Saturday, October 25, 2008

UW-Illinois thoughts ... whew

Can we add "proud" to my poll at this time? Guess not, but that's how I feel right now. Today's win in no way excuses or obscures the missteps of the past four weeks, but lots of credit to the Badgers for putting an end to the slide today against a talented if inconsistent team.

As Barry used to say, winning is good for the soul. Bret Bielema's got to agree.

-So who was the idiot that said Illinois was going to hang 50, or at least 46, points on our defense? Oh, right, me. Credit Mr. Man for pointing out that our defense is actually better built for stopping this type of team than we've been in the past. Also credit Juice Williams for having a subpar day. Without looking at the stats, big defensive game balls go to:

-DeAndre Levy, who always seemed to be around the ball.

-Allen Langford, who had an Al Harris-type day in coverage. By that I mean he was consistently straddling the line between tight coverage and interference, and thank god those judgments went our way today.

-Jay Valai, who set a physical tone with hits belying his 5-9 frame.

-Niles Brinkley for that game-changing pick, a really athletic play that showed great hand-eye coordination.

-Dave Doeren and the coaching staff. They've been maligned for the disappointing performances, let's give them lots of credit for this game. Especially for the pressure packages that were called. It makes sense to me -- in our base defense our guys are prone to giving up big plays, so why not blitz more often? The threat of giving up big plays is still there, but so is the chance for forcing a mistake by the other guys.

Another pivotal moment came in the fourth quarter when we called timeout before an Illinois third down attempt. After the timeout Jae McFadden had a nice middle blitz and knocked down Juice's pass. That's good coaching and execution.

-Dustin Sherer grew on me as the game went on. Aesthetically, he's still not much to behold. His throwing motion is so far from textbook, it's a wonder coaches haven't corrected it yet -- he pats the ball, his feet don't often seem to be in the right spot, his pocket presence is shaky, and his arm slot is low and inconsistent.

However, today he made plays when he needed to, and he didn't have any turnovers. So for that, I'm going to send him a drink on Facebook.

Sherer's two touchdown passes to David Gilreath were far from perfect strikes, but they got where they needed to be for the receiver to score, and that's all that matters. His two big runs were very nice plays as well. His touchdown run was instructive as to how he might be effective as a scrambler. Teams are logically going to blitz him up the middle to take away his passing lanes to his tight ends. If he can duck that pressure and get outside, there's not much of a middle line of defense to run him down, even though he's not exactly fleet of foot.

Sherer's last long run on the naked bootleg reminded me of Matt Schabert's game clincher against Ohio State in 2003. Great call by Paul Chryst.

Bottom line: he's the best we've got at this moment.

-Travis Beckum's ankle injury made me, owner of two balsa wood-weak ankles who has suffered such injuries too many times to count, cringe. But Becks was having a bad game before then. His penalty on the first drive completely negated the positive momentum created by John Clay running the ball, and we never found a consistent rhythm running the ball after that. He also had a drop. I hope he's OK, though, he's running out of time to redeem his disappointing senior year.

-Nice to see Garrett Graham get so heavily involved in the offense in the second half. If Beckum's out, Graham isn't a bad guy to have as a go-to receiver, even if it is for just 6-7 yards a pop.

-Clay has to get his pad level down, he's still running too high at times.

-Credit Matt Shaughnessy with the pressure that led to Chris Maragos's interception. Juice has a cannon for an arm, but today was one of those days when you don't know exactly where that cannon is shooting, and our pass rushers helped out.

-Is it time yet to call for Bielema to give up coaching the special teams? Two weeks ago we give up a punt return touchdown. Last week a punt is blocked. Today Benn has a long kickoff return that leads to a field goal, and a penalty for lining up wrong on a punt. Time to let someone else worry about that.

-You know what I thought after Gilreath's first touchdown? "Illinois's defense looked like us on that play."

-Ron Dayne is looking very Ricky Williams-esque with that scraggly beard, no? Wonder how he's passing his time after football.

It doesn't get any easier from here, but at least we're off the schneid in the Big Ten and still in the running to spend Christmas in Detroit.


Edward said...

I vote "relief." We were looking at a pretty big chasm there if UW lost. Good play by the D. Solid play by Shearer. Let's get this train rolling towards the Alamo Bowl!

Anonymous said...

Credit me first, not Mr Man. I had said the defense is much better prepared for this on Monday 10/20 (check the comments!) Of course, I don't have an identity so it comes through as anonymous, but it's there. I think Mr. Man totally ripped off my comment.

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