be. You have to have an awfully negative view of things to believe a team returning this many guys on offense will be that bad.
What that means is the difference between a mediocre season with a decent bowl (7-8 wins) and a solid or even great season comes from those four weeks starting September 26 through October 17. MSU, @ Minnesota, @ Ohio State, Iowa. Last year wasn't all that different, with Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa all in a row. We went 0-4, and went on to a mediocre bowl with awful results.
This year? Another 4-week season.
I, for one, can't wait for the pre-season.
Likewise, Bill Nagy has a bad wrist and will miss the first week or so of camp.
Now, as it happens, I'm not too worried about either of these guys, as long as they get healthy in time. But if they don't? Bad news.
Our depth on the offensive line is brutal, especially at the guard and center positions. We need Moffit and Nagy healthy. Hopefully this isn't a sign of things to come . . .
And Westphal is hurt, too. We need him healthy to provide competition on the two-deep at DE.
On the departures: WR Daven Jones, who always seemed like he had a little spark in him, but never seemed to crack into the depth chart, has decided to transfer. While I'm generally not a fan of transferring because of perceived worries about depth (that's always a fluid situation), he really was buried behind Anderson, Toon, Gilreath, Jefferson, then Theus, plus the anticipated often-used 2-tight end set, and with the new infusion of Appleton and Duckworth, things weren't getting any brighter for Daven's chances on the playing field. On the other hand, that UW degree would have been nice . . .
I'm a little more disappointed in Dex Jones leaving. While he may have projected 3rd among the fullbacks, that was almost certainly fluid. Without any true fullbacks right now, and as much as Chryst seems to like them, if anyone asked me I would have recommended sticking around and seeing how things went. Especially with as much eligibility (4 years, I think -- at least three) he has remaining.
And the recruit? Meh. Best of luck to him at K-State.
Also, UW opened a Fall Camp headquarters page. It includes the 2009 Fact Book (more or less a media guide -- there's generally a lot of good stuff in these), the present roster, and the current depth chart. Note: starting wide receivers are Isaac Anderson and Gilreath or Toon (I'm betting on Toon); strong safety is listed as Valai or Pleasant; and while Henry has one corner, the other is listed as Brinkley or Devin Smith.
(1) What's the quarterback situation;
(2) What's the linebacker situation;
(3) What's the D-line look like?
Carry on . . . and back to my Rose [Bowl] Colored Glasses (in just a few moments . . .)
The Badgers are 10-1 vs. these Huskies, but they gave us a good scare in 2002 with a 3-point loss (24-21). Moreover, they were pretty close last season against Tennessee (admittedely, a down Tennessee, 13-9), and Minnesota (31-27). And it isn't as though they haven't claimed a pelt or two in their time. Their biggest? They were one of three teams to beat Gator Bowl-winning Maryland (#17 final AP) in 2003 (winners over Virginia Tech; other losses to Florida State and Georgia Tech). The biggest name? They brought down Alabama in 2003 (not the world's best Alabama, but it's still the Crimson Tide).
They return their key players on offense and look to improve on last season's close calls. Those people who see NIU and figure we'll waltz in and out of Camp Randall with an easy opening day win should think twice.
Here to preview his squad through the optimism of August (that's what all these Rose Colored Glasses previews are about afterall), is Mike Breese of the Red and Black Attack:
I know you guys run a run-oriented spread with a solid quarterback. What should we know about him? Is there a credible passing threat to go with the run?
RABA: Yes, that's Chandler Harnish that you are talking about. He started as a redshirt freshman last year and performed admirably for a player with minimal experience. Without a full grasp of the offense, Harnish tried to do too much last year. He led the team in rushing with 539 and 4 TDs on the ground, despite going down in week 2 with an ankle injury and returning in game 6 against Miami OH before he was 100%. Those stats are troublesome, because he needs more help around him in the offense. We've got a good stable of running backs returning and a talented, but extremely young group of wide receivers that need to step up this year. Harnish has a much better grasp of the offense this year and made great strides in the off-season to improve his game. Chandler finished with a 8-9 TD to INT ratio last year and that was because we ran a limited offense as he was still learning to play the game full-time. He is also expected to be the first Sophomore captain for the Huskies in over a decade.
What's the view of the defense with all the new starters (7, right?). Do you expect a rebuilding year? Who are the guys you are excited about that we should know about?
RABA: Coach Jerry Kill rotates our defensive players like crazy, so seven new starters can be a bit deceiving if you look at the history of the players that we are putting in this year to start for our defense. Of course there is going to be an obvious drop off with the departure of Larry English off to the San Diego Chargers in the NFL. The new star on the DL should be Brandon Bice, who was a full-time starter in 2007 and had 6.5 sacks and was named 3rd Team All-MAC last year all while only starting one game. Mike Krause is the consistent starter on the DL [but Mike learned -- literally this morning -- that Krause is out with a heart condition] and replacing Larry English's side is a 25-year-old former Marine in Jake Coffman that has seen significant playing time these past couple years.
At linebacker the name to remember is Alex Kube. He shifted from SS to OLB before last year and slowly began to be a terrorizing force on the defense with 57 tackles last year. On his other side is Cory Hanson, who has good speed and had 37 tackles in 7 starts LY. One of our most productive linebackers and a full-time starter back in 2007 John Tranchitella will be playing behind Kube because there is so much depth at this position. At MLB, Pat Schiller should fill in nice after playing in all 13 games last year an compiling 24 tackles as a redshirt freshman.
In the secondary, the competition was so fierce in the Spring that Mike Sobol who started 12 games last year at SS got beat out by a sophomore in Tracy Wilson. FS David Bryant is the leader of the defense and has been deemed by Coach Kill as his next player with NFL potential. Two starters need to be replaced at CB, but there are some solid players filling in there. Patrick George is a speed demon and has played 24 games the past two years and Kiaree Daniels played in all 13 games LY.So lets just say we don't lose as many starters in reality, but it might take a while for all of them to break in as a unit.I know you guys lost a lot of close ones last season to quality teams. Was that the high-water mark, or do you see marquis wins over Wisconsin, Purdue, etc.?
RABA: Was that the high-water mark? Absolutely not. Last year NIU was only outgained by 31 ypg in a pair of 4-pt losses to both Minnesota and Tennessee. Our starting QB was out for the Tennessee game and we were still in that game despite not having much of an offense to boot. If Harnish would have started in that game, then that would have been a win in Knoxville. Our fans are starving right now for another season like 2003, when we beat a nationally-ranked Maryland team and Alabama in Tuscaloosa. It's not like we haven't been to the top in the past and it is always our goal to perform and win these games against BCS schools.
This season is interesting, because we are supposed to be a better team than last year. It is only the second year in Coach Kill's tenure, but we have a young team that isn't afraid of anything. NIU was thrown to the wolves last year and its not like we haven't tussled with the big boys before. This year should be interesting, because both Purdue and Wisconsin have been predicted to finish in the middle to bottom-half of the Big 10 by all the pundits out there. Usually we have to face schools we have no chance against like #4 Michigan in 2005 or #1 Ohio State in 2006. It's our best chance to beat one, if not two Big 10/BCS schools in a long, long time.
What's the game plan to win at Madison at night? Do you see it happening?
RABA: The gameplan will be the typical Coach Kill game plan: run the ball, run the ball some more then some play action. If I'm not mistaken, this is the best strategy because the Badgers have some pretty big losses on both the DL and LB units this year. Then on defense um...stop John Clay? Is that even possible? I think we have some players to match up with Garrett Graham, but I think our CBs might have some trouble keeping Gilreath, Toon & whoever else in check for most of the game.
Our last (and only) win against a Big 10 team? Wisconsin in 1988. I'm sure a bunch of the players want revenge for that mauling back in 2007 when half our team was injured. Do I see a win happening? I think it will be a lot closer than people are anticipating.
I agree, it will be closer than people on our side of the border want to believe.
After discussing the offense, we Badger bloggers turned to the near blank slate that is our defense. What to make of all the new faces? Adam Hoge of Bucky's 5th Quarter led the charge, with Scott Tappa of BadgerCentric, Phil Mitten of Hoops Marinara, and me contributing our views as well:
Can you believe it has been five years since that great defensive line of 2004? Depth is once again an issue this year, but there seems to be some promise in J.J. Watt among others. Do you see any newcomers stepping up on the D-line to provide some depth?
On Wisconsin: Yeah, 5 years since Anttaj and Erasmus, but harder to believe for me is that Chapman and Shaughnessy never became true beasts on the line. They had so much promise early. Schofield is solid (led the team in sacks last season) and everyone is excited about Watt, but it's all based on practice so far. I want to believe in him, but I'm a little nervous. I'm concerned about our size everywhere and Moore really should be an end (where he would probably be very good), but we should have speed on the edges. I don't know who the solid tackles-to-be are, but with Nzegwu, Mains, and Westphal, there is plenty of young talent ready to step up on the ends. We'll need it.
Badger Centric: It's funny, because when you mentioned 2004, the first thing I thought was "I thought 2005 would be a down year, and we ended up winning 10 games, great year." But that was in spite of the defensive line! Even so, while injuries killed that unit (remember Beckum playing end?), but guys like Shaughnessy, Hayden, and Chapman showed promise. I don't see those guys on this unit. O'Brien is a solid starter. Watt seems to have a Hayden-like ceiling. But are there difference-makers? Doesn't look like it. I'll be happy if these guys can keep offensive linemen off our linebackers.
Hoops Marinara: It's a shame Erasmus and Co. flamed out in the NFL. Maybe they weren't that great after all. In 2009, the Badgers look weak up the middle and that spells trouble. I like O'Brien Schofield, who seems like he should be the emotional leader on the unit. Again, I like the younger guys UW has backing up the end positions, but inside is a question mark.
Bucky’s 5th Quarter: You have to be careful from what comes out of Camp Randall in the off-season because a lot of it can be propaganda. But I must say I am a little more optimistic about the defensive line than I was in the spring. After talking with O’Brien Schofield, I must say he seems like a solid leader and he’s determined to have a good year. If J.J. Watt blossoms like he is supposed to, I think Brendan Kelly and Louis Nzegwu do enough to make this a solid line.
Speaking of a lack of depth, the linebacking corp. seems to be scrambling to replace Jonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy. Blake Sorensen didn't have a great spring, but he is still listed ahead of Mike Taylor on the depth chart. Are you worried about the linebackers?
Badger Centric: Yes, very. Don't want to join the chorus questioning Sorenson, but I've never seen it with him. Saw Taylor play in high school and he was a stud, but we certainly can't count on him to be a standout this year. McFadden and St. Jean are average at best. And there is no one else. What about playing Pleasant at linebacker? We see so much spread it might make sense to have a guy like that in the front seven.
Hoops Marinara: Sorensen certainly has a lot of expectations to fulfill, but I think along with Culmer St. Jean and J. McFadden they can form a decent group. No one will accuse them of being as athletic as last year's group -- Casillas and Levy were two of the best athletes at that position that Wisconsin has seen. But what the Badgers really need is simply a group that knows how to tackle well. I don't want every draw play that gets past the line going for 6 ... can we get another Donnel Thompson in this bunch, please?!
Bucky’s 5th Quarter: I’m excited about McFadden in the middle, but very worried about the other two spots. Culmer St. Jean has never really put it all together and Sorensen didn’t exactly take advantage of his opportunities in the spring. It should be interesting to see what Mike Taylor can do. If he has a good camp, this will be the most fun defensive position battle over the next month.
On Wisconsin: I think the linebackers are the scariest group. First, Sorenson looked S-L-O-W in the spring. I'm pulling for Taylor if only because Sorenson either isn't fast enough or didn't care enough to try harder. I think St. Jean played pretty well when he had his chances last season, so we have two solid starters, but who's backing them up? That's where the loss of Hodge as a solid, contributing second-stringer really hurt. We've heard some positives about Megna, Rouse, and Hubbard, but we haven't seen it yet. Bottom line: I'm worried. Really worried.
Is it safe to say (and a little scary to say) that the secondary is the strength of the Badger defense? It seems like every guy listed on two-deep has shown flashes of brilliance at some point in the last few seasons, but they also have had their hardships. And will Aaron Henry really be as good as he looked like he would be before the knee injury?
Hoops Marinara: There's no question that the secondary looks good by comparison. But I think they actually will be good. Henry should be ready to go -- he's one of the elite talents on the team. I'm really excited to see him grow up. The entire makeup of the secondary is intriguing. You have knock-out artist in Valai, an overachiever in Maragos, plus a lot of experience backing those safeties up (Carter and Pleasant). Niles Brinkley is probably the weak link.
Badger Centric: It is scary, and I'd even question the "flashes of brilliance" assertion. We've seen flashes of competence from these guys, and I'd settled for sustained competence. But every one of the starters has question marks: Henry with the knee, Maragos still learning the position, Valai and his pure hitter MO, and Brinkley giving up big plays. But I'm actually optimistic about these guys and the young guys too. Shane Carter is a wild card, if he could come in and force some turnovers that would be huge.
Bucky’s 5th Quarter: Remember when Shane Carter led the Big Ten in interceptions two years ago? And Niles Brinkley picked off four passes last season? Why don’t I remember all of this? Oh, because when they weren’t grabbing turnovers they were getting beat for touchdowns and committing crucial penalties. Every member of the starting secondary has a good amount of experience, but how much talent do they have? We’ll find out soon.
On Wisconsin: I think they are a strength, but that's relative to the near total unknown of the front 7. Especially at safety, I worry about making that critical tackle. As much as Valai can lay the wood (needs to watch the head-to-head stuff, though), he missed his fair share of tackles last season. That's been Carter's problem all along, which is why Maragos will probably start at free safety. At corner Henry will be fine. I'm glad they decided to keep him out all of last season to truly let him heal. Niles Brinkley played fine last season, and I'm hoping Fenelus and Smith are coming along as well as advertised. But hope is not a method.
What are your thoughts on the defensive coaching staff? Toughness seemed to be an issue at times last season. How will this unit overcome the mental and physical shortcomings that were apparent in 2008?
Bucky’s 5th Quarter: The good news is that fixing these problems was item No. 1 in the off-season. Improving the defense’s mental and physical toughness – and committing fewer mistakes – will give this team an extra win or two this season. And if the problems continue then it will be a major problem for the defensive coaching staff.
On Wisconsin: Bottom line is the heat should be squarely on Doeren. After what Hankwitz did to turn around the Northwestern defense, Bielema's choice to go with Dave over Mike hasn't looked so hot. Maybe it was just breaking everything in the first year with guys who were more used to Hankwitz's way of doing things? That's no excuse this year. On top of making tackles, the defense needs to improve its conditioning. The losses to Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State all lay at the defense's tired feet (Bielema's too, of course). The idea that a Barry Alvarez legacy team (as long as he's the AD, he's a part of it) could be 9th in scoring defense in the Big Ten is unfathomable. That can't happen again.
Badger Centric: I don't know about toughness, it's hard to get to be a guy who plays a lot on a Big Ten defense and not be at least somewhat tough. Remember, there were a lot of injuries on that side of the ball last year: Casillas, Levy, Chapman, Henry, and that hurt productivity. What sticks with me are comments made on my blog after the Iowa game. I forget who said it, but the point was made that our defense had finally adapted to deal with the Spread, but when we go against a power line and back like Iowa had, we get run over. That probably won't always happen, but there's a lot of truth there. So by making the seemingly necessary adaptation to deal with the Spread, we have lost our identity as being a stout, stop-the-run defense, and become just another defense with a bunch of undersized guys running around in space. If these undersized guys were racking up sacks and interceptions, that would be one thing, but the unit seems mediocre at best, and it's not like next year looks any more promising. Some of that's on X's and O's coaching, but it's also recruiting and player development.
Hoops Marinara: It starts at the top with BB. I can't stress enough how much I want the coach to relinquish the Special Teams duties. He needs to set the example being focused and knowing where to be at all times. The good news is if the secondary can be everything I want it to be, that makes the job of pressuring the QB a little easier. I think the offense can be better this year too, which should (hopefully) alleviate the problems the defense had being worn out all the time in tight games.
Writers, coaches, players, and fans often talk about the number of returning seniors and how that translates to leadership. It translates to experience, certainly, but I'm less sure on the leadership side of things. There's a difference between depth and leadership.
I think too many seniors actually limits their leadership potential. Instead of having a handful of guys that everyone else looks to, you get a big group of guys who are all buddies who are distinct from the rest of the team. Instead of having that one guy that everyone looks to, the younger guys are probably turned away from the group of senior guys that all huddle together.
I don't mean to say this is an intentional thing, but I suspect it happens. Think about the Badger teams over the last few years. In 2006 we had a great season with few seniors on either side of the ball. But you can bet on offense there was no question who was in charge: Joe Thomas and John Stocco. And on Defense? Mark Zalewski and Joe Stellmacher. They were in charge. No question. And that's what you need from leaders: leadership.
Last season, who was in charge? It wasn't the quarterbacks. PJ Hill, Travis Beckum, Kemp, Urbik, Vanden Huevel, Pressley, Rentmeester?
And on defense? Casillas, Levy, Chapman, Shaughnessy, Newkirk, Langford?
These guys probably had good chemistry between them, but not as much with the other classes. And as the switch in leadership from '07 to '08 shows (Casillas to Levy, for instance), there probably (a) wasn't good leadership amongst them (was Casillas going to lead Levy when we really needed that extra effort late in the 4th, or the other way around?), and likely they hung out in groups where the younger guys were discouraged (not actively, but implicitly) from approaching them.
I can imagine the three offensive lineman all hanging out (heck, UW even gave us a video of them chatting with Bielema). Did Moffitt or Oglesby feel like they could just stroll up and look for guidance? Did they know who was really in charge? Likewise with the defensive line: did Schofield, Nzegwu, or Mains feel like one of the crew or know where to turn to find the boss? In the linebacking corps, it was more of the same.
Sometimes I wonder if the departure of all those seniors (as at the end of 2005) actually helps with the new team because it provides opportunity for real leadership and breaks down likely cliques of guys who have played together since they came in and who look at the younger guys as being part of a different clique.
Someone asked me the other day if I'm a 1/2 full or 1/2 empy kind of a guy: I said 3/4 full. Maybe I'm just clutching at straws looking for reasons to elevate my expectations for what could be a rough year. Or maybe I'm on to something.
Look for guys like Garrett Graham, Gabe Carimi, O'Brien Schofield, and Jaevery McFadden to really take the reigns. They will lead, others will follow. Teams need leaders, not cliques.
I think we'll see true leaders this season (though I won't go so far as to suggest they will be as good at leading as that 2006 group). I won't be at all surprised to see this group acting more like a team than last year's.
(1) No Shonn Greene, and now word is Jewel Hampton may have a bum knee . . . who's going to carry the rock, and how good will he be? Does it even matter, or would I go over 100 yards per game behind that line? Is there anything at all that you worry about regarding the offensive line?
This has been all the buzz the last couple of days. The severity of Hampton's injury isn't known yet, but it is expected that he'll miss time [ed. update: Hampton is a go]. Now, Kirk Ferentz likes his experienced backs that know the offense and don't fumble. But, really there is nobody proven to be all those things at runningback. The most experienced player is Paki O'Meara, who will be serviceable if necessary, and could start the season at #1, but I expected Jeff Brinson to be the permanent starter once the season starts rolling on. Brinson was recruited by the likes for Florida and put up huge numbers in high school. By all accounts he's just as good if not better than Hampton and would have got the #2 spot last year if it weren't for ono/asthma/something issues. Also, there is incoming freshman Brandon Wegher, who also put up huge numbers in high school. He's got a lot of hype around him and is very quick. If he can pick up the offense I think he'll be the #2 back.
Oh the offensive line...if you would have asked me a month or so ago I would have been very confident that Iowa has the best o-line in the conference. However, Julian Vandervelde has an injury and will at least miss a few games. And Kyle Calloway is suspended for at least a game [ed. note: 1 game] for his drunken moped ride. So, I am not quite as confident. The line should still be good as there is tons of experience on the inside and Bryan Bulaga is a beast at tackle. Once Calloway and Vandervelde are back in the line up and the line has a chance to meld, then watch out...that line will be good.
(2) Stanzi has to be the man, right? Without Greene, can he be? It seems like Iowa always has a solid tight end, is Moeaki ready to be that guy? Is the Badger-like stereotype accurate that Iowa doesn't throw the ball unless absolutely necessary?
Stanzi is the Manzi, as they like to say. I think he'll have a good year. He definitely had his moments last year, good and bad. If he can limit the number of turnovers, then he'll be successful. He is accurate enough, mobile enough, and smart enough to lead this offense to lots of yards and points. And, yeah, he'll get his chances. Iowa is definitely a run first team, but Ken O'Keefe and Kirk Ferentz love the play action pass. A fake hand-off, then roll out by Stanzi...this play works really well for Stanzi. He is better on the move than in the pocket and can pull it down and run if necessary.
Tony Moeaki should be ready this year. He's hopefully over all his injuries and will be the starter. When healthy he has consistently produced and Iowa knows how to use their tight ends. Allen Reisner is also good at tight end and saw a lot of time last year while Moeaki was out.
(3) With the new defensive tackles, is there any hope for the opposition to run up the gut? What's the weakness of this defense?
The defensive tackle is definitely the most inexperience part of the defense. The two tackles will be Karl Klug and Mike Daniels. While they won't be King and Kroul (obviously) they should be just fine. Klug was the B10 Defensive Player of the Week way back in week 2 and made some huge plays against PSU last year. Daniels should be okay too. He's on the small side, but quick and should be able to make some plays in the backfield. Though the tackles are relatively inexperienced, the defensive ends will be the anchors of this line. Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard are a very good duo at defensive end. Though their numbers are not as flashy as some of the other ends in the conference they make a lot of big plays. Both have the size to move inside and play tackle and there is a lot more depth at end, especially with Broderick Binns. So look for Clayborn to line up at tackle next to Klug with Binns and Ballard on the outside in passing situations.
(4) I'll be honest, last year's Iowa team is a puzzle. I know, you guys could've been unbeaten on the basis of about 4 plays, but the results were still erratic: Pittsburgh, Northwestern, and Michigan State just weren't world beaters. They were decent teams that didn't give up much for free (although Pittsburgh did from time to time). The loss to Illinois and the home struggle against an awful Purdue team were puzzling, to say the least. It isn't as though those two teams had great run defenses. So Iowa beat one team that finished the season ranked, and that was at home (though to be fair, the win over Penn State was huge), and only played one other team that finished ranked (MSU, at #24). This season the schedule looks a lot rougher with Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin on the road (on paper we don't deserve mentioning with those first three). What was the story last season, and what do you make of your chances in 2009? Is CFN right to call you a "deep sleeper in the championship chase?"
Bad turnovers cost us in our 4 losses. Northwestern was a nightmare...5 turnovers and still only lose by 5. Michigan State and Illinois were more of the same (not as many turnovers, but very costly ones). And, you can blame the Pitt game on the quarterback controversy. Heck, maybe blame the Northwestern game and MSU game on that too. It took Stanzi a few games to hit his rhythm and get the turnover bug out of his system. And he hadn't really figured out yet how to win the close game. Against both Northwestern and Michigan State, Iowa drove down the field with a chance to win, but couldn't get it done.
But on to this upcoming year. I'd say a "deep sleeper" is a fair assessment. In contrast to the difficult road schedule, the home schedule is fairly easy. It's very conceivable Iowa could for 7-0 at Kinnick which is a good start to have a championship type season. Now, I think Iowa goes 2-2 on the road in the Big Ten, but I'll give you reasons why Iowa could win each game.
PSU - Iowa is lucky to get Penn State early in the year. They lost all their receivers and all of their secondary, so may still be a little green there in the 4th week. Though it is a revenge game, at night, and will be a White Out, Iowa under Ferentz has had Penn State's number (6-2).
MSU - Michigan State and Iowa are very similar teams this year. Both lose a start running back and both have tons back on defense. The differences are, Iowa returns its quarterback, and Iowa's returners on defense are good, while Michigan State's are mediocre.
Wisconsin - You know more about Wisconsin than me, but Iowa matches up very well defensively against a power run team like Wisconsin. Also, from what I've read the Badgers have a lot to replace among both lines.
OSU - Well...it's much harder to make a case against Ohio State. Iowa hasn't won in Columbus in forever [since 1991]. But the Buckeyes only return 5 guys on offense and lose two stud linebackers in James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman.
(5) 2002-04 was a great run, and after a decade at the helm, Ferentz has Iowa fifth in the Big Ten in winning percentage, but ten points back from #3 Wisconsin, and five back from #4 Penn State (67%, 62%, and 57%, respectively; ranking is the same, but it's closer counting only Big Ten games) and no Rose Bowls (1 BCS bowl). Is that really good enough? Did last season take Ferentz off the hot-seat, or would an 8-4 year with as many arrests as wins kick-start firekirkferentz.com?
I think Ferentz is off of the hot seat. And 8-4 seasons will be good enough to keep him in Iowa as long as he wants to be. Yeah, arrests have been a problem...but I think it's just the media that blame Ferentz. It's been said before many time, but Ferentz has done a lot with very little. He has developed players better than just about anyone and it seems like this year at least recruiting has been going better. Realistically for Iowa, fans will be happy with a bowl game every year, with a Big Ten Title every 6-7 years.
(6) The university -- and the state -- is named for the woodsman Hawkeye from the Last of the Mohicans. How did he get to Iowa, and what made him stick as the mascot?
Wow...that's a tough questions. You're making me do research! From what I can gather, the state of Iowa originally took on the moniker the "Hawkeye State" in a tribute to the great Chief Black Hawk of the Sac Native American tribe. The University of Iowa, liked the name made a connection with the popularity of the character Hawkeye from the books, so the name stuck. Iowa's mascot is really Herky the Hawk. Though, Herky didn't come around until later. He made his first appearance at a football game in 1959.
(7) I've heard Kinnick can be a great road trip, but there's no love loss between our fan bases and some Badgers I know report some unfortunate incidents in Iowa City. Badger and Gopher fans think Iowa fans always think Iowa a national title contender, regardless of what's happening on the field, and that Ferentz is doing his best to rename the Fulmer Cup. Why is that wrong, and what is the Hawkeye take on Badger fans? I was in Madison for the Iowa game in 2007 and it seemed like everyone got along fine, even with the alcohol-fueled night start. What do you expect in Madison this time around?
We Hawkeye fans got spoiled a little bit in 2002-2004 ['02 Co-B10 champs with national champ OSU, Orange Bowl, '03 Outback victory over Florida, '04 one heck of a Capital One victory over LSU]. Three years like that in a row! That was great. So yeah, so people got a little carried away and expected years like that every year. But realistically there are very few teams that can compete on that level year in and year out and I think most Hawkeye fans understand that. I think the common conception of Badger fans is that they are rowdy, but I don't know. Nothing too bad. Maybe I'm too nice to have bad thoughts about Badger fans. I've never been to Madison but I've heard the atmosphere is great. Game-wise, I expect a closer game than last year's Shonn Greene highlight reel.
(8) I know, Bielema has a Hawkeye tattoo. What clever thing do you want to say about it?
Does the tigerhawk tattoo really bug Badger fans? That would be great if it did. I am assuming the tattoo is really some kind of telekinetic portal into the minds of the Iowa coaches that Bielema uses to find out which recruits Iowa is offering, so that he can swoop in and do the same.