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.


The Truth said...

Hey, I liked Geno Cruse!

The Insider said...

Brandon Kelly didn't play as much because Coach B did not like the face that he had more than going on that just football. Coach B on numerous instances tried to make an exapmle out of him to instill how his program 'should be run'. Kelly, who graduated in engineering was into several other programs that Bielema saw as a possible distraction. Therefore, he limited the amount of action he saw his senior year.