Sunday, November 30, 2008

Phil Meyer out at Minnesota

For these last two years, while I've been poking fun at the Minnesota football program and Tim Brewster, I've always felt about 5% guilty. Why? Because the Gophers' offensive line coach was Phil Meyer, an old friend from my days at the Oshkosh Northwestern, where Meyer was the head coach at UW-Oshkosh for seven seasons.

Meyer and the program parted ways last week after the Gophers' regular season collapse was complete. I suppose it's hard to blame Brew for making a change, their offensive line was sort of shaky. One of the lasting impressions I'll have from our 35-32 win in Madison will be Dominic Alford getting flagged for penalty ... after penalty ... after penalty ... after penalty. But who knows if those struggles were attributable to coaching; the implementation of a new system for which the linemen were not a good fit; of talent level.

Apparently former UW offensive line coach Tim Davis is the guy who will replace Meyer. Here's hoping his unit struggles mightily. (Just being honest!)

Meyer will be just fine wherever he ends up. He's a good guy with a great offensive mind, and his priorities are in the right place.

Two other notes from East Dakota:

-Anders Lee, who we've mentioned before here, was named the Twin Cities Player of the Year by the Star Tribune. Keep watching.

-We don't really need to rip Brewster here when his hometown columnists do a far better, more comprehensive job. Read this from Star Trib columnist Patrick Reusse. Ouch.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

UW-UWM thoughts

Before my superficial game recap, a question: has anyone been able to get the live video stream to work reasonably well on the Big Ten Network's website? I've been shut out thus far this season. Thankfully the in-game live blog has been a very good source of play-by-play and in-game commentary, check it out if you're getting nowhere on live broadcasts.

Sounds like we had a nice defensive effort to close out a Panthers team that was without Ricky Franklin. Krabby was strong early and finished with a double-double. Pop shot well, 4-for-4 on 3-pointers. Leuer had nine points, and again on a positive note took no 3-pointers.

I'm starting to get worried about J-Bo, who came into the game shooting 31% from the field and 28% on 3-pointers, then went 0-for-6 and 0-for-4 on those shots today. At least he made all four of his free throws. This would be more troubling if he hadn't gotten off to a slow start before rebounding last year.

Seems like an eight-man rotation is shaping up: Hughes, J-Bo, Nankivil, Landry, and Krabby starting, with Leuer, Taylor, and Jarmusz the first three off the bench. Rob Wilson is #9, and I can see him getting significant minutes against guard-heavy teams like Marquette, Texas, and Michigan State.

Virginia Tech up Monday, should be a great game.

Diamond and Bruiser

Basketball's early signing day passed several weeks ago without much fanfare. Diamond Taylor and Mike Bruesewitz made official their intentions to play for Wisconsin, which pleased me.

It's a solid two-man class. In Taylor, you have a combo guard, the kind we need more of on our roster. In Bruesewitz, you have a forward who can bang inside or play a little on the perimeter. Both seem to be good fits for Bo Ryan's Swing offense, and after signing two 7-footers last year, adding perimeter depth makes sense.

The Big Ten Network's coverage of signing day didn't spend much time on our guys, other than to say that it was fitting that a guy nicknamed "Bruiser" would end up in Madison, and another play on words involving Taylor's first name. Overall it seems like a pretty blah year in Big Ten recruiting, with next year being pretty big. With Evan Anderson and Vander Blue in the fold, we're poised for a great class.

Two other things:

-It appears Jamil Wilson has narrowed his three to Michigan State, Texas, and Oregon. Apparently Marquette has been jerking him around lately, pulling its offer than reintroducing it through Wilson's dad, and he took them off his list. Is there still a chance he ends up in Madison?

-Rivals recruiting analyst Dave Telep assessed a number of the Big Ten classes, leading off with Indiana's. He led with something like this: "For Tom Crean, it's always been about threes. When he went to the Final Four he had Dwayne Wade, Rob Jackson, and Travis Diener. Then he had Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews, and he won a ton of games."

I'll say it again: has anyone in the coaching profession gotten more mileage out of winning four games than Tom Crean? Aside from riding Wade to the Final Four in 2003, Crean won exactly one NCAA Tournament game in his other eight seasons at Marquette. He'll probably do OK at his new job, but geez, if he win the Big Ten Tournament some year you half expect him to use it as a springboard to run for governor of Indiana.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Kirk Penney -- look at that hair!

Last week a fellow named John Rillie emailed me from Australia. A professional basketballer Down Under, John maintains a nice blog and directed me to something he recently did that he thought would be of interest to Badger fans.

It's a podcast featuring an interview with one of our favorite former Badgers, Kirk Penney, now with the New Zealand Breakers. Apparently Kirk is the leading scorer in Australia's NBL, and has been named player of the month multiple times.

I can't get over that hair, and neither can the Australian fans. We saw him several times in Indianapolis at the Big Ten Tournament, most of the time hanging around with Andy North, and he sure didn't look like that. Not sure if this photo is pre- or post-Indy, but in any event that style is really out there.

Give it a listen. The interview with Kirk comes about 13 minutes into the podcast, but the guys rave about him often before then. It's sort of like Flight of the Conchords, if they were basketball fans instead of musicians.

The guys talk about the Badgers' defensive-oriented philosophy under Dick Bennett, and the shockingly low halftime score of our Final Four game against Michigan State. John asks Kirk who his favorite Big Ten rivals were, and he lists Michigan State, Indiana and Michigan. (Michigan?) Also a funny anecdote from Kirk's time with the Miami Heat about "White Guy Wednesday." He also caddied for Andy North at Augusta recently.

Funny side note: while looking for more recent Penney news I found that one of his teammates is Rick Rickert, former Minnesota lightning rod.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Devin Harris

From a future Badger Harris to a former Badger Harris:

Have you seen how Devin Harris has been blowing up this year? In many preseason NBA previews the down-on-the-Nets write-ups would focus on how the team is in rebuilding mode, focusing on the point guard role filled by Devin instead of Jason Kidd.

Well guess what? That was a great trade for New Jersey.

Through 10 games Devin is averaging 23 points, 6.2 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game, shooting 44.4% from the field (his supposed weakness). He's scored 30 against Toronto, 33 and 30 against Atlanta, 38 against Detroit. He's dropped 10 dimes against the Clippers and the Hawks. He's 25 years old.

Conversely, Kidd is averaging 10.2 points, 8.3 assists, 2.5 steals, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.4 turnovers on 47% shooting for the Mavericks, who are going nowhere fast in the Western Conference.

Devin is one of my all-time favorite Badgers, and it's nice to see him having a breakout season. If the Nets ever move out of the New Jersey wasteland to Brooklyn, he could blow up in a big way on the national stage.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Shelby Harris

While feeding Charlie at 3 a.m. Monday night, I had a chance to watch the Division 1 state champoinship game between Hartland Arrowhead and Homestead. The two teams were meeting for the third straight year ... yawn. Much better game than the last two, however, and Homestead pulled out the win.

I focused in on Wisconsin recruit Shelby Harris, same as I did with Big Foot's Travis Frederick last week. Let me tell you: watching one lineman for an entire game and not focusing on the ball is both difficult and tedious.
But it was revealing. As with Frederick, in Harris I saw an athletic big body who did not exactly dominate, but showed flashes of how he did dominate against lesser teams, and how he could be a contributor at the college level.
Harris looks like a defensive end. It seems like I've read in places that he's a defensive tackle prospect, but he's not built that way, and the pad level he plays at is better suited for end. He played off blocks well. Arrowhead often attempted to cut block him on runs to the opposite side, but he showed good footwork to avoid those type of blocks. He's quick.
At times he was overwhelmed by Arrowhead's linemen, especially by double teams. This is forgivable, as Arrowhead has some really big boys up front. If he ends up at end in college, he won't see double teams like that, but in high school he's one of the biggest kids and has to play inside. He pursued plays well, but didn't seem to have a thirst for contact like some kids have. Even so, he had some nice hits.
Another impressive player in the game was Arrowhead kicker Jeff Budzien. Apparently we're not recruiting him, and I'm not sure why. Philip Welch had a nice freshman season, but as Cal Poly would tell you, you can never have enough good kickers.
Two other notes of local interest to me:
Waupaca won the Division 3 title with an exciting win over Reedsburg. I'm told that Wisconsin is interested in Comets quarterback Brock Jensen as a walk-on. Brock did most of his damage in the title game running the option, and he's a nice athlete, but he also put up some great passing numbers this year and showed a decent arm in Madison. We've got Jon Budmayr coming in at that spot, and are happy with him, but it would be cool to see a local kid end up in Madison.
The player of the game for Waupaca against Reedsburg was Mike Solberg, a tough running back who also assisted on a big tackle on the Beavers' two-point conversion late. Solberg looked like every bit the prospect Bradie Ewing is. He and Jensen will probably have plenty of offers from Division II and III colleges, but the allure of suiting up for the Badgers has to be strong.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Langford, Graham named All-Big Ten

Congrats to Allen Langford and Garrett Graham, who were named All-Big Ten on Monday. Especially Langford, who was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dreary season.

Always playing second fiddle to Jack Ikegwuonu, Langford was the less physically gifted of the two cornerbacks in his class, but he consistently received praise for his technique and grit. Then he blew out his knee last year, robbing him of the little speed he had. All he did was respond with a near-flawless senior season, leading the conference with 11 passes defended in league play. Seldom was he embarrassed in coverage. Good for him.

Graham probably didn't have the season he would have wished for, but he still led Big Ten tight ends in receiving. He should do some great things next year.

Also receiving all-conference honors were linebacker Jonathan Casillas, honorable mention; defensive lineman Jason Chapman, honorable mention; wide receiver David Gilreath, second team; running back P.J. Hill, honorable mention; guard Andy Kemp, honorable mention; linebacker DeAndre Levy, honorable mention; defensive tackle Mike Newkirk, second team; fullback Chris Pressley, sportsmanship award honoree; defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, honorable mention; guard Kraig Urbik, second etam; safety Jay Valai, second team; tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel, honorable mention; kicker Philip Welch, honorable mention.

Tell you what, that's a lot of honors for a team that went 3-5 in the conference.

Newkirk overachieved this year, he finished fourth on the team in tackles and led with eight tackles for loss. If Shaughnessy was honorable mention -- and that's about what he deserved -- then O'Brien Schofield should have been, too, he had 7.5 tackles for loss and led the team with five sacks. Loved the energy Valai brought to the defense, even if didn't always seem to rub off. And what about Niles Brinkley? He led the team with four interceptions and had nine pass breakups.

Monday, November 24, 2008

UConn's tough

Not much shame in losing to UConn, that team is tough. They have some flaws -- they appear to play a little bit out of control at times, and I'm not sure they have enough outside shooting to get through the season unscathed, especially in the Huge East -- but with those guards and that size and muscle up front, they're as good a bet as anyone to be the team that denies Carolina the national championship.

I didn't realize the game was televised until a couple minutes into the second half. The Badgers were making a nice run at the time, and had a chance to close to within one point on a Krabby free throw ... when Landry fell into the lane prematurely. Ugh.

After that it got ugly quickly. UConn's press really took us out of our game in the second half, and we ended up with something like 20 turnovers. Jordan Taylor looked like a freshman and was overwhelmed, but the other guys weren't too great against it, either.

My player of the game: Rob Wilson, for continuing to attack Hasheem Thabeet. He showed some guts charging the lane and drawing two fouls. I think there's a role for Wilson this season, just not sure exactly what it is yet.

Keaton Nankivil played well, the only Wisconsin player in double digits. When he went out with foul trouble, we got our answer about how Bo will line 'em up against big teams -- no one taller than Landry, who looked like a point guard standing next to Thabeet.

A little worried about J-Bo, who was 2-for-8 from the field. That's understandable, given the Huskies' guards, but he looked shaky on his free throws and missed both.

UWM's up next, and they shouldn't be quite as challenging as UConn.

Nice win for the hoops team

Looks like a convincing win over San Diego last night at the Paradise Jam. Honestly, I thought this was a game that we would probably lose, SD being a tournament team last year with all its starters back.

Followed as much of it as I could on the in-game blog, which is well done, I recommend following the action there is you can't watch or listen to a game.

Looks like another big game for Pop, with 22 points, 8-for-13 from the field, looks like he's really picking up his game. A number of other solid performances too --Nankivil with eight points, four boards; Jarmusz with eight points and a buncha floor burns; Landry with nine points and nine boards. J-Bo is struggling with his shot, missing two free throws in the OT win over Iona and going 2-for-10 from the field against San Diego.

Chance for a signature win tonight against UConn, although I think it's a long shot. That's a damn talented team. A.J. Price is going to be a great test for Pop. We don't have an obvious answer for Hasheem Thabeet, but this might be a chance for Ian Markolf to get some minutes, or for Jared Berggren to take off the red shirt.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday morning thoughts: Graham Harrell a Badger?

Texas Tech did get embarrassed last night by Oklahoma, but anyone who's seen the Raiders play this year has to be impressed by Graham Harrell. The other day I was reading Sports Illustrated, a story about all the great quarterbacks in the Big 12, and it casually mentioned that coming out of high school Harrell chose Tech over, among several other schools, Wisconsin.


Seeing how he's thrived in Mike Leach's pass-happy offense, it's hard to see how Harrell would have ever considered playing for the Badgers. Maybe the fact that we have more quarterbacks in the NFL than Tech is a bigger drawing card than we think!

But imagine Harrell had ended up in Madison for his college ball. It's not a stretch to think that we'd be in contention for a BCS bowl today, warts and all. I'll go into it more later, but looking back on this season, it's apparent that subpar quarterback play sparked the negative momentum that snowballed mid-season and threatened to turn it into an outright disaster. Thankfully Dustin Sherer and the receivers have improved to the point where this year has just been disappointing, ending in a bowl game but not the one we'd hoped for.

Again, though, imagine if Graham Harrell had been slinging balls for Paul Chryst's offense for these past few years ...

Big Ten thoughts:

1. Penn State. They deserve to be ranked higher nationally.

2. Iowa. This one's shocking to me, kudos to Kirk Ferentz for turning the program around after several years of decline. Let's see if they can keep it up.

3. Ohio State. To me, they don't deserve a BCS bowl bid, but I'm hoping they get it to improve our holiday destination.

4. Michigan State. Never a legitimate contender, shouldn't have beaten us, but in a break from the past, they stopped beating themselves and took care of business on a regular basis. Too bad we couldn't say the same about ourselves.

5. Northwestern.

6. Wisconsin. Hard to believe that ending up middle of the pack would be okay, but given how we were feeling about things after that Michigan State loss, I'll take it.

7. Minnesota. Does Brew really have them on the right track, or did they just get back to where they were under Glen Mason: padding their record against a weak non-conference schedule, beating the conference's weaklings, and winning a game or two they shouldn't have.

8. Illinois. This was the Goofs' signature win, remember? The one that had fans lobbying Joel Maturi to extend Brew's contract -- against a team that finished 5-7. The Illini arguably underachieved even more than we did this season, which has to be disconcerting for their fans considering the Zooker's track record. That much talent shouldn't lose seven games.

9. Purdue. Not the fate Joe Tiller deserved, he made that program relevant again and invigorated Big Ten offenses.

10. Michigan. Did you see where Rich Rodriguez said he didn't realize Michigan had so little talent coming back and if he had, he might not have taken the job? Way to throw your players under the bus, jerk! Add that to the fact Michigan didn't seem to do its homework regarding Red Wristband's buyout from West Virginia, and you have a stunningly comprehensive lack of due diligence for a high profile job opening. Hopefully these bad vibes continue for RichRod.

11. Indiana. Guess they didn't defend The Rock very well this year, whatever that is.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

UW-Cal Poly thoughts: Poor Andrew Gardner

Let's just start off by saying that I feel absolutely awful for Andrew Gardner. That would have been a monumental win for Cal Poly, but instead they come up a point short. Here's hoping they go on to win the I-AA national championship so that kid, and the rest of the team, has nothing but good memories from this season.

Those were pretty bad kicks, though. On the field goal attempt at the end of regulation their coach seemed to mouth "you've got to be kidding me."

As for the game in general, I don't feel bad at all about needing overtime to beat that team. We did not play poorly. They have great athletes and a unique scheme that they execute really well. Our offensive coaches found ways to exploit their weaknesses, particularly in the passing game, and the running game got it going at just the right time.

After a season full of Wisconsin finding ways to lose it should have won, it was refreshing to see the Badgers find a way to win a game they probably should have lost.

-The lasting impression of this game I'll take with me is Andy Kemp after the game-winning extra point, ripping off his helmet and running down the field in celebration. These seniors deserved to go out with a win.

-Boy did John Clay and P.J. Hill run hard in the second half, those were some tough runs that they finished with authority. P.J. went over 1,000 yards today, fourth year in a row.

-Kudos to Dustin Sherer for a game well-played. He took what was there -- which was a lot -- and while better passes could probably have resulted in quicker scores, he still made most of the completions.

-Speaking of quicker scores, can you remember a game in which we were on the negative side of the time of possession ledger to such an extent? Poly's ability to grind the ball in modest but consistent increments, and our ability to hit big plays, led to that disparity. I'd rather not see it again.

-My favorite player of this season will probably end up being Allen Langford. That overtime touchdown catch by Barden aside, he played another good game, limiting a receiver with more physical ability with technique and strength. A good guy for Niles Brinkley, Mario Goins, and Aaron Henry to learn from.

-What were you thinking when O'Brien Schofield jumped offside on that field goal attempt, which allowed Poly to convert on fourth-and-1 and eventually score a touchdown? Or when Nick Toon couldn't haul in that nice pass from Sherer later in the fourth quarter.

-Too bad so many people missed that ending, either because they left early or never came in the first place. Great game.

-Cal Poly may have been able to finish in the middle of the Big Ten pack this year. Off the top of my head only Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa are clearly better.

-Football goes to overtime against Cal Poly, basketball against Iona. Eye openers when people see the scores on the Bottom Line, but at least we won.

-We should be in line for a nicer-than-deserved bowl game, but of even greater importance will be the extra practice opportunity. We're losing a lot of guys next season, and the replacements need a lot of work, especially along both lines.

Three wins in a row to close the regular season, and one more game, hopefully against a team we haven't played before or recently. We can all take a deep breath ... and start worrying about the basketball team.

Friday, November 21, 2008

We should be worried about Cal Poly

As I write this, the poll in the upper left says 20 yes, 17 no. Frankly, I just can't understand the 17 no votes. Have you seen these Badgers play this year? Sure, they're capable of lining up and going toe-to-toe with Ohio State and completely outplaying Michigan State. They're also capable of turning the ball over like it's covered with jelly and committing penalties like they have stock in Yellow Flag Corp.

Besides that, Cal Poly appears to be a helluva tough opponent. I can't wait to see what they do. Apparently they run the Wishbone but throw the ball to a 6-6 dude who is probably the best wideout we'll face this year, and do it to the tune of almost 50 points per game.

Even after reading multiple accounts of their defensive style, I have no idea what their scheme is going to look like. It is supposedly good at stopping the run but vulnerable against the pass. We'll see if the Badgers can exploit that. Last week's performances by Isaac Anderson and Nick Toon were encouraging, and bet on Garrett Graham bouncing back from a subpar showing.

And let's not abandon the notion that we can pound these guys on the ground. They may give up less than 100 yards rushing per game, but they haven't faced an offensive line or running backs like ours.

There have been stories written about the potential for this game to be a real dud from an atmosphere standpoint. Some have even referenced our game at Indiana two weeks ago -- come on, there's no comparison. It would be a shame if Badger fans didn't give this Senior Day the respect others get; for all the disappointments this season has brought, these seniors have given us a ton of great memories over their four years and they deserve one last triumphant bow.

Wisconsin 41, Cal Poly 36

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Travis Frederick

It's state championship time for Wisconsin high school football, always a fun time of year if you're a fan. Tonight UW recruit Travis Frederick and Walworth Big Foot are playing against Wautoma in the Division 4 title game at Camp Randall, and I watched the first half.

Couldn't get a great gauge on the guy. He looks bigger than the other kids, but since most of the linemen are bundled up everyone looks a little bigger than usual. He seems to be pretty mobile, and Big Foot likes to get him pulling and blocking downfield. Problem is, Wautoma's defense is pretty quick and oftentimes the play flowed right and Frederick was downfield looking for someone to block while the ball carrier was getting blocked. Whenever he does engage a defender he gets the job done convincingly. He's listed as 6-5, 310, but he looks a little shorter than that, and I see him fitting in at guard or center.

I'm recording tomorrow's Division 1 game tomorrow, which for the third straight year features Homestead vs. Arrowhead. Defensive line recruit Shelby Harris plays for Homestead, I'm hoping for big things from him. And don't forget about Waupaca, which plays Reedsburg at 10 a.m. in the Division 3 title game.

One last note on the Division 4 game: When Schwib and I were in Oshkosh, Wautoma was in our coverage area. If memory serves, in 2000 they tried to drop their football program but the school board didn't let them. To go from the brink of extinction to the state title game in less than a decade is pretty incredible.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Christmas in Detroit?

Are we getting ahead of ourselves in regard to bowl destinations? InTom Oates' column following our win over Minnesota on Saturday he had a good line about Phoenix being 32 degrees warmer than Detroit in December. Which naturally makes the Insight Bowl a more attractive destination than the Motor City Bowl.

At first blush, I'd agree, but ...

-As the Journal Sentinel notes, we aren't guaranteed a bowl berth, even though we're bowl-eligible. A win over Cal Poly on Saturday would do the trick, but that's a really good team and far from a sure thing for us.

-In that Oates column Chris Pressley says:
  • "I'll go anywhere, but I don't really want to go to Detroit," fullback Chris Pressley said. "I want to go somewhere warm."
The talk around the breakfast table at the Polzin house Sunday morning was that we're in no position to badmouth any potential bowl destination. Some day -- perhaps even this year -- going to Detroit will be our only option, and I sure as hell would rather go to Detroit than go to no bowl game. Implying that we're too good for any bowl game is arrogant, and I don't want our program to be in that spot.
(I actually don't think that's what Pressley is implying, it probably is just as simple as wanting to be warm.)

Detroit wouldn't be so bad. We'd take the whole family, get to see Jana's family, etc. Can't imagine many Badger fans share my feelings.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

UW-Edwardsville thoughts

Can't tell too much about this game given the competition, but you have to like how we didn't mess around and stuck a fork in them early in the second half. The rationale for scheduling games like this, aside from racking up some base wins, is building confidence.

Look at Jon Leuer, who was far from a given entering this season. Games like this give him a chance to know he can score from all over the court. Look at Jason Bohannon, who is learning exactly where he has to get on the floor with this new 3-point line. Look at Marcus Landry, finally The Man after three years as a complementary player.

Leuer was obviously the player of the game. Maybe he doesn't get 25 points in a game this year, but I would be thrilled if he had four or five more 15-point games and averaged around 10. Three dunks, all with authority, are what people are going to remember, but the variety of moves he used to score his first three buckets were even more important. He hit both of his 3-pointers, but eight of his 10 field goal attempts were 2-pointers, which is where he needs to be more and more often. That was encouraging.

-Jordan Taylor throws a nice alley-oop, doesn't he? It's clear that he gets it. Interestingly, he didn't score, but 12 other Badgers did.
-Nineteen assists -- nice.

-At least three times tonight Trevon Hughes was stationed in the left corner and got clean looks at 3-pointers. I don't remember that configuration last year, but he seemed very comfortable there and made a couple of those treys.

-Still don't see who's going to fill Michael Flowers' lockdown perimeter defender role. My sense is Bo is trying to get Rob Wilson to the point where he can do some of that, and these games are opportunities to see what the freshman can do. He's a little bit too out of control right now, although I like the energy he's bringing.

-Did I infer or flat-out write that we don't have any shot blockers this year like we did last year? Sorry Marcus.
-Tim Jarmusz = the next Joe Krabbenhoft in training, but a more confident shooter.

-Kevin Gullikson has obviously dropped some weight, wouldn't be surprised to see him get minutes this year, although right now he seems to be at the fringe of the rotation at best. He's also got what appears to be a really nasty tattoo on the inner bicep of his left arm. Why, Kevin?
-Guess Ian Markolf isn't redshirting. At least he made it worth hsi while, scoring a second after getting into a game for the first time in his career. He is well-built. Jared Berggren's fate this season is still undecided.

-I liked that in the second half we didn't just play YMCA ball and sprint the ball up the court. We pushed tempo when appropriate but otherewise just executed really well in the halfcourt. Could we have scored 100 points against that team? Probably, but that doesn't help you at all later on when we play teams that match or exceed our athleticism.

Monday, November 17, 2008

UW-Long Beach State thoughts

Good test to open the season, nice to see the kids put through a tight game right off the bat. Long Beach was more competitive than just about any Minnesota team Dan Monson ever brought to the Kohl Center.

Thought the defense could have been much tighter -- they shot 48% -- but Long Beach had some pretty athletic players and we stiffened up down the stretch. We'll see more, of course. Perhaps the lack of a seven-foot shot blocker will be a liability for us against teams like that, even if they don't have bona fide post players.

-Like Marcus Landry's shaved head look (this picture is from last year). His old haircut was kind of dorky. His game looked as good as ever, though, as he scored in a variety of ways and at clutch times. Three blocks, too. He played with a lot of emotion and looked like a senior eager to make this team his.

-Because Long Beach wasn't that tall we went with a lineup of four perimeter players quite a bit, with Landry as the only true post. It didn't go all that well. There wasn't sufficient movement, just a lot of truncated drives, and the spacing made the guys easy to guard. Too many possessions ending with rushed shots at the end of the shot clock.

-Krabby's shot looks different, at least that first 3-pointer he hit looked different.

-Jon Leuer does look like he's filled out in a good way. Early on he showed a nice shot fake and penetration, with a good pass to Nankivil, who had it stripped. He also showed a good crossover early in the second half, leading to a layup.

-Jordan Taylor's first 3-point attempt came from way beyond the arc. Not an inappropriate shot, though. He's got a solid build, sort of reminds me of Pop. His second shot, a runner off the backboard, was sort of lucky but he made a really nice move to split the defense and get open. His alley-oop to Landry was just beautiful. Judging from his play Sunday, we shouldn't be nervous when he comes in to spell Pop.

-The Big Ten Network's sideline reporter noted early on that Bo was getting on the team for not fouling enough. The Badgers ended with nine fouls. It's an interesting point; my dad used to tell me that when I'd end a game with one foul that I wasn't playing aggressively enough, and that's what Bo was getting at here.

-Rob Wilson sure wasn't shy about shooting when he got in the game, I like that out of a freshman. Very athletic. Can't see him getting a ton of playing time once Big Ten play starts, though.

-Tim Jarmusz played 19 quiet minutes but seemed to be around the ball on the offensive glass a lot.

-The five on the floor for the finish: Krabby, Landry, Jarmusz, J-Bo, and Pop.

-Andy and I sat a few rows in front of Howard Moore and Greg Gard at the football game Saturday. Didn't seem like there were any recruits with them.

-This new business of the college game having two 3-point lines, one for the dudes and one for the chicks, could potentially be confusing. And imagine what an NBA arena might look like. J-Bo hit a long shot that would have been a 3-pointer last year but was worth one point less Sunday, and took a dribble back to get to the spot. I wonder if that was where he wanted that shot, or if he mistakenly thought it was a 3-pointer. Long Beach's last points came on a shot that would have counted for three points last year

Sunday, November 16, 2008

UW-Minnesota thoughts

Well, it's been a day since our big win over Minnesota. I just got done telling Will the story of the game; as was my intention, he was most interested in the part about Paul Bunyan's Axe. Specifically, he wanted to know how Paul Bunyan died, because he didn't think giants died. Will also thought it would be nice if the Badgers kept the Axe forever.

I agree. Just rallying to keep it this year was an unexpected joy.

So proud of everyone yesterday, from the coaches who didn't bail on what looked like a lost cause, to the players who forgot all the mistakes they'd made and put forth an inspired effort, to the fans who willed them on.

Can't remember when I've been part of a crowd like that. So emotional. So intense. Part of it was the gut-wrenching disgust at watching Gopher fans gloat over their team's first-half dominance. Part of it was desperation to get bowl eligible. Part of it was just natural excitement over the action on the field (two safeties in a row?). Part of it was watching the Gophers try to co-opt Jump Around as their own (how dare they?).

At the end, everyone was watching the crowd of players with the Axe, but I couldn't take my eyes off John Clay, who had grabbed a giant Wisconsin flag and was parading it around Camp Randall. Here was a redshirt freshman who represents the future of our program showing genuine enthusiasm over the moment. He was enjoying it as much as the rest of us, which is awesome.

On to the game.

-Can you ever remember a receiver having a career game that included three drops, including one for a sure-fire touchdown? Good for Isaac Anderson for shaking off the dropsies to be the playmaker at wide receiver that we desperately need. Nick Toon is showing promise too.

-P.J. Hill had a deceptively good game, aside from the fumble. He's had a solid stretch these last several weeks, and is in position to crack that 1,000-yard mark.

-When Niles Brinkley intercepted that pass on Minnesota's last possession and started running around, did anyone not think that, given the way this season has gone, he was going to fumble and the Gophers were going to drive down the field and either tie it or win it?

-Philip Welch's field goal to start the second half just barely made it over the crossbar. Had he not made that kick, I don't think the rest of that second half happens.

-Good time for Mike Newkirk to have the game of his career, wasn't it?

-How about a rundown of some of the head-scratching mistakes we made? Clay's fumble. Shane Carter's offside penalty on the Gophers' two-point conversion (come on man, think!). Dustin Sherer taking that sack when he was out of the pocket with a clear lane to throw the ball into the stands! The blown coverages that led to Minnesota's second and third touchdowns. Allowing that fourth-and-18 conversion. Blowing more third-and-shorts. The botched field goal attempt that would have put us up 10-0. And yet ...

We're in position to play in a decent bowl, maybe even win eight games this year.

And we keep the Axe.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

We'll keep that Axe, thank you

Pretty happy right now. I'll tell you more about it later. Hopefully much later!


Only word to describe this latest fiasco. The lowlight is the Minnesota fan two rows behind us, in section R, row 40, seat 2, celebrating wildly Kyle Jefferson's injury. Here comes the ambulance ... Metaphor for the season.

Hope at least Kyle is OK, Will always asks about him ...

UW-Minnesota thoughts ...

... will be coming later than usual today, as I'll be at the game and plan on reveling afterward, win or lose. It's looking like a cool, windy day in Madison, but everyone's excited about keeping the Axe.

Woke up this morning feeling like Eric Decker's going to play today. The nice thing is we're playing outside in authentic Midwest November weather, not inside a sterile dome, so it's going to be tough for his ankle to feel good. I don't want him to play. The PC thing is to say you want to beat them at their best, and he is probably their best player. But at this point we just needs wins, and if Decker sitting on the sideline, not catching passes and punching our defensive backs in the crotch, helps us win, I'm all for it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

UW-Minnesota preview

It would be easy to look at this game, if you're a Badger fan, and be really confident. After all, UW ran for over 400 yards Saturday, and Minnesota has looked pretty mediocre the past few weeks while threatening to squander its 7-1 start and end up in a familiar bowl destination -- Detroit. What's more, their best player, Eric Decker, is out, which means Badger DBs don't necessarily have to wear cups.

Maybe it's the Bob Bummer in me, but I don't see this being a one-sided game. Here's why:

-Our success came against a severely depleted Indiana team. The confidence the offense took away from that game is big, but executing the same basic plays probably won't yield the same boffo results against Minnesota. I sure as hell don't expect David Gilreath to carry the ball eight times again.

-Much of Minnesota's early success this season came from forcing turnovers. We have been, to put it politely, turnover-prone this season. I'm penciling Dustin Sherer in for two interceptions, which may or may not be costly.

-As Clint Brewster was quick to remind Taylor Mehlhaff, last year the Gophers played us much closer than they should have, given how rotten they were. This leads me to believe that Tim Brewster, for as much crap I throw his way for being something of a used-car salesmen in football coach's gear, is an above-average motivator who isn't going to let his team's recent skid spiral out of control. Especially in what is arguably the biggest rivalry game for both schools.

-Decker's out, but they get Ralph Spry back.

-Their running game is showing life with this Eskridge guy. I'm worried about Jae McFadden, who said he's ready to play Indiana tomorrow. Dude, check that concussion again. The defense ain't the same with Culmer St. Jean in the middle.

Still think we're going to win, but unlike previous Wisconsin-Minnesota games at Camp Randall, think it's going to be close. Unlike last year, we seem to have an idea of what to do against the Spread, which is nice. I don't see it being the high-scoring affair common in this series this century.

Wisconsin 20, Minnesota 16

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How good are the Gophers?

I ask not sarcastically but seriously. Because Minnesota's turnaround from last year's one-year disaster has been a popular talking point around college football, and Tim Brewster has been mentioned as a coach of the year candidate.

Looking closer, it appears:

-The Gophers were probably better last year than their one win indicated, although not by much.

-The Gophers are the beneficiary of a favorable non-conference schedule and Big Ten schedule that is missing two of the conference's three best teams. The non-conference wins came against Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, Montana State, and Florida Atlantic. Northern and MSU are the Gophers' only two victims with winning records.

In the Big Ten, Minnesota has beaten Indiana, which is awful; Purdue, which is almost as bad; and Illinois, which just lost to Western Michigan. (Granted, Wisconsin's resume is similarly skimpy, but that's not the point of this discussion.)

-The Gophers are adding more talent and should return to being the formidable border rival they were during the best Glen Mason years.

-Adam Weber has progressed nicely from his freshman season, cutting his interception down to five thus far after 19 last year. The good thing is we're looking far better against the Spread this season than we have in the past. Weber did a lot of good things against us in the Dome last year.

-The Gophers have been getting attention for forcing a lot of turnovers on defense, but their performance against a thoroughly mediocre Michigan offense shows that they are far from impenetrable. Their defense actually yields 27 yards per game more than their offense gains.

(Like us in Ann Arbor, Minnesota has to have a "will we ever?" outlook on its series with Michigan right about now.)

I'm guessing that we'll be able to run on them, not like we did last year or last week against Indiana, but still, run effectively. Given that Minnesota's DBs seem opportunistic and I still get scared every time Dustin Sherer drops back, running the ball about 60 times is my prescription for success.

-Minnesota changes its uniforms as often as West Bend East High School, with similar results. You're not Oregon, guys, pick a combination and go with it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Badger classic: Wisconsin 38, Minnesota 34

Here's an anecdote anyone with multiple children can relate to: On June 21 I recorded the 2005 Minnesota-Wisconsin game on the Big Ten Network. On November 11 I was able to devote two hours to watching it.

Very fun to watch it again. Actually, it was the first time I'd seen the television broadcast, having attended the epic with most of the same friends I'll be with at Camp Randall this Saturday.

The thing I couldn't shake was that Minnesota seemed to play much like we've been playing this year. They seemed to have the better players and the better game plan, but kept making mistakes that let the other team escape with a win.

Just think about the last sequence of events. Soft defense allows a John Stocco-to-Brandon Williams touchdown. Stupid facemask penalty lets the Badgers kick off from the 50. Inability to handle the onside kick leads to a weird bounce that Maroney recovers inside the Gopher 10. The Gophers, who had been running at will all day, couldn't convert on third-and-short. Kucek fumbles a perfectly good snap. Their returner fumbles the kickoff.

That's six things that had to go wrong for Minnesota, and right for Wisconsin, for that outcome to take place. And they all did.

What a day!

-It occurred to me during the game that 2008 isn't the first time Wisconsin fans have been skeptical of Bret Bielema. Think back to 2005. In 2004 he came in and completely reinvigorated the Badger defense. Then, in 2005, the defense he coordinated was porous, leading UW fans everywhere to question Barry Alvarez's decision to promote him to head coach. Bielema had a tremendous rookie year in 2006, before a so-so 2007 and a borderline disastrous 2008.

The point is, Coach B has rebounded from tough seasons before, and I have faith he will again. But I think we'd all rather avoid the tough seasons altogether. Maybe this is part of the inescapable maturation process of a young coach thrust into prominence early on.

-The thing is, Bielema's 2005 defense was so decimated by injuries it's hard to tell if he could have done anything to make that unit a plus. Brandon Kelly, who barely saw the field at all last year as a senior, played a lot. Hell, Gino Cruse played a lot.

-A ton of guys who will lace up their spikes for Wisconsin on Saturday played in that game. Kraig Urbik. Chris Pressley. Matt Shaughnessy (who looked so thin and fast). Jason Chapman. Allen Langford. Mike Newkirk. DeAndre Levy (who I never realized recovered the fumble on the last kickoff). Jonathan Casillas, the one everyone remembers for blocking Kucek's punt. Aubrey Pleasant. Shane Carter.

Perhaps that paragraph illustrates why this year has been so frustrating. We've got a lot of guys who have been through a lot of wars, so to consistently lose games because of mental errors defies reason.

-Williams and Stocco had awesome games. Brian Calhoun was an incredible back.

-This has been a high-scoring rivalry this century. Look at the winners' point total since 2000: 41, 42, 49, 37, 38, 38, 48, 41.

-Bryan Cupito missed the game for Minnesota, and you've got to think that if he'd started at quarterback instead of Tony Mortensen they would have hit on a big pass play or two that could have sealed the deal for the Gophers.

-As exciting as the end of the game was, the first half was really boring.

It's going to be tougher to get tickets to see this game in Minneapolis in the future, which is too bad, it's always been fun. Then again, it's seemed to get nastier and nastier over the years, which is good for the rivalry but not the blood pressure.

But even if I never see another Wisconsin-Minnesota game out of state again, we'll always remember that day in the Dome when Kucek dropped the snap.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Badgers shouldn't dance

Got a link to this video in the daily men's basketball update last week, and got around to watching it several days later. It's from the proceedings at Night of the Grateful Red, the basketball team's annual kickoff practice open to the public. All I can say is oh ... my ... god.

When I got done watching the Brett Valentyn dance number, I turned around to look at Charlie, who until then had been hopping away in his Jumperoo but had gone quiet. He had a look of stunned silence on his face, as if he had seen a ghost. Or a bunch of basketball players trying to dance. The look continued through that ridiculous group number at the end.

After that I couldn't stop laughing. Give it a view and your reaction will be the same.

It seems like the fellas had fun with it, and that's all that count. But it ain't gonna get YouTube play like Bo Ryan's Soulja Boy did last year.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday morning thoughts

Still happy that the boys played a good game yesterday, but can't shake just how down Indiana is, I feel bad for them. After an emotional bowl qualifying year in 2007 they get this. Look at all the guys who are hurt or who have been hurt: Kellen Lewis, Nick Polk, Will Patterson, Marcus Thigpen, Ben Chappell, Roger Saffold, Bryan Payton ... all pretty good players that would have made this team more competitive this year had they remained healthy.

Their quarterback situation was especially troubling. They had four guys attempt at least four passes against us, don't think I've ever seen that before. If I were them I would have started Lewis and played him until he couldn't walk any more, he's the only one who gave them a chance to win.

Looking at our defensive stats, it was apparent Niles Brinkley recovered from his rough trip to East Lansing -- four pass breakups and tied for second on the team with five tackles. He played well. Allen Langford was solid two with two pass breakups and no horribly blown coverages. He has quietly had a good year, not all-conference good, but solid. His leadership has meant a lot to the youngsters' development.

Jay Valai had 10 tackles and was around the ball a lot. Jonathan Casillas had two tackles for 14 yards of negative yardage. Hopefully Jae McFadden's injury isn't too bad.

My Big Ten rankings:

1. Penn State. Still the best, even with the loss. Hopefully this doesn't negatively impact our chances of making a bowl game. Haven't put too much thought into that, will if we beat Minnesota. I was kind of hoping PSU would win the national title; they're a good check against Ohio State and Michigan, and they don't typically compete with us for recruits.

2. Ohio State. Terrelle Pryor appears to be throwing the ball better. Too bad Beanie and those wideouts won't be around next year.

3. Michigan State. Unimpressive in beating Purdue. They're having a season similar to our 2006, just winning. I'd take that in a heartbeat.

4-9. Everyone except the teams from Indiana. If forced, I'd say:

4. Iowa. OK, their win today ought to set them above the rest of this mediocre lot.

5. Minnesota. The Gophers' most "impressive" win this season came against ...

6. Illinois, which lost to Western Michigan. Yeah, they're on a Journey all right.

7. Michigan. Now that they're not bowl-eligible, I'm kind of hoping they win a couple games here at the end of the season.

8. Wisconsin. The Badgers' most "impressive" win this season came against ... see Minnesota. Anybody still think beating Fresno was impressive? Anybody see them get hammered at home against Nevada the other night? Looks like their season has paralleled ours.

9. Northwestern. They were doing it with smoke and mirrors. They and Minnesota are threatening to lose out and quell all the good vibes they'd built up.

10. Purdue. Showing a little fight.

11. Indiana. Almost as bad as Tom Crean's basketball team will be. At least he has Kelvin Sampson to blame.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

UW-Indiana thoughts

Finally, a nice relaxing Saturday where the Badgers score a comfortable win. Indiana is bad, and the few talented players they do have are hurt or hurting, but we took care of business with a dominant performance.

Six-hundred total yards. Three 100-yard rushers. Fifty-five points. Every last one of those things is important -- it reminds these guys that when they play to their potential, it takes a helluva team to stop them. The Hoosiers were not close to being that team today.

-When did I say David Gilreath isn't fast? He isn't a traditional burner, but on that 90-yard touchdown run he looked plenty fast. Otherwise he was remarkably shifty and efficient, and Indiana remarkably inept, on that end-around Paul Chryst kept calling. The best game of Gilreath's career (that punt return fumble aside), much welcomed.

That 90-yarder was a thing of beauty, from the blocking to Gilreath's inside deke that froze the Indiana DB just enough to let him sprint to the end zone.

-When P.J. Hill is at his best, his dancing results in better-than-expected runs. When his dancing isn't working ... well, that didn't happen today so let's just enjoy it. P.J. was at his best, showing patience, balance, strength, and bust. Two good games in a row, and 1,000 yards is actually within reach for him now.

-Still love what John Clay is bringing to the table. He chews up yardage with his long strides, and he shows great athleticism, like when he hurdled that guy today. The coaches still need to figure out a rotation that works out well for both Clay and Hill. P.J. was in a groove in the first quarter but had only one carry in the second.

-And what about Zach Brown? That fourth down catch he made in the first quarter was important for getting us off on the right foot and ensuring we played with the lead all day. I've never see that route out of our offense; maybe from Brian Calhoun.

-Thank got the Big Ten Network didn't have a better view of Chappell's fumble late in the first half. I thought that a different camera angle might have shown that his knee was down. The play stood, and we never looked back from there. Great play by Jay Valai to force the fumble.

-So our offensive line, which was healthy last week finally, got two whole plays in today before Eric Vanden Heuvel was hurt. Turned out it didn't matter, but wouldn't it be nice if we were just at full strength for once?

-Gilreath's first touchdown was called a run, but was actually a pass that turned out to be a lateral. That play earlier was not completed and was a live ball. Better execution would make that a slightly forward pass.

-The backup defensive linemen played well. Dan Moore got a good push. Patrick Butrym made a nice play on a fourth-and-1 stop. Jeff Stehle had a sack late.

-Was it just me, or did Bret Bielema's coat seem like the kind you can get for $10 at Steve and Barry's?

-BTN color analyst Chris Martin was using his full vocabulary today. Particularly impressive was when he described Indiana's wide receivers as "linear" who gave Hoosier quarterbacks a good "catching radius." Huh? I guess most receivers are ... non-linear? And lesser receivers give their quarterbacks ... a catching circumference? Leave it to a Northwestern guy to bring these words to a football broadcast.

-Our kickoffs and kickoff coverage were decidedly mediocre. And what was Mario Goins doing fielding kicks? Let Gilreath handle them all, and block, Mario.

-Other lowlights: Matt Shaughnessy roughing the passer, handing Indiana three points; Dustin Sherer's interception was a terrible pass; a delay of game call after an incomplete pass; 12 men on the field on a late Indiana punt. Thankfully the Hoosiers were bad enough that these weren't critical, but don't let the score fool you, the mistakes are still there.

This win was bittersweet. Again, the opponent was lacking, but it showed that we were capable of overcoming sometimes sloppy play to win in dominating fashion. That hasn't happened much this year.

Now let's keep that Axe!

Friday, November 7, 2008

UW-Indiana preview

More than in past seasons, every game the Badgers play this season seems to have major bearing on how I feel about the rest of the season.

After we beat Fresno, I thought we were a bona fide BCS bowl contender. Never mind that our offense didn't do much against a defense that has proven to be lackluster, and our defense gave up big plays to a mediocre offense.

With about nine minutes to go against Michigan State, I was thinking that we had a good chance of running the regular season table, finishing 8-4, and going to a halfway decent bowl game. Never mind that we were being flagged every other play and couldn't cover someone named Blair White.

Now I'm thinking we might lose to a bad Indiana team this weekend and maybe finish 5-7. Never mind that our offense produced two 100-yard rushers last week and our defense held arguably the best running back in the country to less than 60 yards rushing. Who knows?

Kellen Lewis, the one Hoosier who strikes fear in you, has been battling an ankle injury and it looks like he'll play Saturday. Their defensive line is injury-riddled. They have some talented players in the front seven, but are pretty weak at cornerback.

We ought to win this game easily. I won't be satisfied with a team that fulfills the basics of lining up correctly and not committing 10 penalties. This is a must-win game.

Too bad it's a must-win in order to stay in contention for spending Christmas in Michigan, a state which has been nightmarish for our boys this season.

Wisconsin 27, Indiana 17

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ray Small: Becoming a better man

A brief non-Badger excursion ...

During the Ohio State-USC game I heard a funny quote from Buckeye wide receiver Ray Small, who took a recruiting visit to Los Angeles before committing to Jim Tressel.

  • "Here at Ohio State, they teach you to be a better man," Small said. "There, it's just all about football."
Funny stuff, right? That quote was on my mind when I read today that Small had been suspended for repeated violations of team rules.

Guess Tressel's got some work to do on this guy.

Even better is Small's dad is squawking that the punishment doesn't fit the crime, that Ray is guilty of nothing more than missing or being late for classes, and the occasional parking ticket. What college kid hasn't? If the Cardinal had suspended editors for those kind of transgressions, What's on Tapp would have had a short shelf life.

But Mr. Small is peeved because of what some of the other naughty Buckeyes have been up to:
  • Ken Small cited several other recent legal transgressions by Ohio State players and compared them to the minor problems his son has had. One player a year ago was arrested for propositioning a female police officer posing as a prostitute. At least two players have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Guess Tressel's got some more work to do.

By no means is this an inference that the Wisconsin football program is squeaky clean. I am fully aware of some Badgers' deplorable behavior. Recently, Lance Smith and Booker Stanley come to mind. While I don't condone this sort of behavior, I also understand that if you have a group of 120 college kids, athletes or not, some of them are going to do stupid stuff ... although I personally never knew anyone busted for soliciting a female police officer posing as a prostitute. At least not that I know of.

But what's funny is how Ohio State tries to cultivate this holier-than-thou, pious attitude about things, embodied by Small's quote comparing Ohio State to USC.

Let's face it, it's all about football at USC, Ohio State, just about any big-time college football program. Just admit it.

Pilgrimage recently posted an interesting piece on gameday in Madison, part of what appears to be an Orbitz-sponsored series called Pilgrimage. It's not the most insightful piece to a UW alum, but it sure makes me long for autumn in Madison -- and excited to be making the trip to see my homeys next weekend for the Minnesota game.

A couple thoughts on this piece:

-The story references the Babcock Hall Dairy Store which serves Berry Alvarez ice cream. Apparently, it is a state law that any national story or broadcast covering a Badger game and the scene around it mention this.

But ... I've never been there. Have you? Not once in my four years on campus, not once since. I'm sure it's good ice cream, but this place's popularity seems as much a creation of the university PR machine as anything.

-What do you think about this line?

  • The level of passion in the student section rises to that of a Duke basketball game, even if the IQ level does not. Vulgar T-shirts are to Camp Randall what clever chants are to Cameron Indoor Stadium. So much for being gracious hosts. But the Badgers will bounce back. They certainly have before.
I'm not going to argue that our student section isn't vulgar. Hell, it was only seven years ago that I purchased a T-shirt prior to the Michigan game that is the most primitive form of vulgarity. But Duke's getting free ride here. Duke fans are organized, passionate, clever -- and also incredibly vulgar at times.

-What do you think of this line?
  • UW-Madison is rated 38th in the U.S. World and News Report's 2008 list of best colleges, so you might have received a better education at the college you attended. But you probably didn't have as much fun as they do here.
Apparently the writer believes the majority of his readership went to the 37 schools ranked ahead of UW, and not one of the thousands of colleges and universities ranked behind UW. Thirty-eighth is pretty good, buddy.

Why am I so sensitive today?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Did anyone watch the Big Ten Network's stream of our exhibition game against Augustana the other night? I tried, but my home computer isn't cutting it for that type of work. Maybe I'll be able to sneak back to work tonight for some, ahem, budget work and a quick look at how the boys looked Saturday.

Going off the box score, a few things stuck out:

-Jon Leuer had a nice game with 15 points in 14 minutes. What I like is that he took 11 shots overall, and only three of them were 3-pointers. Shows he's not settling for long jumpers, which is good for his overall game.

-Jordan Taylor got 21 minutes of action and had five assists against one turnover. Shows Bo is getting him ready for some legit duty in relief of Pop.

-Surprised to see JP Gavinski got only two minutes of action. Additionally, Jared Berggren, Kevin Gullikson, and Ian Markolf all saw five minutes or less of playing time. Granted, it's only an exhibition, but this could mean that our primary 4-5 players will be limited to Nankivil, Landry, and Leuer, with Krabby sliding down to the 4 in certain matchups.

Or it could just mean that Augustana was playing a really small lineup.

-Apparently Krabby went into the stands after a loose ball, gotta love the quote from Bo afterward:

"That was his uncle on the other side. He hadn’t seen him in a while. He wanted to go over there and shake hands with him. The scary thing was, our fans parted. They didn’t try to protect him, I thought they would do a better job of catching him. Of course, with all the stitches and everything Joe has on him, he’s not another pretty face. Maybe he scared some people. ..."

Whitewater's next on Tuesday. I love these matchups with WIAC schools, it's so much better than playing Athletes in Action or the Turkgystan under-21 national team.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Comparisons up the Wazzou

Sunday afternoon Charlie and I watched a Big Ten basketball preview on ESPN, an ESPNU-branded superficial look at the conferences the network covers.

The announcing tandem first covered Purdue, then Michigan State, then the Badgers. Analyst Adrian Branch, in describing Wisconsin, referred to the team as a "Midwest version of Washington State." I looked at team statistics from last year, and Wisconsin led the nation in scoring defense, yielding only 54.4 points per game. Wazzou was tied for second at 56.4 ppg.

But even though Washington State has been very successful the last couple years under Tony Bennett, I resent the comparison and implication. Hell, I think Washington State should even resent it. Because no matter how long Bo Ryan has been coaching in Madison, or how much Tony may have changed things in Pullman, the implication is still that these teams play good defense, but it's only because they're limited offensively and are forced to win playing ugly.

Don't get me wrong, I love Dick Bennett and forever credit him for the work he did building Wisconsin basketball in all his stops around the state along the way. But I never liked the fact that in his system, it seemed that offense was sacrificed for defense except in rare cases. Rare was the team or player who had it both ways. It was really nasty basketball at times.

Wisconsin doesn't play like that now. We have guys who are talented offensively but can also be lockdown defenders. Marcus Landry could start for just about any team in the country because of his all-around skills.

We have it both ways. Yes, we led the nation in scoring defense last year, but we were also seventh nationally in scoring margin, averaging 67.3 ppg, a 12.9 ppg advantage. Guess how many times we averaged 67.3 ppg under Bennett? Zero.

Our lowest-scoring team under Bo was his first, 2001-2002, which averaged 67 ppg. Bennett's highest-scoring team was his first, 1995-96, which averaged 66.1 ppg. Those of us who went to a lot of games in '95-'96 might have a hard time believing that.

(Wazzou managed a 10-point spread because they had some guys who could put the ball in the basket, as well as defend.)

Yet college basketball analysts everywhere cling to their outdated opinions of of what Wisconsin basketball is all about.

In the end, though, the most important opinions have to do with wins and losses. To that end, Branch picked the Badgers to win the Big Ten this year. I wouldn't agree, but it's nice to hear.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Monday morning thoughts

We met my folks and grandma for church Sunday morning, and the first thing my dad asked me afterward was if I'd watched the Texas-Texas Tech game Saturday night. I had, and it was an awesome game.

Did you see the ending? Tech students rushed the field prematurely, and the Raiders were flagged for two penalties. They kicked off from their own 7-1/2, as fans ringed the field. It had the makings of another Stanford-Cal, but nothing came of it.

So that's the highlight of my college football Saturday, a Big 12 South game played in Lubbock, Texas, on the campus of my old friend Kurt Reineck's alma mater. Not the Badger pulling out a big win that could have propelled them to an 8-4 record and salvaging a horrible season. A horrible season gets horribler.

Big Ten rankings:

1. Penn State

2. Ohio State

3. Michigan State. Name three players responsible for the Spartans' win over us. Blair White (the wide receiver). Brett Swenson (the kicker). And ... and ... and ... A sure sign of just how thoroughly we beat ourselves in this one.

4. Northwestern

5. Minnesota. And I thought the manner in which we lost was heartbreaking. The fact it came on a dropped pass by class act Eric Decker was satisfying. Maybe his hands were sore from punching defensive backs in the groin.

6. Illinois

7. Iowa

8. Wisconsin. I know we're last in the standings, and anticipate getting ripped for this ranking (as if being eighth-best is worth feeling good about), but this team is six points away from being 4-2 in the conference, angling for a January bowl game. It's also two more weeks of brain dead football from not playing in a bowl. The Badgers showed a lot of good signs Saturday.

9. Michigan. And I thought the manner in which Minnesota lost was heartbreaking. Losing on a hook-and-ladder? I only wish our year was going better so I could enjoy this more. Or that we'd beaten them. Sigh.

10. Purdue. Look out!

11. Indiana. If we lose Saturday ... it could definitely happen. Kellen Lewis will probably play and score four touchdowns.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sensitive zebras, smart-aleck coach

Finally getting to the computer after a long day on the couch with Charlie, who can't seem to wake up fully today. That's OK, another day to watch my favorite football team, this time professional, lose on a last-second field goal.

Anyone who read the blog yesterday may have come away with the impression that I'm going easy on the Badger coaching staff in regards to blame for yesterday's loss. That's true, but at the time of writing I didn't know that Bielema's remark led to the 15-yard penalty that changed the momentum of the game.


-Jay Valai gets called for a penalty for bumping into a ref running onto the field after a kickoff?

-Bielema gets flagged for being a smart aleck?

You could argue that neither should have done that, especially Bielema, who should have kept his compusre. You could also argue that this isn't friggin' baseball -- it's football. Players and refs bump into one another. And coaches give it to the refs. How many of the most classic NFL Films moments have been coaches berating officials? Who is this sensitive zebra?

Still, even discounting that, it's easy to question the decision to call timeout before State's field goal attempt. I had the same feeling that I did whenever Ned Yost did or did not make a pitching change in the late innings -- whichever decision he made, it was going to be the wrong one and he was going to get ripped for it.

I'm still not calling for Bielema's head. (Readers of this blog, increasingly, appear to be; from the last 30 days, the search terms "fire bret bielema," "fire brett bielema" and "fire bielema" are three of the top seven queries that have led people to Badgercentric.) He deserves the chance to work through this.

But when a team continues to beat itself, the head coach is the first guy you look at.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

UW-Michigan State thoughts

I don't even know what to say. Seriously. This week after week of getting kicked in the balls by one thing after another is really starting to have a residual effect on my psyche.

We should have won this game by three touchdowns. Two 100-yard rushers. Holding Ringer to 54 yards. Their quarterback goes 19-for-44 and their butterfingered receivers drop seven passes.

And yet ...


Deep breath.

(Kick wall.)

-Where to begin? How about the officiating? Looks like in the end we racked up 121 penalty yards. I'd estimate that about half of them were no-doubters, about a quarter of them were toss-ups, and about a quarter of them were ridiculous.

-Kudos to Michigan State's offensive coordinator for his innovative game plan of calling passing plays, having his receivers run near our defensive backs, and lobbying for interference calls. It worked marvelously. Better than actually trying to complete passes to a bunch of guys with hands like that guy from the movie Necessary Roughness, I think his name was Featherstone (same color jerseys, too).

-Then again, someone named Blair White (wasn't she on The Facts of Life?) had 164 yards receiving, so they had something working.

-Can someone explain the back-to-back penalties on our coaching staff following the John Clay touchdown that set up their last touchdown? Bielema just said the refs' explanation was that our defense came onto the field too quickly after the play was over, and that he's never been warned or even talked to about a penalty like that before. Oh my god ...

(Break: Listening to the postgame I just heard a McCain ad featuring a stuttering Joe the Plumber and threw the radio through the window.)

-We ice the game with a rare third-and-1 conversion ... and a hold on Moffitt. Iffy call, seems like John got his arm outside the lineman and the guy fell over, but it didn't even need to be that close. We didn't need to hold their linemen -- we ran the ball so effectively it was like Sinbad was on the Spartans' line.

Second straight week something like this happened. Last week we overcame it, this week we crumbled.

-Why in the hell did Bielema call timeout when State was setting up for that last-second field goal? They were rushing onto the field for what was admittedly a very makable field goal, but we gave them time to get things straight. Maybe if he hadn't wasted our third timeout with that foolish challenge earlier in the half he could have called a third straight timeout.

The radio guys just said calling the timeout was a good move because we only had 10 guys on the field. Oh, so that makes it good coaching. Sheesh.

Bitter cloud lifting? Not yet ...

-If Michigan State is the Big Ten's third-best team, then this truly is an awful conference.

-At least the running game got going today, and found that rhythm in the second half. The only thing that stopped it was our play calling or penalties. P.J. looked confident. Clay ran hard and hit holes. His touchdown run was beautiful, especially the blocking. Chris Pressley got a seal on the outside linebacker. Eric Vanden Heuvel and Kraig Urbik doubled down on the edge. Andy Kemp pulled nicely, and Nick Toon held the cornerback at bay. Perfect execution.

On P.J.'s touchdown run Billy Rentmeester and Gabe Carimi had nice blocks.

-Toon showed signs of being a playmaker at wide receiver.

-Final yardage: Wisconsin 431, Michigan State 312.

-Had a feeling that Phil Welch was going to miss that field goal, but didn't think it would come back to be decisive.

-Also had a feeling State would call a fake field goal, but in the first half. Terrible designed play -- snap to a defensive end? Gee, can't believe he didn't catch it.

-Brad Nortman and Daven Jones had great execution on the punt Jones downed at the 1, but the refs thought otherwise. Which one of them saw that as a touchback? Either way, Bielema should never have challenged it, there was no way a replay could have overturned it.

-One holding call on Niles Brinkley was particularly galling. The refs got him for a hold when there was no contact until after the ball was already past the receiver. Unreal.

-Welch's kickoffs were too short for my liking.

-In a way, this was very similar to our win over Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament. State for the most part outplayed us in that game but foul trouble on their bigs, which their fans would pin on refereeing, let us creep back in, and Flowers' steal stole the game for us late. This was the football equivalent of that, only with us on the losing end. Payback's a bitch ... but I'm glad we got that win.

Another week, another loss like this. If I had any hair left I'd be pulling it out. I can't even take satisfaction with Minnesota and Michigan losing ... maybe just a little.

Jana just handed me Charlie, so I'm wrapping it up. He's smiling, so I guess I should be, too. Our performance today keeps me from wrapping up hopes of doing something else positive this season. But just barely.

UW-Michigan State halftime thoughts

Pretty good first half. Feels like we should be up by more, but I'll take a lead. Ringer hasn't gone off yet, and if we can hold the lead their ability to ride just him is diminished.

-Glad we got points off that last drive, but why spike it with 24 seconds left and two timeouts? Then you have only two shots at a touchdown.

-Made a note that it was good to get Lance Kendricks involved early. Then he goes down in a most bizarre way. Hopefully he'll be okay for next week and the rest of the season. If not, what was a position of extreme depth two months ago is now painfully shallow.

-Ringer has 10 carries for 27 yards. Even if he gets to 25 carries for 100 yards, we should have a shot to win this thing.

-Glad to see Gilreath making plays again. Ray Bentley was talking about him as a big-play guy, and I guess he's our best best, but he doesn't seem that fast, does he?

-Our punt return unit doesn't block opposing gunners very well, does it? Gilreath is either fair catching or catching and getting immediately hit almost every time back.

-The touchdown drive culminating in Sherer's pass to Graham was a total team effort. First, the punt coverage team downs Nortman's kick at the 2. Then the defense forces a three and out. Then a series of nice running plays sets up the play action scoring call. Well done.

-Nice start by Shaughnessy, who is lining up at both sides of the line. That play where he pushed two blockers back into Ringer for a big loss was awesome.

-Our third-and-1 impotence is driving me nuts.

-Mental errors have once again led to points by the opponent. The play call misunderstanding leads to Sherer's fumble which leads to a field goal. Levy's face mask leads to another field goal. This team just doesn't have the margin for error to be making those mistakes.

-P.J. and Clay have had some nice runs, created by some nice blocking, but we still can't seem to get into a rhythm running the ball. What's it going to take? We need the run more than ever, especially considering our quarterback with, as Bentley accurately put it, a "bizarre throwing motion."