Wednesday, December 31, 2008

UW-Michigan thoughts

What a nice win to go into the new year, very pleased with today's effort and result. After the lumps we took in the last week in both basketball and football, this one feels extra nice.

A bit surprised at how easy this one was, given how well Michigan had been playing coming in. Early on I thought the Wolverines' defense was just atrocious, we were getting good looks really easily, more easily than we have against other teams so far.

Having watched Michigan beat North Carolina Central Monday night, it occurred to me, as it did to the announcers, that they might have been a bit tired. But you know what? They're 20-year-olds who aren't going to class right now, they ought to be able to come out with fresh legs no matter what.

It's funny how one win completely changes your outlook on things. At the risk of overlooking or underselling Penn State and Northwestern, we should be 3-0 heading into the Purdue game.

-They said we're 29-1 when Landry reaches double figures scoring, presumably 30-1 now. That's a pretty incredible statistic if you think about it, given the balance nature of team's scoring. We'll probably lose a few games this year in which Marcus hits that plateau, but even so, it underscores just how important his post scoring is to everything else we do on offense. His offensive game was efficient today.

That said, he needs to to a better job of staying out of foul trouble. Right now he's in that Stiemsma-Mader zone of picking up fouls at an alarming rate. Marcus only played 23 minutes today, and while I thought two of his fouls were questionable, he's giving the refs the option of calling them. He's got to play smarter than that.

-Pop sure got hot there for a little while, didn't he? Reminded me of some of the one-man runs Kam Taylor used to go on. Hughes' shooting like that means it will take a really large deficit for us to be out of a game.

-Those two players' scoring performances aside, my players of the game were Krabby and to an extent Jarmusz for the job they did on Manny Harris, who had a terrible day. Harris's offense today consisted of driving wildly to the hoop and hoping the refs bailed him out, which to their credit they didn't. When Harris isn't scoring, everything else comes a lot harder for Michigan. Great job by Joe and Tim to not let him get going.

Krabby also had nine points and eight boards, and Jarmusz had three assists and five boards. Not tough to see the heir apparent to Krabby's "glue guy" role next year, is it?

-Jon Leuer is a deceptively good penetrator, isn't he? He doesn't look like he's moving that fast but with those long legs he covers a lot of ground in a hurry. At the risk of beating a dead horse, it's great that four of his six shots today were 2-pointers.

-Robby Wilson provided a spark off the bench with seven points, and Jordan Taylor hit a big shot at the end of the first half.

-Loved Steve Bardo's reference to former Badger Mike Heineman, a guy who would have fit in well under Bo.

Several nits to pick:

-It looked like Zack Novak wasn't even on our scouting report, and we lit him up. Not surprising, he seems like an excellent shooter and had really open looks.

-Leuer is still a bit too turnover-prone for my tastes.

-J-Bo missed two free throws in crunch time, and our lead was large enough that it didn't cost us, but it might if he doesn't get it together. He's still the player I want with the ball when the other guys need to foul, although Krabby is much-improved in this department.

Time for a couple days' rest, come back and play like this against Penn State on Saturday. Great win guys!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Badger football: Where are we headed?

Today is my dad's 59th birthday. He started taking me to Badger games a couple years before the start of the X axis on this graph, in 1988, but by the time of Barry Alvarez's first year, 1990, the story was the same. One win.

I'm pretty sure that if you asked my dad, while we were sitting at Camp Randall through a 28-12 loss to California in Barry's first game as coach, to plot a graph of Wisconsin football wins over the next two decades, the line would have topped off at about eight wins, and from time to time dipped back into the two- or three-win range. Sort of like Indiana.

But since then, the number of wins generated by the Wisconsin football program on an annual basis has generally been on the upswing. Everyone remembers the double digit-win seasons of 1993, 1998, 1999, 2005, and 2006. Badger football at its finest.

The point of this graph, however, is to remind everyone that while the Badgers have enjoyed an unprecedented run of success over the past two decades, every peak is followed by a valley.

The '93 Rose Bowl champs were followed by an underachieving '94 team and a '95 team that didn't go bowling. The '98-'99 Rose Bowl champs were followed by an underachieving 2000 team and an '01 team that didn't go bowling. The '06 12-win team was followed by an underachieving '07 team an '08 team that wouldn't have gone bowling if there weren't 845 bowl games in college football nowadays.

So we've been here before.

But wait! you say. This dropoff to near-.500 mediocrity was supposed to happen next year, after the Shaughnessys and Langfords and Levys and Chapmans and Urbiks and Kemps and Beckums have exhausted their eligibility. 2008 should have been great!

Alas, it wasn't, for a number of reasons that have been well-documented here and elsewhere. Add that to the massive losses on the offensive and defensive lines, and expectations for 2009 will be lower than any season since 2004, John Stocco's first year at quarterback. Like the current economic downturn, this latest slide looks different -- worse -- than previous recent downturns in Badger football. There is a very real possibility that 2009 will be a bowl-less season for Wisconsin. That would be disappointing, and would undoubtedly have even more Badger fans calling for Bret Bielema's dismissal.

I would argue that the most critical goal for 2009 is not chasing seven wins or some low-level bowl game, but correcting systemic problems that contributed to the declines of the past two seasons -- regardless of how it impacts 2009. If those are properly addressed, the future looks bright for 2010 and beyond. If not, Barry will be looking for a new coach around the time of my dad's 61st birthday.

Here's what we need to address:

This year's collapse began with subpar quarterback play. First Allan Evridge, then Dustin Sherer failed to play the position efficiently. Inaccurate passing, interceptions, sacks, and lost scrambling opportunities put the Badger offense and defense in difficult positions, and things snowballed from there.

To me, this is the downside to the diversity Paul Chryst has added to the attack. On the whole, Chryst has made the Wisconsin offense far more modern, explosive, unpredictable, and diverse -- in a word, better. In my opinion he is the best offensive coordinator we've ever had and is still the guy we need in that job. But when you don't have a quarterback capable of executing all these nuances, you struggle, as we did this year.

The '99 Rose Bowl was on the Big Ten Network again last week and I watched us run up 38 points on UCLA. There wasn't a lot of mystery to Brad Childress's offense -- hand off to Ron Dayne and Mike Samuel drop back a few times for deep balls to Chris Chambers.

By no means am I advocating a return to the Stone Age offense run by Chilly, and to an extent Brian White. What I am advocating is a shift of the offensive focus from the quarterback back to the tailback. It will always be easier for us to recruit a stud running back or two than it will be to recruit an above-average quarterback -- and history shows we can win without above-average quarterbacks.

If P.J. Hill returns next year, as he should, he and John Clay will be the perfect people to re-emphasize the tailback at the Midwest's version of Tailback U.

This year we averaged just 40.7 rushing attempts per game, the fewest since 1995. That has to change.

One more quarterback-related note: our best have been multiple-year starters. Bevell, Bollinger, Samuel, Stocco. This to me is why every effort should be made to prepare Curt Phillips to start, even if Sherer or Tolzien are better options for winning games in 2009. If there is any chance Phillips will be the guy during his time in Madison, he should be our starter next season.

Player development
We just graduated are very talented senior class, many of whom will find spots on NFL rosters this fall. As a group, though, they weren't highly-rated coming out of high school. They were solid prospects who developed into above-average college football players.

The distressing thing is most of their development came between their freshman and sophomore years, at the tail end of the Alvarez Era. Think about the guys: Shaughnessy, Beckum, Chapman, Levy, Casillas, Urbik, Kemp, VandenHeuvel, Langford, Ikegwuonu, Hodge. Of those guys, who was better as a junior or senior than he was as a sophomore? Langford and Kemp are the only clear-cut answers.

The other guys didn't necessarily regress, but they didn't take the next step toward all-conference performances that their first years starting indicated was possible.

This is troubling. Even though Bielema and his staff appear to be doing a good job recruiting, we will never consistently bring in classes like those of Ohio State, Michigan, or Penn State. Never have, never will. And schools like Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois will also finish ahead of us in the recruiting rankings in any given year.

The advantage we always had under Alvarez and his staff was unmatched player development. They took those two- and three-star guys and made them into All-Big Ten players. Five-star guys like Joe Thomas became all-time greats.

I'm not seeing similar player development under this staff. Next year in particular, we'll need the wide receivers and defensive backs to take a big step forward, because they'll have more experience than our guys in the trenches. We're not going to trade for Regis Benn or sign Donvan Warren as a free agent, so this improvement is going to have to come from within. It's on the coaches (and the players) to make it happen.

By swagger, I'm not talking about Brian Urlacher in an Old Spice commercial or Florida State running out to midfield and taunting the opponent. I'm talking about taking the field secure with the knowledge that you are better prepared both physically and mentally to beat your opponent.

The Badgers have lacked that these past two years. Sure, they've run around the field showing emotion, and said the right things in the press. But it's been superficial. Bluster and bravado are no substitute for genuine confidence and swagger, the kind of confidence and swagger you get from ...

Reading yet another Badger football history book the other day brought back fond memories of the leaders this program has had in recent times. Chris McIntosh. Donnel Thompson. Joe Panos. Cecil Martin.

Recent Badger teams have lacked guys like this. Plenty of good players and guys who led by example, but few who set the tone in a way that everyone could see.

Leadership candidates for the next two transition years: Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt, Jay Valai. All three are well-spoken starters with charisma and all-conference ability. It's on them to bring the others along with them on the march back to the top.

Sign of the times: my Fire Bret Bielema? post from earlier this fall is still the most-read post on this blog in the last 30 days. Here's my take on the coaching staff.

Bielema should not be replaced. He deserves five years to show what he can do, just as I think all college coaches deserve five years. If at that time the program still looks as it does today, he should be replaced.

We're not Notre Dame or Alabama, programs that can turn over coaches every three years if things aren't going as well as planned. Why? We don't have the money to pay for top available coaches (or buy out coaches' contracts) and we don't have the name recognition for recruiting to continue unimpeded in the face of staff turnover.

So what does Bielema have to show in the next two years?

Obviously he needs to be a better game manager. This year everything went wrong. Trying to score at the end of the first half against Penn State and Florida State backfired horribly. The defense was disorganized in critical situations. Chryst shouldn't be allowed to call options on third-and-1 ever again. The penalty he incurred against Michigan State, while petty on the ref's part, should not have happened.

In 2006 Bielema's aggressiveness drew raves, as we often scored at the end of the first half and stayed a step ahead of opponents. This year nothing worked. He needs to find that happy medium between his risk-taking sensibilities and Barry's conservative ones. You know that ridiculous play that resulted in Florida State's first touchdown would not have been called under Alvarez.

Also, as noted in the season review post, we were beaten soundly in the second half of our losses this year. We need to win the battle of the halftime adjustments darn near every time out.

Preparation also needs to improve dramatically. All the mental errors that drove us nuts this year don't just spring up on Saturday. They are stamped out on Wednesday and Thursday. We don't have the overwhelming talent to overcome those mistakes.

Finally, Bielema needs to take a close look at his staff. His first staff, with the likes of Bob Palcic and Mike Hankwitz, seemed to be a good blend of youth and experience. Now it's all youth. I'm not going to single out one particular position coach for criticism, because all the units had their good and bad moments this year. But that sort of inconsistency is not surprising when so many of the coaches are in their 30s.

What Bielema should do is bring in at least one older hand as an associate head coach, a Dan McCarney type. Perhaps he's been reluctant to do so because he's afraid it would challenge his authority as a young head coach. If so, he's got to get over it. He needs someone to talk him out of letting Evridge and Sherer throw from their own 10 with a minute left in the first half. He also needs a couple of guys whose forte is player development and not just recruiting.

Bielema's staff doesn't need to be a full-fledged team of rivals, but he needs to institute some checks and balances for this thing to work better.

And he needs to stop coaching special teams and find someone else who can.

Bielema can be the guy who leads us on a fourth upward slope. The question is whether or not he can work through these growing pains before Barry is forced by external conditions (ticket sales?) or his own gut to make a change.

As the offseason progresses I'll get into more detail about what I'd like to see happen in spring ball and the summer, and hopefully we'll finish strong on what is shaping up to be a nice recruiting class.

But for now I'll leave you with five keys to turning this thing around.

-De-emphasize the quarterback, re-emphasize the tailback

-Focus on player development

-Get that swagger back, legitimately

-Find the leaders who will insist on nothing less than success

-Evaluate the coaching staff, find a better mix

Monday, December 29, 2008

Big Ten hoops preview

In all the teeth-gnashing surrounding the football team over these last few days, I almost forgot that basketball season was starting. Wednesday we play Michigan in our Big Ten opener, a game I had penciled in as a win when the schedule came out but now see going the other way.

Because in general, Big Ten teams have outperformed expectations in non-conference play, with Michigan being the best example, beating UCLA and Duke. But Minnesota, Illinois, and Ohio State have also played better than I figured. Purdue and Michigan State, the odds-on favorites, have struggled at times against better competition, but are looking fine heading into the conference season.

The Badgers, on the other hand, have a good win at Virginia Tech, three acceptable losses to ranked teams, two tight wins over marginal teams, and a bunch of yawners to show for their pre-conference work. All this suggests a finish of somewhere between fourth and sixth in the conference. Something is missing from this team, although it's not always clear what. Flowers' on-ball defense? Butch's steady rebounding? Stiemsma's shot blocking? Tanner's play with the scout team?

I'm not that worried, though, as Bo's teams, with the exception of the 2006 squad, have typically improved over the course of the conference season, and this team should be no exception. Leuer is getting better all the time, Taylor and Wilson are gaining maturity, and Nankivil will prove he deserves more playing time. If Landry asserts himself and plays like the all-conference player he's projected to be, and Bohannon makes somewhere around 35% of his 3-pointers, we'll be just fine.

Anyway, here's how I see the Big Ten shaking out.

1. Michigan State

2. Purdue

3. Michigan. This prediction could be way off, but it just seems like Beilein has these guys playing the right way.

4. Wisconsin.

5. Ohio State. Don't think they have the point guard play to beat the top teams in the conference consistently.

6. Minnesota. But a solid sixth, a tournament-worthy sixth.

7. Illinois. But much-improved over last year's debacle of a team.

8. Northwestern. I'm not convinced we'll win in Evanston.

9. Penn State.

10. Iowa.

11. Indiana. Lipscomb? Yeesh. The natural inclination is to say they'll upset one of the top Big Ten teams this season, but they're so bad I don't see it happening.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

2008 in review: Glutton for punishment?

I was all set to write a long, fancy review of the 2008 season highlighted primarily by the frustrating turns, but then it hit me: I've already written them! All I had to do was go back and re-read the 12 game recaps from the regular season and pull the bullet points that best summed up this team.

God, was that depressing.

Even in victories, we showed fatal flaws. In losses, we showed only brief glimmers of promise.

Are you a glutton for punishment? Read on.

August 30 vs. Akron
My only thought ... is that I'm disappointed we left so many points on the board in the first half. It should have been 35-7 at halftime, not 17-10. Some guys have to tighten up their games.

We got away with this against Akron, but not against good teams.

September 6 vs. Marshall
What an atrocious start, absolutely embarrassing. ... Four penalties in the first six minutes. Failure by the defense to get off the field on third down. Little aggression or precision on offense.

Not the last time we heard those phrases ...

Didn't think we'd see John Clay again after his early fumble, but boy did he run well late. He's on his way to becoming the beast we've thought he could be.

Still think that ...

P.J. Hill's fumbles are starting to concern me, the first one more than the second. He's good enough to keep plays going with his feet and his drive, and that leads to him falling in awkward positions and leaving himself exposed to the types of hits like the one that caused the fumble.

Happened again against Florida State ...

September 13 vs. Fresno State
A disturbing trend in the second half was not running or throwing to receivers at first down yardage on third down.

That option that Evridge ran deep in Fresno territory was a curious call, although he ran it relatively effectively. But there was a holding call on it, not surprising.

Bringing in Clay when we did was a nice move, but why not keep feeding him the rock?

Like my friend said in November, Paul Chryst had a bad year ...

September 27 vs. Michigan
Run the ball every play in the second half. I'm serious. Without Beckum and Graham in there, Kyle Jefferson is the only primary receiver with dependable hands. Lance Kendricks, Nick Toon, and David Gilreath have all dropped decent passes thus far, with varying degrees of costliness. Allan Evridge has been serviceable, but few of the passing plays have looked smooth.

Few would all year long.

On one third-and-1 call we ran a terrible-looking play action pass. Run the ball behind our enormous line! Like the play call that Johnny Clay took down the the 5 -- that's a great call, well executed.

How many third-and-ones did we fail to convert? The one that really sticks in my craw is the option left where Evridge made a terrible pitch to P.J. Hill and we lost five yards on the play. Can you remember any time when we've run the option successfully on third-and-one? Or at any down and distance, for that matter? Me neither. So STOP RUNNING THE OPTION ON THIRD-AND-ONE, PAUL!

See above.

Then, after playing reasonably well but getting burned by his receivers, Evridge went scattershot. Inaccurate throws. Holding onto the ball too long. Not securing the ball under pressure. I was not ready to call quarterback play an Achilles' Heel for this team, but it is, big time.

Quarterback play killed us, and everything unraveled from there.

October 4 vs. Ohio State
The second half seemed to go by really fast, didn't it? It wasn't as decisive as in the loss at Michigan, but we were clearly outplayed in the second half again. That's three straight weeks, a disturbing trend.

This year's Badgers got thoroughly outplayed in the second half in all of their losses, all but one of them against good teams. Against bad teams we owned the second half, but that's not good enough. That has to change.

It was distressing that Pryor beat us on the final drive with his passing. ... OSU's receivers were wide open, even though we appeared to be dropping six or seven guys into coverage.

Happened again versus Florida State against another average passing quarterback.

Replays showed clearly how disorganized our defense was on Pryor's winning touchdown run. There's that leadership thing again -- get the guys lined up properly, or someone call a timeout and make sure everything is in order. (Burning two timeouts in the first 7:23 of the second half didn't help, either.)

Coaching, coaching, coaching.

October 11 vs. Penn State
Penn State is indeed a good team, but there's no reason we shouldn't be right there with them. But the Badgers continue to get burned by the little things.

And would continue to be burned by little things.

We've called out Allan Evridge and P.J. Hill, but how about Travis Beckum? ... He's still putting up good numbers when completely healthy, but he's not playing an all-around game.

A disappointing senior season for Travis, hopefully he goes on to a terrific professional career.

... on second-and-goal from the 1, we get called for 12 men in the huddle. Yeesh.

... it's third-and-20 for Penn State and we have them pinned deep in their own end, and Daryll Clark throws for 21 yards on the run, great pass and route. Another instance of not closing the deal.

Sort of like Carr's third-and-19 catch for 20 yards against FSU.

October 18 vs. Iowa
Watching the postgame on the Big Ten Network, I saw Bret Bielema's press conference. At one point he ended a sentence with "The team that's beating Wisconsin the most is Wisconsin."

Good call, dude.

Forget getting into the backfield and recording tackles for loss. These (defensive linemen) were getting dominated at the point of attack, putting all the pressure on our defensive backs to make saving tackles.

On Greene's second touchdown run, he broke about 73 tackles. ...

Actually, defensive line play and tackling were not chronic problems for this team, in my opinion.

October 25 vs. Illinois
Credit Mr. Man for pointing out that our defense is actually better built for stopping (the Spread) than we've been in the past ...

Too bad non-Spread teams gashed us.

Allen Langford ... 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.

Love Langford, gonna miss him.

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

Love Valai, glad he's coming back.

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.

Sherer's success next year starts with Graham.

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.

Expect to hear this drum beat loudly in the offseason.

November 1 vs. Michigan State
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.

Leinenkugel's dulls the pain of getting kicked in the balls repeatedly.

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.

As heard on the Champs Sports Bowl postgame.

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."

A running game rhythm is Job One for 2009. More on that later.

We ice the game with a rare third-and-1 conversion ... and a hold on Moffitt.

Why in the hell did Bielema call timeout when State was setting up for that last-second field goal? ... 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.

November 8 vs. Indiana
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?

They played pretty well together when all give guys were healthy.

November 15 vs. Minnesota
(At halftime, written in a Camp Randall bathroom) Nightmare: 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.

I hope that guy is rotting in hell somewhere. It seemed like Kyle played against Florida State.

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 ...

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?

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.

November 22 vs. Cal Poly
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?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

UW-Florida State thoughts

Just read lonebadger's comment on the halftime post, and wanted to throw this statement out there to start the recap.

I am not embarrassed by this loss.

Agree or disagree.

Florida State was the better team and deserved to win this game. But they sure as hell weren't 29 points better, and with the exception of a couple plays proved the Badgers belonged on the same field as the team almost everyone picked to beat them.

Because, at the risk of being That Guy Who Bitches About The Officiating, if two calls go our way, this thing doesn't snowball out of control into a rout. If two calls go our way, we stay with our effective game plan and who knows what happens.

One of the calls was questionable, the other outright horrible.

-The first came when Jay Valai appeared to have created a turnover, either an interception or a fumble, off a Ponder pass. The ultimate call may very well have been the correct one -- the replays did not seem to indicate either way -- but my question is if the call on the field is Wisconsin ball, how did those replays show enough visual evidence to overturn the call?

As we know, FSU then went on a painfully long touchdown drive in which our secondary seemed to forget Carr was out there. That third-and-19 conversion where Carr was open for 20 was just inexcusable, we didn't have a guy within five yards of him. He absolutely ate us alive.

Florida State's offensive line also played much better in the second half.

-So that touchdown made it 21-6, even after P.J. fumbled, we held them, and a methodical drive running the ball could have made it a one-score game. Instead, Graham Gano slips after punting and Louis Nzegwu gets flagged -- not just for running into the kicker, but for roughing the kicker, a 15-yarder. When he didn't even touch the kicker!!!

Worst call I've seen in quite some time. The ref was right there. What was even more galling was Gano laughing his ass off on the sideline afterward, and the announcing crew laughing along with him. FSU scored quickly thereafter and the game was over.

If those two plays go our way, or even one of those two, the complexion of the game is totally different. We're not forced to pass and allow Florida State's defensive line to tee off on Sherer, leading to another FSU defensive touchdown. We can keep running the ball, and we've got a chance.

Add that to the two frustrating things from my halftime post, and winning was a impossibility. As Lucas and Lepay just said on the postgame, this team isn't good enough to overcome its mistakes against good teams.

So I disagree with lonebadger, I don't think this team quit. I think the accumulation of unfortunate events of this game, maybe from this entire season, overwhelmed them against a team that had the talent to take advantage. Whether or not that's quitting is up for debate, but those last few touchdowns the Seminoles scored would have been allowed by a lot of teams.

-Seems that Gano was named player of the game, what a joke. His punts in the first half were tremendous, but Florida State never scored as a result of the field position he gave them. I suppose his non-collision with Nzegwu was a turning point in the game, but there were probably five Seminoles more deserving of the honor.

-P.J.'s key fumble looked familiar -- he's fighting for extra yards, gets bent in an awkward position and gets hammered. Not sure why he ends up exposing himself like that so often, but it would be nice if he'd stop.

But he had a nice game with 9.3 yards per carry, 139 total yards. I really hope he comes back, he and Clay will be a terrific 1-2 punch next year.

-I liked that we ran the ball on our first 17 first downs. That's what we have to get back to: Line up and pound the rock. Here it comes, if you can stop it, more power to you.

-How many unsportsmanlike conduct or personal foul penalties did Florida State end up with? Classy.

-One of the gomers in the booth screamed "They have not seen this kind of speed!" during Florida State's second fumble return. Bull. Penn State was every bit as fast as Florida State (similar results against Wisconsin), and Ohio State was on defense. Overall, FSU was probably the fourth-best team we played this year, throwing Iowa ahead of them as well.

On this speed thing: Florida State was indeed quicker, but that didn't decide the game. It was Carr, who is no burner, galloping to wide-open spots in our defense. It was our offense being forced into predictable situations by a large deficit. Or it was our offense getting too cute.

When we ran the ball straight ahead, we did very well. That was how we could negate their speed advantage. Unfortunately external forces got us out of that strategy.

The constant harping on the speed disparity between the teams, both before and during the game, was lazy reporting and analysis.

-As predicted by our Florida State friends our tight end was able to do some things, as Graham had 62 yards receiving.

-Nice to see us get a touchdown at the end, Sherer made a nice pass to Elijah Theus.

-Was glad to see Bielema let the seniors finish the game on defense, they deserved to see it through. This was a disappointing season, and a disappointing end to it, but those guys gave a lot to this program.

I've got plenty more thoughts on this season on the whole, and the state of the program, that I'll write about in the days to come. For now, I'll just spend Saturday night disappointed for the sixth time in the last three months.

UW-Florida State halftime thoughts

I am absolutely seething right now. At worst, this game has been a draw. At best, we've outplayed Florida State, especially given the field position we had for much of the first half.

And yet they lead 14-3. Unreal ... story of the season. The Badgers came in talking about playing a clean game, and for the most part have, but two big gaffes account for the deficit.

-The play call on the Nicholson fumble return baffles me. We're jamming the ball down their throats, passing to Graham effectively. So what do you do? Split P.J. wide in what Matt LePay just called a "gimmick formation" and try to run a play you haven't run all season. Nice call. Granted, FSU's guy made a nice play to knock it down, but that play should never have been called. It seemed like a backwards lateral at the time, but I would have liked to see more than one replay, and would liked to have seen Bielema challenge the call. Their offense isn't doing anything, so why not?

-FSU's second touchdown, a tremendous catch by Carr, doesn't happen if we show some common sense with clock management at the end of the half. After a first down run, the call is for passes and second and third down? You really think you're going to go 70 yards on that defense in a minute? The play calling saved Florida State a timeout, gave them a few yards of field position, and allowed that score. Very frustrating.

Elsewhere ...

-I see our guys were engaged in pregame jawing with Seminole players at midfield, don't think I've ever seen our guys do that before. Comes with the territory when you play teams from Florida, apparently.

-Surprised there are so many empty seats in the upper deck. Florida State has a lot of fans there, but they seem about as excited about this bowl as our fans do.

-Tell you what: It's awesome to hear that Tomahawk Chop song and hear the chanting during one of our games. That's college football.

-One of the first half highlights was when the microphones for ESPN's announcers went out and we could watch the game with just crowd noise.

-That said, Paul Maguire made a rare excellent point near the end of the first half when he said something like "If I were Bret Bielema I would take all of my passing plays and throw them out the window. You're running the ball for five and a half yards a carry, keep doing it." No kidding! We can run on these guys -- it's not going to be a dominant running performance, but it can be effective. We are obviously not going to pass the ball with any regularity.

-Florida State's offensive line is really small, they look like our fullbacks and tight ends. Our defensive line has really gotten the better of them so far. Matt Shaughnessy is playing especially well in his final game as a Badger. We're doing a nice job of hitting Christian Ponder, got to keep it up.

-It seems that Florida State's wide receivers are yelling at Ponder a lot when his throws are off target, which is often. It seems that our defensive backs have been covering fairly well too, Carr's touchdown catch notwithstanding.

-Graham Gano's punting is ridiculous, those have to been the three best consecutive punts any punter has ever kicked.

-Brad Nortman acquitted himself pretty well too, nice to see his hang time improving. The kick coverage has been pretty good so far, and it seems like the regular lineup of backups is out there.

-Dustin Sherer handled himself with poise in those three possessions that started in the shadow of his own goalpost.

We can win this game. Obviously 7-3, or 3-0, would be better halftime scores, but given that FSU hasn't shown hints that they can drive the ball down the field, we just need two good drives and a clean second half.

I would be perfectly happy if we didn't throw the ball the rest of this game.

ESPN's take on the Champs

If you can get beyond the multiple mispronunciations, this Champs Sports Bowl preview by ESPN's Todd McShay is a nice two-minute summary of what to expect today.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Champs Sports Bowl, forecast time

It's funny: December 27 is only five days before January 1, our bowl date of choice the last four years, but it seems like five weeks. Just yesterday I was trading emails with Florida State bloggers about this matchup that seemed so far off, then all of a sudden it's the day before the game. I'd prefer we go back to January 1.

Whatever, game time is almost here. Here's what I'm thinking:

Bobby Bowden has noted that his team is a handful plays away from being 10-2. The same could be said about the Badgers. But the truth is, 7-5 just about sums up this team, and I'm guessing 8-4 is just about right for the 'Noles. Both teams have plenty of strengths, but critical weaknesses relegated them to playing on a Saturday in December.

Florida State is probably the better team. If we had better quarterback play, and a healthy Travis Beckum, I might feel differently, but these are the cards we've been dealt. From what I've read FSU is vulnerable against tight ends, and while Garrett Graham ought to be able to exploit that, he won't dominate like he and Beckum could have combined. Lance Kendricks' unexpected return is a pleasant surprise and could be very good for us.

I see the Badgers putting together two legitimate scoring drives, each showing the offense at its best: power running setting up conservative intermediate passes. I see plenty of other promising drives stalling from the same bugaboos that have plagued the team all year: turnovers, dropped passes, lack of commitment to the run, penalties. In particular, I see several false starts called on our offensive line trying to hurry back into protection against FSU's speedy D-Line.

I see the Seminoles putting together two legitimate scoring drives as well. As in the Ohio State game, the Badgers defense will play pretty well but prove vulnerable to big plays in the passing game. UW's defense will miss Jonathan Casillas, but Culmer St. Jean will not embarrass himself and will give us hope for the linebacking corps next year. I see Christian Ponder bail the Badgers out with turnovers on at least two drives.

I see the game being decided by special teams, specifically Florida State's excellent return game. Philip Welch has had a fantastic freshman season, but his kickoffs have been on the short side. As such, I see Michael Ray Garvin breaking off a long kickoff return for either a score or setting up a short touchdown drive for FSU. I also see Welch missing a makable field goal attempt, and FSU's Lou Groza Award-winning kicker Graham Gano making a long field goal attempt, both swinging momentum.

(It is heartening, however, to read that Bret Bielema is planning on playing many defensive starters on the kick coverage units during the bowl: Jay Valai, Jae McFadden, DeAndre Levy, O'Brien Schofield, Aubrey Pleasant. That can only be positive, even if these guys might be a little rusty at staying in their lanes.)

I see this bowl game being tight, and when it's all over the Badgers and their fans will look back on it and think about the missed opportunities to do something great against one of the legendary programs in college football. A microcosm of 2008 on the whole.

Florida State 20, Wisconsin 10

Prove me wrong, boys!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

And happy holidays to everyone out there who checks blogs on days like today! For tuning in, here's something that'll help you forget about Tuesday's loss.

What, you thought I was serious when I said I'd had enough of the Flowers-slays-Texas shot?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

UW-Texas thoughts ... sigh

That was disappointing. We played a great team even for 39 minutes and let it slip away. But that one wasn't lost because Gary Johnson banked in a 20-footer (and then pounded his chest for 10 seconds afterward rather than laughing at his good fortune). The game was lost:

-In the opening minutes of the game, when our offense looked like a JV team scrimmaging the varsity. So many bad turnovers, they were embarrassing. At least we righted the ship for the most part after that, but we gave up some easy points early, and those count just as much as the ones scored in the last minute.

-When we missed critical opportunities to extend our lead by missing free throws. Hughes, Gullikson, and Jarmusz all had trips to the line where they missed both, and Texas responded with scores immediately each time.

-Texas out-hustled us. Some of that is better athleticism, but some of it is desire, and that stings. We got out-rebounded 38-22. Thirty-eight to twenty-two! Inexcusable.

Also ...

-Would have been nice if Marcus Landry would have showed up tonight. He struggled to get shots early, but also struggled on defense and with boxing out, putting himself in position to pick up cheap fouls. We need more from him in big games.

-Hughes played well overall. Offensively, he was assertive and kept us in it early. Defensively, even though Abrams got 21 points and made some unbelievable shots, he needed 21 shots to do it.

-Sign of the times from Dick Vitale: "We've gotta get the economy going, get 'em jobs baby!"

-J-Bo played an appropriate game, staying within himself, not making too many bad passes, hitting four 3-pointers.

-Krabby, Leuer, and Nankivil had OK games. Overall, our guys showed some nice moves in the post, especially the dribble down, fake to the lane, then shoot a short bank shot. I thought Nankivil should have played more -- again. His logical matchups were with Atchley and Pittman, who had foul trouble, but play him anyway, make them adapt to him. He was the only one I had confidence in to pull down a tough rebound.

-Good to see Mike Flowers and Brian Butch in the house. Sounds like they'll be playing this winter in Germany. Maybe I'll catch them in a game if they're playing in Berlin while I'm there in February.

-Speaking of Flowers, I suppose tonight's game puts an end to the seemingly endless replays of our win in Austin last year. I'm a Badger fan, and even I'm sick of seeing it, can only imagine how Texas fans feel.

-Another banner game for Ed Hightower, eh? He flat-out blew two baseline calls on Leuer and Damion James, both made nice saves right in front of Eddie and he ruled them out of bounds. Why again is this guy not reffing West Bend City League games and instead of the Big Ten?

-What was Pop thinking on that last real possession? Down three with 20 seconds left, he drives into no man's land and takes a terrible two-pointer that gets swatted. That was wrong in so many ways.

-Dogus Balbay had five rebounds for Texas, more than anyone on the Badgers. That's right, Dogus Balbay, a 6-foot guard from Turkey whose previous season high for rebounds was two. He also apparently had a big steal to give Texas the lead for good, but ESPN was busy showing highlights of Abrams missing jumpers.

-Even in a loss, these types of games are always interesting because they provide a peak at what certain Badgers might play like if they weren't in Bo's system, and had the chance to play at a faster pace all the time.

Take Hughes, for example. He looked right at home taking a 3-pointer early in the shot clock, playing a step quicker than usual. Nankivil looked comfortable playing faster. I thought Rob Wilson would have fared well in tonight's matchup, but he didn't get many minutes. Leuer looked comfortable taking the ball to the rack when overplayed.

Conversely, the game seemed to moving a step fast for Landry, Krabby at times, Jordan Taylor.

When the schedule came out, I looked at the non-conference part of the schedule and figured 9-3 at worst, 10-2 at best. So overall this isn't too disappointing.

But the Big Ten is looking better and better all the time -- we're one of the only teams left without a signature win, unless you count Virginia Tech -- so my lofty predictions of 25 or 26 wins is looking less and less likely.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Restocking the D-Line

Bret Bielema got a nice little holiday present the other day when Cincinnati defensive end prospect Pat Muldoon gave the Badgers a commitment. Muldoon is the #24 DE in the nation per Rivals, #33 per Scout, and had offers from Ohio State, Boston College, and a few Big East schools. Seems like a really good get from my favorite state to pull recruits from.

This is shaping up to be a really nice defensive line class for us, and not a moment too soon. With Shaughnessy, Chapman, and Newkirk graduating, and Kirk DeCremer done with injury, we need bodies. If they can play, even better.

Beyond Muldoon, we've also got:

-Floridian David Gilbert, Rivals' #10 defensive end.

-Homestead's Shelby Harris, Rivals' #14 defensive end.

-Waupun's Jordan Kohout, Rivals' #16 defensive tackle.

-Hartford's Tyler Dippel, who chose up over Stanford.

-Casey Dehn may be an offensive lineman, but I've seen him listed as a defensive lineman.

Scout's rankings for most of these guys are lower than Rivals', but it's still a good haul. I can't remember the last time we had this many highly-rated guys at one position in one class. Hopefully they are the foundation for a return to dominance for our defense.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Big Ten bowling

Had a chance to watch the Big Ten Network's preview of the conference's bowl matchups, and it doesn't look pretty. In my mind the whole problem stems from Ohio State undeservedly playing in another BCS bowl. With the Buckeyes playing one opponent tougher than they probably should, everyone else in the conference except Iowa is playing a team that is at least a little bit better than them.

Rose Bowl
USC should beat Penn State, but it's not as clear-cut as a lot of people are making it seem. Penn State is still a pretty damn good team. It's just that the Trojans might be the best team in college football this year, they just had an inexplicable letdown early against Oregon State.

Fiesta Bowl
The only way Ohio State wins this one is if Texas just doesn't care after getting screwed by the Big 12's technicalities. Ohio State has zero impressive wins this season, and Texas looked pretty awesome every time I saw them.

Outback One Bowl
I like Iowa to beat South Carolina pretty comfortably in this one. Interestingly, South Carolina's inclusion in this bowl is an indicator that the SEC probably wasn't as good as everyone thought this year. Nice capper for an unexpectedly good season for the Hawkeyes.

Capital Bowl
Georgia vs. Michigan State ... I smell a beatdown coming. Javon Ringer and Knowshon Moreno were neck-and-neck for various running back awards this year, but this game ought to show the difference between a truly electric back and one who racks up yards because he gets 65 carries per game.

Alamo Bowl
Missouri might score 50 points on Northwestern, which is apparently complaining that they're not playing in the Outback Bowl instead of Iowa. Maybe if your average home attendance was more than a Texas high school's you'd be more attractive to bowls, Wildcats.

Champs Sports Bowl
Florida State ought to win this one. I've been worried that all the factors noted before will lead to a substandard travel showing by Badger fans, but in most seats should be filled by Seminole fans, so it won't be much of an issue. So the upside is that the stadium shouldn't look half-full, but the downside is this will essentially be a road game.

Insight Bowl
Minnesota couldn't stop Dustin Sherer, what chance do they have against Todd Reesing? If the Gophers lose five straight games to end the season, it completely wipes out the artificial good feelings generated by their 7-1 start. Are they really any further along than they were under Glen Mason?

So that's a 1-6 bowl showing we're staring at, with no real toss-ups. Get ready for another pounding from the pundits!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

UW-Coppin State thoughts

Ho hum, another home win over an overmatched non-conference opponent. A game that was never in doubt from the opening tip, but one in that inspired little excitement of confidence. There's two ways to look at the team thus far:

They will be the type of team that plays up or down to the level of their competition. Or ...

They will finish anywhere from fourth to sixth in the Big Ten.

History suggests the former, not the latter, but the jury's still out.

-I'm glad Coppin zoned us. We haven't looked good against zones thus far, and need the practice. We got post touches, good interior passes, and got good 3-point looks. Of course, we hit only 23.8% of those 3-point attempts, but you have to have faith those will start falling with regularity at some point.

-Jon Leuer continues to impress. It's like the coaches watched tape of him last year, saw him camped out at the 3-point line, and told him to get his butt inside or else.

-My favorite possession of the game was that one that lasted about 50 seconds, featured two offensive rebounds, and ended with Landry making a sweet baseline dish for a Kevin Gullikson layup.

-Gully has really shaped up his body, hasn't he? I'm still trying to figure out Bo's post rotation -- why isn't Nankivil playing more? what did he do wrong? -- but Gully might be a guy who can give productive minutes.

-That had to be the fastest game I've ever seen. I suppose that would be because there were four free throws in the game, total. Give credit to Coppin for not fouling on our layup attempts -- that was a well-officiated game -- and put some blame on us for not doing more to draw fouls. We went more than 36 minutes before shooting a free throw; won't win many Big Ten games straying from the formula that has worked so well under Bo.

-Is it possible for a team to hold its opponent to 46 points and still feel like it did not play a good defensive game? Coppin seemed to get many good looks, as Idaho State did, they just weren't making a lot of them.

-Still, hard to argue that the effort wasn't there, when we held a 33-18 rebounding edge, including 11 offensive boards. Fifteen assists is more than usual.

-Did you notice that at the end of the game, when Coppin was pressing, Bo had Jordan Taylor in there but not Pop? He handled it fairly well. Wonder if that was Bo exposing Jordan to situations he might have to handle by himself later this year, or if he was made at Pop, or if Pop is hurt ... or maybe I ask too many questions.

Watched some of the Texas-Michigan State game today. It's going to take a lot more than we've seen from the Badgers so far this season to beat either of those teams. Still, very excited about the Longhorns coming in on Tuesday, let's do this!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Daily Devin

This morning I woke up to feed Charlie and flipped on ESPN to find something wonderful on the bottom line.

Mavericks 97 Nets 121 ... Harris (NJ) 41 pts, 13 assts

So not only does Devin blow up with another huge game -- think about it, he accounted for at least 67 points with those numbers -- but he did so against the team that traded him because Mark Cuban thought Jason Kidd was the guy to get them to the next level.

Nice call man! Maybe we should be hoping Cuban buys the Cubs ...

Read the AP story, it's awesome. Devin's up to fifth in the league in scoring. Keep making us proud young man!

Friday, December 19, 2008


The other day I was reading an update on Jared Berggren, who has not officially announced intentions to redshirt this year, although it certainly seems to be trending that way.

Earlier this year I made a post detailing the history of basketball redshirts under Bo. Although it seems like a bunch of guys have redshirted, it's really only been four: Brian Butch, J.P. Gavinski, Mickey Perry, and DeAaron Williams. Not counting on Gavinski yet, that's a 25% hit ratio, with Butch being the only true success story out of that group.

But that's exactly why I think it would make sense for Berggren to redshirt. He's built like Butch. He faces a logjam of veteran talent ahead of him as a true freshman, like Butch. Hell, he even looks like Butch -- check out that picture of him running up The Hill.

I'm willing to bet that if he trades the 40 or 50 minutes of garbage time he might get this year (minutes that become more and more rare in conference play) for 25-30 minutes a game as a fifth-year senior, it will be best for everyone involved, just like it was for Butch.

To that end, I also like Ryan Evans' decision to redshirt, and think it would have been wise of Ian Markolf to do the same. But who knows? Maybe Ian is planning on graduating in four years and moving on to post-basketball life, so a redshirt doesn't make sense.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Florida State's defense

I asked Rich at Chant Rant for an overview of the Florida State defense, and he responded with this excellent breakdown:

As the season wound down, FSU fan frustration peaked -- mostly due to the defense.

Throughout this decade, offense has taken the brunt of the criticism. Meanwhile, the defense made big plays, produced turnovers, and kept the team in the game. Even when the D deserved equal credit for a loss, they seemed to get a pass. Until this year.

In 2008 the D's roster of juniors and seniors was supposed to hold the fort, while the wet-behind-the-ears offense grew up. Instead, they gave up too many points in too many big games. So for the first time in his 24 years in Tallahassee, D-coordinator Mickey Andrews is feeling the heat -- even to the point of considering retirement, so it's rumored.

The growing case against Andrews's defense includes inability to adjust to the spread offense, relying too much on man-to-man pass coverage and too little on zone, plus an overall lack of discipline. That last point, critics say, is what opponents have learned to exploit, using misdirection to juke FSU's fast-reacting defenders out of position.

The disconnect is when you check the national stats. FSU is 13th in Total Defense (allowing 291.75 yards per game) and 8th in pass defense (164.95 yards per game). Scoring Defense is another story, though. The 20.8 point per game average is somewhat deceiving. Miami scored 39 in a shootout (FSU scored 41), while Georgia Tech, Boston College and Florida all put up big numbers with misdirection and creative scheming.

Which is exactly what Wisconsin's offensive staff should be working on. Though the Badgers don't appear to run much spread and misdirection, mixing some in with Big 10 power football could be a winning combination. On the other hand, the Noles defense should be out to regain some respect after being drubbed by Tim Tebow and company in the final game of the year.

Who are the key players to watch for on FSU's D?

Let's lead with the leader, All-ACC defensive end Everette Brown (6-4, 248). This bull rusher is third in the nation in sacks, with 12.5. Brown's high-revving motor should be in top gear for what's probably his last game as a Nole. The junior appears certain to leave early for the draft. Pressuring from the other side is senior Neefy (as in beefy) Moffett (6-1, 256). No slouch at getting to the quarterback, Moffett pulled a batted pass out of the air against Clemson and scooted for a score while shrugging defenders off his back like water off a goose.

If the ends are the strength of the defense, the tackles are the disappointments. Bud Thacker (6-2, 280) and Kendrick Stewart (6-2, 256) too often get neutralized by opposing linemen. Justin Mincey (6-5, 284) showed some late season promise that may have earned him increased PT against the Badgers.

FSU's starting linebackers are out of the same mold (6-2/6-3 and 225 - 230). Senior Toddrick Verdell is a former safety and the most mobile, able to drop into coverage or blitz. Another senior, Derek Nicholson, is the biggest and leads the team in tackles with 76.

Keep an eye on senior cornerback Tony Carter. Playing his final game in Garnet and Gold, Tony is a feast or famine pass defender. He might make a diving pass breakup one moment, and give up a TD on the next play. A more consistent CB, and probably better NFL prospect, Patrick Robinson mans the other side, when not called on to play Safety.

The Noles are proud to have an All-American at one safety spot. Make that Academic All-American. He's Myron Rolle, the much hearlded Rhodes Scholar and a future surgeon. The Nole nation is all very proud of Myron. But while he's played steady and been a credit to the school, he's never quite lived up to the potential he showed as the number one prospect coming out of high school. Perhaps he's saved the best for his last collegiate game.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Vote for Devin

The love continues to pour in for Devin Harris. Sports Illustrated had a really nice short feature on him a couple weeks ago. Their basketball writers are talking about him being the best point guard in the Eastern Conference.

To me, he's obviously the top, but he doesn't yet carry the name recognition of some of the other guys on the ballot. Let's make sure he makes the All-Star team.

Vote here

My favorite Devin stat is that he's leading the league in free throws made per game. Just like Bo drew it up.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Was watching an ESPN bowl preview last night and the guys were pretty overwhelmingly pro-Florida State in their prognostications. In their view, FSU's defense is going to be way too much for us to handle, and their offensive line is like nothing we've seen. The viewers agreed, with 81% calling a Seminole win.

Underdogs baby!

Rich from Chant Rant asked me to give him an overview of our offense with key players, and the below is what I came up with. What do you think, am I close in my assessment?

For a long time we were run, run, run, but offensive coordinator Paul Chryst has done a nice job of balancing us out. This year, that didn't turn out so hot because of limitations at quarterback.

We're still at our best when we pound the rock behind our large offensive line and keep the passing to unpredictable downs and distances. The run game still functions best between the tackles, although this year converting on third-and-short has been a struggle.

The passing game relies heavily on the tight end, even with injuries to top guys there. The wide receivers are young and developing, but several came up with big performances late in the season. We don't run any Spread, and little if any shotgun.

Most passing plays are at least seven-step drops. We still use a fullback a lot, and have two seniors there. You'll see a lot of two-tight end sets, even with our injuries. At times we'll play a third tackle in obvious running situations.

Dustin Sherer took over midseason for turnover machine Allan Evridge. He struggled a lot at first, showing the rust of not starting for four years. He has a funny throwing motion and low release point, and sometimes tries to force throws into impossible spots or make plays when throwing the ball away would be more prudent. Other times he makes plays with his feet and his throws get exactly where they need to be. He makes me nervous as hell every time he drops back, but he's the best we've got at the moment.

Running back
Junior P.J. Hill ran for 1,000 yards for the third straight season, but for the third straight season was injury-prone. He's a solid back who has improved the shape of his body from really doughy to just kind of doughy, but he finishes runs well, can catch out of the backfield, and pass block. Sometimes he dances too much rather than hitting holes hard.

Redshirt freshman John Clay is the guy many Badger fans want to see get the lion's share of the carries. He's 6-2, 230 and fast, and at times has had troubles with ball security and running too high. But he hits the hole with authority and seems to make more things happen than Hill. Either way, a good 1-2 punch. Florida native Zach Brown is #3 on the depth chart and sees time on third downs. With Clay's emergence he hasn't seen as much time as anticipated, but had some great moments last year as a freshman.

Chris Pressley and Bill Rentmeester are the fullbacks, and are pretty much just extra guards.

Tight end Travis Beckum was an All-American candidate coming into the season but suffered through an injury-plagued season before breaking his leg against Illinois. The next week against Michigan State promising tight end Lance Kendricks also broke his leg. This leaves tight end Garrett Graham, an all-conference pick, as our top remaining threat. As you can see, we were as deep at tight end as anyone, and even with the injuries to Beckum and Kendricks, we're still solid there. Mickey Turner is the blocking tight end.

Wide receiver was a question mark coming into the season, and only late in the season did they start making plays consistently. David Gilreath is small but quick. We run a lot of end-arounds to him, and he had over 100 yards rushing against Indiana. Nick Toon is Al Toon's son, and has the prototype build. Isaac Anderson's dad played collegiately at Minnesota, and he's starting to show consistency. My sense is they'll have trouble getting open against the Florida State secondary.

Offensive line
Long a strong point in our program, our line was good again this year, but not as good as billed. Again, injuries played a part, but they were probably slightly overrated to begin with. At left tackle, sophomore Gabe Carimi is an up-and-comer, an athletic 6-8 kid with good feet. They try to get him out blocking little guys on the perimeter like Joe Thomas did. Left guard Andy Kemp is solid, he pulls a lot, even in short-yardage situations. Center John Moffitt is a charismatic, emerging emotional leader who has taken some costly holding penalties this season. He also pulls.

Right guard Kraig Urbik was probably the most consistent lineman, he's a four-year starter. Right tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel is huge, more of a run blocker than anything. None of them are All-Americans, and when one or two of them were hurt this season the offense sputtered, but when they were all together they run- and pass-blocked effectively. Josh Oglesby is the third tackle, he was the top-rated recruit at the position coming out of high school two years ago, but struggled pass blocking at times this year replacing Carimi and Vanden Heuvel when they were injured.

Freshman Philip Welch is our kicker, and has done a great job replacing standout Taylor Mehlhaff. His kickoffs are on the short side, but he's been steady on field goals and extra points.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

UW-Green Bay thoughts

Is it just me, or have the guys who played for Green Bay tonight been around forever? Tillema. Schachtner. Berry. Evans. They have usually put up a good fight at the Kohl Center, and they did so tonight for awhile before the better team won out.

Good rebound from the uninspiring Idaho State game. GB shot 34.6% from the field, and while some of that was GB just not shooting well, they weren't getting the layups that ISU was getting the other night. We shot 52.1% from the field against an aggressive Phoenix defense, much better. Lots of encouraging individual performances.

Fifteen points in just 22 minutes for Krabby, who put himself in good positions to score on a number of occasions. And he's hitting free throws consistently this season, can finally trust him at the line.

J-Bo had 12 points on only four field goal attempts, that's efficient.

Nankivil had 11 rebounds in 28 minutes, which has to be a career high. He event took a 3-pointer in rhythm today. In my mind, Keaton needs to be on the court at least 20 minutes a game, it lets Landry focus more on offense. Marcus was more aggressive posting up tonight, maybe because he had a lighter defensive load.

Eleven points for Timmy Jarmusz. He was a scorer in high school, but until now he had been just a solid floor guy at UW. If he can throw in a few double-digit scoring games where he hits a couple 3-pointers, that would help immensely.

Kevin Gullikson got in earlier than normal today. He didn't distinguish himself with his play, but he looks quicker and more fit than he did earlier in his career. Does he make the regular rotation 10 deep? Probably not, but he can be called on in case of foul trouble.

The Big Ten Network play-by-play guy really butchered his account of Tod Kowalczyk, calling him "Ted" and recapping his career at "DePree" High School in suburban Green Bay.

Finals, then a bad Coppin State team before Texas. Have a nice week off, guys.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What's the line? Part II

Rich from Chant Rant asked for my take on the Badgers' defensive line, now here's his take on the Seminoles' offensive line:

You ask how good are the smallish guys on the offensive line?

Good. Better than they had a right to be, given that they were the youngest OL in D-1 football. We're talking three true freshmen, and two sophs, plus a redshirt frosh who backs up at tackle.

Why so young and so small? Credit goes to OL coach Rick Trickett, a Viet Nam-era Marine vet who, like a D.I. at Parris Island, whipped this kiddie korps into fighting shape. Trickett is a buddy of Head Coach in Waiting Jimbo Fisher. He came to FSU in 2007 from West Virginia, where he was known for turning unheralded youngsters into NFL draft choices.

Trickett likes 'em lean and, with a lot of hard-nosed techniques, mean (here's a great story on how they toughened up: Arriving at FSU, he he told the O-line, "Welcome to Jennie Craig." His guys have the body fat of Michael Phelps after a 1500 meter race. With Trickett, it's all about leverage, quickness and technique to prevail over big defensive linemen. Think Denver Broncos with their svelte OL that over the years that made many a running back wealthy. In fact, Trickett is on the leading edge of the "athleticism over size" trend in college football.

On the plus side, FSU's running game has gone from one of the worst in D-1 to among the top third in NCAA stats. The Noles are scoring nearly ten points per game more than last year. And the OL has often played well against bigger defensive front.

As for negatives, the lean 'n mean approach, coupled with youth, didn't work in a few key games this year. Boston College's big boys -- especially 320 lb. B.J. Raji -- showed that size matters. Said Coach Bobby Bowden, "It's hard to do anything when your defensive tackles are getting pushed into your linebackers or when your offensive line is getting pushed into your quarterback." FSU's OL also struggled with Virginia Tech's and Florida's front.

The tackles include two true freshmen: Andrew Datko (6-6, 278), and Zebrie Sanders (6-5, 280), backed up by redshirt frosh Antwane Greenlee (6-6, 290). Datko was a quick study on Trickett's technique and is tough as nails. But the guy's so skinny compared to the other OL, he almost looks like your paperboy. He'll be a weight room project in the off-season. Sanders shows much promise, but is probably responsible for the most holding penalties this year.

At guard, Rodney Hudson (6-2, 290) is the rock of the OL and a grizzled vet as a sophomore. He was a freshman All-American in '07. David Spurlock (6-5, 287) is another true frosh with enormous potential, yet obviously learning on the job.

At center, redshirt sophomore Ryan McMahon (6-3, 282) is on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, awarded annually to the best center in the nation. Last year the converted d-lineman made every offensive snap.

Others? None to speak of. Coach Trickett likes to play his best guys until the final gun or they're carried off the field (that's where the relentless conditioning comes in). But truth be known, he has little choice. Besides Greenlee getting in the rotation at tackle, no other lineman is ready to step in and do the job. Which is why you might see FSU fans lighting votive candles before the game, praying that none of Trickett's starting five are injured.

Thanks Rich. Scott here again, with a question for Badger fans: What letter grade would you give our defensive line this year? A comment on Rich's blog on my breakdown says our D-Line is terrible and one of the smallest in the country. I certainly don't think that's true, but they're also not the Steel Curtain or all 300-pounders.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What's the line?

The other day Rich from Garnet and Great asked me the following question:

UW apparently has a huge D-line. Will it prevail against FSU's kiddie korps OL with three freshmen and two sophs? Keep in mind our OL Coach, Rick Trickett, likes 'em mean and lean -- akin to the Denver Broncos philosophy. Only one of his starters is over 300 lbs. -- and that's barely, at a svelte 301.

Here's how I answered:

It's funny, I've never thought of our defensive line as huge - our offensive line's girth is typically what gets the attention. Without knowing too much about FSU's offensive line and how it operates, here's a bit about our D-Line.

Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy goes about 6-6, 250. He's been an above-average contributor since he was a true freshman, but never took the leap to greatness. No matter, he can get to the passer, solid against the run, and is responsible on reverses and other gadget plays.

The other end, O'Brien Schofield, goes about 6-3, 230. He came here as an unheralded linebacker but has made himself into a nice player. Not dominant but often around the ball and opportunistic.

Defensive tackle Jason Chapman goes about 6-4, 285. End is his preferred position, but he's a pretty good tackle. He's quick off the ball, often to the point of either going offside or apearing to be offside. He hurt his knee last year and to me he hasn't been the same player as he was before.

The other tackle is Mike Newkirk, who's listed as 6-3, 264, but I don't think he's that big. A former champion wrestler, he's a good technique guy, but probably undersized at tackle. He made two really big plays in our comeback win over Minnesota, but other than that nothing sticks out to me.

Not much depth, which is going to kill us next year when three of those guys graduate. Dan Moore was brought here to give depth at tackle but he's playing end. Patrick Butrym and Jeff Stehle take some snaps at tackle but haven't made much of an impact.It's been noted by commenters on my blog that our defense, out of necessity, has adapted to be more effective against the Spread than traditional offenses. We got truly gashed twice this year, against Iowa and Penn State, which just killed us. Especially Iowa, Shonn Greene was running 10 yards downfield before benig touched.

If Florida State is anything like the smallish offensive line Minnesota used to field under Glen Mason, they can do some things, the Gophers always had success running the ball. Guess it depends on how good the smallish guys are!

Anything to add?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Florida State perspective

In the days following the announcement of our bowl game matchup with Florida State, I received friendly emails from two Seminole bloggers. Check out these sites for perspective on our Champs Sports opponent:

Chant Rant

Garnet and Great

FSU It's Time

Check them out, good stuff.

Rich, who runs the first two, saw my interest in learning more about Myron Rolle and sent this snippet:

Rolle was offered by most major schools. He could have gone to the Ivy League or a school with a brainier image (i.e., Vandy or Stanford). But as the #1 rated recruit he wanted a strong football program as well as academics. He chose FSU because he'd always been a fan, and because Fla. State was proactive.

Administrators tailored an academic "game plan" of how he could graduate in pre-med in just three years.To his credit, Rolle actually graduated in 2 1/2 years and has been a grad student this fall.

BTW, QB Christian Ponder (right) entered FSU at the same time as Rolle. He also graduated in 2 1/2 years with a 3.75 in Finance. So while he's a redshirt soph. on the roster, he's a currently a grad student studying for an MBA. Now if he could just turn that TD to INT equation around.

Didn't know that about Ponder, who apparently was Jay Valai's high school teammate.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

UW-Idaho State thoughts

I'm in Cincinnati for company budget meetings and upon checking into my room at the Hannaford Suites tonight I was pleasantly surprised to find the Big Ten Network among the cable offerings. The Badgers were up 10-2 at the time, and I figured this would be a nice blowout to wipe away the Marquette loss.

Then the Badgers proceeded to let the visitors from Potato Land hang around for 32 minutes or so before doing enough to win close and ugly. I was never that worried, at least not until Pop for some reason charged into the lane early following his free throw miss with 2.1 seconds left, allowing Idaho State to set up a last-second attempt, but ...

It reminded me a lot of the North Dakota State game we somehow lost three seasons ago. The effort was there -- we had a ton of offensive boards -- but the shooting was putrid and the defense allowed a lot of really good looks. ISU shot 53 freaking percent! Maybe it will turn out Idaho State is pretty good, but this one still smells.

We also didn't ever truly put them away, even when our lead got near double-digits. Wisconsin is really struggling against zones right now, and I would expect we'll see a lot more as the season progresses. Why didn't Nankivil play more?

I'm not finding a lot of positives from this one, anyone got one?

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Random memory from the Minnesota game ...

Sometime during a timeout in the second half, while the game was still very much in doubt, the scoreboard played a number of Badgers singing karaoke.

It was funny. Elijah Hodge's bit was good, and Aaron Henry sang a country song. But the bit that got everyone going was lineman Kenny Jones' rendition of Breakfast at Tiffany's by Deep Blue Something.

First of all -- what is any guy doing singing that song? And singing it seemingly without irony? And singing it pretty well?

Second of all -- at the end of the bit, the in-stadium cameras caught Jones on the sideline, and everyone around him was giggling, as were many of us in the crowd. Because it was funny.

But if you're a coach, or someone who was actually playing in the game, wouldn't the timing of this funny video seem in appropriate? I mean, you're locked in a battle against your bitter enemy, with players trying to get rest from 2-1/2 hours of a physical game, and coaches trying to figure out the next schematic move. All the while everyone's laughing at your guys, most of whom aren't playing.

I'm all for the kids having fun, and think this karaoke thing is great. But how about playing it in the first quarter, when the mood is still light? Or how about I just get less sensitive about these things?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Recapping the stats

Way back on September 22, I wrote this post:

Now that I've numbed you all to sleep with four days of numbers — hey, wake up! — I'm going to tie it all up with the statistical thresholds I believe the Badgers need to hit for 2008 to be a great season.

50 rushing attempts per game
245 rushing yards per game (4.9 yards per carry)
47% third-down conversion percentage
1.2 turnovers per game
30 points per game

35 rushing attempts per game
120 rushing yards per game (3.4 yards per carry)
215 passing yards per game
37% third-down allowance percentage
2.5 turnovers per game
16 points per game

If time permits, I'll compare each week's performance to these standards, and hopefully keep a running total on how we're doing. Of course, if we lose three of our next four, I'll start writing about recruiting and whether Dustin Sherer or Curt Phillips will be starting at quarterback in 2009.

We all know what happened -- lost the next four, talking about Dustin Sherer replacing Allan Evridge, and whether or not Curt Phillips can take the job next season. Sigh.

But how did the Badgers do in these stat categories? Let's see how it stacks up against my prescription for success.

44 rushing attempts per game - low
212 rushing yards per game (4.8 yards per carry) - low
39% third-down conversion percentage - low
2.25 turnovers per game - high -- double!
28.7 points per game - close

34.3 rushing attempts per game - close
133.2 rushing yards per game (3.9 yards per carry) - high
189.1 passing yards per game - low
38% third-down allowance percentage - close
1.8 turnovers per game - low
25.2 points per game - way high

So, as if it wasn't going to be painfully obvious, the Badgers fell short of greatness in just about every key statistical category this season. Turnovers were the biggest problem -- 16 lost fumbles, 25 overall!

What we ended up with was a slightly-better-than-average team with no wins over good teams. Here's hoping for more next year.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Badgers are Champs, after all

So the bowl destination is ... Florida. Again. It beats Christmas in Madison, but I was sort of hoping for Pasadena or New Orleans or Phoenix or Miami. Oh well.

The Champs Sports Bowl it is, set for December 27 against Florida State. My thoughts:

-Love the opponent. Florida State is a brand name in college football, and was arguably the top program of the 1990s. As a kid I was enamored with their uniforms, the mascot, the Tomahawk Chop that Braves fans stole from FSU fans.

What I also love is that they are eminently beatable nowadays. The Seminoles lately have been a shadow of what they were in the '90s, for a variety of reasons. A decline in offensive coaching. The resurgence of in-state rivals Florida and Miami. Off-the-field problems.

Can't say I paid close attention to this year's team, but looking at their results their four losses are respectable: Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Florida.

Their quarterback, Christian Ponder, has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and has been sacked 17 times, but has run for more than 400 yards. Antone Smith, their leading rusher, is a well-regarded running back. Wide receivers Greg Carr and Preston Parker are also highly thought of, even if neither has more than 40 catches or 500 yards receiving.

-I want to learn more about this Myron Rolle kid. If you've been paying attention, he's the guy who recently was named a Rhodes Scholar, interviewing for it on the day of a game, then flying in to join the team while the game was underway. Great story.

When my brother, dad, and I were hearing about this a couple weeks ago, our shared reaction was "He was a potential Rhodes Scholar and he went to ... Florida State?" Surely Stanford, Northwestern, Vanderbilt could have challenged him more academically. Whatever, good for FSU and good for Rolle.

-Rolle and his teammates had the 13th-best defense in the country this year, yardage-wise. That D is going to be a tough test for the Badger offense, lot of athletes and well-coached.

-As much as Orlando is starting to seem repetitive, and the trip might be a tough sell to Badger fans, going to Florida for the fifth straight year is a good thing. It's a state that Bret Bielema has made a recruiting priority, and we're doing pretty well there lately. Zach Brown. Aaron Henry. Jae McFadden. Elijah Hodge. Eriks Briedis. Anthony Mains. Kevin Claxton. Antonio Fenelus. Xavier Harris. Josh Nettles. Recruits David Gilbert and Conor O'Neill. (Florida State was also reportedly in the mix for O'Neill.)

Florida is an important state for us, and the more we're there, the better. Even if our fans aren't showing up in the usual numbers, you can bet that the family and friends of all those guys above will be in Orlando, and might even bring along some other promising young athletes.

-Even though this trip will be a tough sell, I'm hoping the opponent will be attractive enough to entice Badger fans to make the trip. (Disclosure: I won't be going.)

-This is our seventh straight bowl appearance, the second-longest in the Big Ten behind Ohio State. That's nice.

-Finally, this will be a battle of maligned coaches with the the initials B.B. If we think what Bielema has been going through this year is tough, imagine what it's been like for Bobby Bowden. He's presided over the slow decline of his program while enduring constant talk that he's too old, the game has passed him by. Sort of like Joe Paterno up in our conference.

My take on it is that Bowden really isn't that far off from having his program great again. He still hasn't recovered from Mark Richt leaving for Georgia (or too an extent from Chuck D'Amato leaving for North Carolina State), and putting his boy in charge of the offense didn't go that well. The other part of the downfall, off-field troubles, probably come from taking chances on kids of questionable character in an attempt to keep up with Florida and Miami. Or a run of bad luck. Iron those two things out and Florida State is not far from being golden again.

Hopefully it doesn't start with a win over Wisconsin.

Draft prospects

My Sporting News this week had a list of the top 99 prospects in the 2009 NFL Draft, including underclassmen, and three Badgers were listed.

-Travis Beckum was #30.

-Kraig Urbik was #63.

-P.J. Hill was #76.

The last one was surprising. Is anyone really thinking about P.J. coming out early? He's ranked ahead of backs like Ian Johnson of Boise State and Javon Ringer.

Beckum appears to be the second-ranked tight end, after Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew. Urbik appears to be the second-rankid guard, after Oklahoma's Duke Robinson.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Aw nuts

Since tonight's game against Marquette was on ESPNU, and I sure as hell wasn't going to travel around Central Wisconsin looking for a bar that had it on, Jana and I took advantage of my parents' generosity watching the boys to go Christmas shopping and enjoy a birthday dinner a few days early.

As we're being seated at the Charcoal Grill in Plover, in which each booth has a framed photo or photo collage pertaining to state sports, I notice that my wife and I are being seated in the Dwyane Wade booth.

It was an omen.

So I didn't listen to or watch the game, glad I didn't. Instead of gnashing my teeth as the lads blew a chance at a really nice win, I was able to spend some quality alone time with Jana, which was needed after spending more than five minutes in Wal-Mart.

Checking the box score:

-When's the last time we had 26 fouls in a game? They shot 10 more free throws and made seven more than we did. Unusual.

-Landry only had five points. We're not going to beat many good teams with our best player scoring five points.

-James, Matthews, and McNeal combined to go 18-for-49. 37% for their big three and we lose.

-On the plus side, Nankivil had 11 and Rob Wilson had seven, that's encouraging.