Friday, October 31, 2008

How about a 100-yard rusher?

You want to hear something disturbing? The Badgers haven't had a 100-yard rushing game from a running back since P.J. Hill went for 112 against Fresno State. John Clay has come close the last two weeks with 89 and 88 yards, but come on. This is Wisconsin football for Pete's sake! That's five games, five loooooooong games of watching a rushing attack bordering on impotence.

How's this for a misleading statistic: Wisconsin ranks 22nd in the nation in rushing. The 404 yards against Akron probably helped, no?

Odds are against us having a 1,000-yard rusher this season. That used to be one of my favorite traditions, until it was shattered by Anthony Davis's fragility. Brian Calhoun got the ball rolling again and P.J. kept it going, but again, injuries to backs combined with injuries on the offensive line make it tough sledding. (Granted, P.J. does need only 387 yards to reach 1,000, but his injuries and Clay's emergence conspire against him, as does the fact that a bowl game is inexplicably not a given.)

Conversely, Javon Ringer is averaging 152.6 yards per game, on 33 carries per game. Those are Ron Dayne numbers for a relatively little guy!

My thinking is that, like Shonn Greene for Iowa a couple weeks ago, Ringer's going to get his. Last week's defensive performance against Illinois was impressive, but as has been pointed out, our defense is better suited to play the Spread than power offenses nowadays.

Hopefully we can make some game-changing plays in their passing game. Brian Hoyer seems like a decent quarterback, albeit one who probably isn't going to beat you by himself. The receivers seem pedestrian.

In order to pull this one out, I think Hoyer has to turn the ball over once or twice, we have to hold Ringer to about his average, and Dustin Sherer has to take care of the ball and make one or two plays.

Oh, and a 100-yard rusher would be nice. As for a score? Drum roll please for Bob Bummer:

Michigan State 24, Wisconsin 16

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Trick or Keaton

What a terrible Halloween-related play on words, that headline. Best I could come up with, sorry.

Here's hoping that the glowing reports from Keaton Nankivil's play during last night's intrasquad scrimmage are not of the flash-in-the-pan variety.

(For the best recap of the scrimmage, check out Hoops Marinara -- thanks for the comprehensive update, Phil.)

All offseason I've contended that Nankivil is the guy I want to be #5 in the Badger lineup, but thought it might not happen as much because of a lack of traditional bigs for him to bang with. But if he proves to be an asset on offense, he might force Bo to play him, regardless of who the opponent runs out there. Sounds like last night he showed mid-range touch and explosive moves punctuated by dunks. Can't wait to see him against live opposition.

Apparently Jordan Taylor looked good too, which is a good thing, because a. Trevon Hughes hurts his ankle a lot, and b. There is no other logical ball handler like Michael Flowers was last year. You could argue J-Bo could be that guy, but it would diminish his scoring. At the very least, he can guard quicker point guards like Pop did sporadically his freshman year.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Basketball season starts Saturday, when the Badgers play an exhibition game against Augustana. Given the football team's struggles, this will be a welcome arrival. More to come ...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Wire: The greatest television show in the history of Earth

Jana and I finished watching the final season of The Wire a couple weeks ago, but I'm just now getting around to writing about it. Now that we've gone without it for awhile, there's a void in our lives, like a good friend moved away.

The show was just that good. When we were somewhere in the fourth season, and I was gushing about how much I enjoyed the show, Jana said "What's funny is you never watch other cop shows." Which is true.

But that's also exactly the point: The Wire wasn't just a cop show. It was so much more. That's why I'm anointing it the best television show in the history of Earth.

In the end it came down to The Wire and The Sopranos, which had been my favorite show until now. Just like The Wire isn't just a cop show, The Sopranos wasn't just a mob show. It was a show about family, about class tensions, about immigrant assimilation into American life several generations in.

The Wire earns my nod because it's about ... America. Definitely it's about the good guys and bad guys of the drug trade, but what else? The working class. Poverty. The negative effects of absent parents. Corruption. Education. The media. Parenthood. The legal system. Friendship. Career-family balance.

It's easy to emerge from five seasons of this show feeling pretty down. If this is about America, then America has a lot of warts. But that's the truth, and instead of denying it or letting it get you depressed, look at the positives.

Bunny Colvin first with his Hamsterdam project trying to concentrate drug trading in a confined area, then with his educational experiment to reach out and help especially at-risk kids. Bubbles battling his demons, finally allowed to join his sister and her child at the kitchen table.

Kima finally realizing it's not just about her job, but about her son. McNulty finally realizing it's not just about his job, but about Beadie and her kids. Carver growing up and becoming a responsible police officer.

Cutty using boxing to keep kids off the street. Gus Haynes' fight to keep the Baltimore Sun on the straight and narrow. Prezbo's attempt to teach kids in a way they'll actually learn. Daniels' crusade to make crime statistics as true as possible and run an upright police department.

Of course, all these things are balanced out by the sad stories of Michael, Omar, Dukie, Randy, Clay Davis, Scott Templeton, Marlo. Especially Marlo -- what a smart, talented leader, who knows what he could have contributed to society had he not turned to drug dealing.

But I'll take with me the stories of the individuals who fought to fix a broken system.

So what do we watch now? Season two of Friday Night Lights came from Netflix. Soon we'll get the latest season of Weeds. We're thinking about Mad Men next. Any other ideas?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Beckum injured, out for season

Guess Travis Beckum's injury Saturday wasn't just a rolled ankle, it was a fractured fibula. As such, his college career is over.

That's too bad, obviously not the way anyone wanted Becks' time in Madison to end. This season was shaping up to be a massive disappointment for him anyhow, with the hamstring injury, then the gaffes against Michigan and high number of drops. He had seemed destined to go out on a high note.

Beckum's commitment coming out of Oak Creek was a huge deal for us at the time, as many services had him ranked tops among high school linebackers, and we typically didn't land anyone from that talent-rich high school. He never fit in on defense, though, which wasn't that surprising given his frame. After his freshman season, he seemed on the verge of bustdom.

But his switch to tight end was a brilliant move for everyone involved. His breakout 2006 season played as much a role in our unexpected 12-1 record that year as anything. With the departure of Brandon Williams, Jonathan Orr, and Owen Daniels, John Stocco needed a reliable receiving target, and Travis filled the bill far better than anyone could have hoped.

He was a natural receiver, running good routes, displaying excellent hands, and expertly adjusting to passes in the air. Just look at that classic picture above.

Beckum made a wise choice to return to Madison for his senior year. He needed to put on good weight and improve his blocking skills without losing his agility. His play in limited action this season showed he still has work to do on the blocking front. Still, this week's Sporting News projected him as a first round pick (#23 to Atlanta), and provided this injury heals in time for spring workouts, he should be fine.

Where will he end up in the NFL? I'm skeptical that he'll ever be a tight end in the classic sense, but some creative offensive coordinator will find a use for his skills and he'll put together a solid career. He'll get open and catch passes in the NFL.

What does it mean for the current Badgers? Even more balls thrown Garrett Graham's way, for one. Dustin Sherer looked his way a lot against Illinois, and I'd like to think Garrett's up for the challenge.

It also means it's time for Lance Kendricks to grow up even more. He's shown potential and made plenty of mistakes this year while filling in for Beckum, and he's going to get plenty more opportunities to contribute. After one special teams play yesterday Bret Bielema was especially congratulatory toward Lance, I'm guessing it's part of some work to build his psyche.

I'd also say this means the wide receivers have to step up and make more plays, but that's been the case all year and we haven't seen much of it. David Gilreath's play against Illinois was encouraging, though.

Travis Beckum is done as a Badger, five (hopefully six) games too soon. Yet another thing to go wrong in 2008.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday morning thoughts

Woke up this morning feeling better about college football. Breaking a four-game losing streak will do that for you. But what I can't get over is how, since the Marshall game (the last time we scored more than two touchdowns), everything has been such a struggle for the Badgers.

John Clay for three yards. Pass to Garrett Graham for six. A frantic Dustin Sherer scramble to get a first down. You can still score points that way, but it's like trying to win a baseball game without any extra-base hits. There's very little margin for error, and this team still makes plenty of errors.

Around the Big Ten, last night's big Penn State-Ohio State game, which turned out to be excruciatingly boring, at least sorted out the way things stand in the conference. Good for Penn State for not caving against a team they're clearly better than.

1. Penn State. They played things way too conservatively on offense, but still showed they have more talent and guts than Ohio State.

2. Ohio State. Thank goodness they won't be playing in the national title game again ... probably. A good team but one that by no means captures the imagination.

3. Michigan State. I watched the Spartans' game against Michigan with Uncle John yesterday, and for awhile it looked like they might fall prey to the kind of crap that usually goes against them in this series. But in the end Michigan's lack of talent and experience was its undoing. State has some players, obviously starting with Javon Ringer, but it looks like they're prone to mistakes too, which we need to pull out next week's game in East Lansing.

4. Minnesota. Yesterday, watching them slog through their win against Purdue, it dawned on me that the Gophers' year is reminiscent of our Cinderella 1993 season. They won a couple non-conference games that excited no one, but that the needed for confidence, and have taken advantage of a favorable conference schedule for a strong start there. They could win or lose any or all of their remaining four games, and missing Penn State and Michigan State is a huge break.

5. Iowa.

6. Northwestern. Losing at Indiana? Sheesh.

7. Illinois. They didn't look good at all yesterday. They fell victim to our Can't Line Up Properly Disease, must be contagious.

8. Michigan. Speaking of contagious mental mistakes, two plays in yesterday's game had to be infuriating for their fans and coaches the way the Badgers' mental mistakes have been infuriating for us. They were both by Donovan Warren on State field goal attempts. On the first, State's kicker was short on a 50-yard attempt. Had Michigan let the ball just go, they would have had the ball on their own 40. Instead, Warren fielded the ball, returned it to about the 20, and Michigan got called for a block in the back. So they started at their own 10, a 30-yard loss. Later, Michigan blocked an attempt, which Warren picked up and then slipped, costing the Wolverines 10-15 yards in field position. Seems the guy attended the Leon Lett Special Teams Academy. Obviously I was happy to see it, but eventually it just made me more angry that we lost to these guys.

Another note: Steven Threet and Sherer are a lot alike in their size, the way they throw the ball and in their overall lack of foot speed.

One more note: During the game I saw much coverage of a quote former Michigan running back Mike Hart made after their win over State last year: "Sometimes you get your little brother excited when you're playing basketball and you let him get the lead. Then you come back and take it from him." Classy. Do UM fans really not understand the animosity directed at that program?

9. Wisconsin. We can win in Lansing, but will need some help from the Spartans.

10. Indiana. Hopefully Kellen Lewis's ankle injury takes two more weeks to heal.

11. Purdue. Too bad they're not on the schedule this year.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

UW-Illinois thoughts ... whew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Badgers got me feeling emotions

The other day my friend Jim popped his head into my office to shoot the breeze. The subject of the Badgers and the blog came up. "I feel bad for you, man," he said. "I mean, you didn't even write halftime thoughts during the Iowa game!"

There was a good reason for that; I had the boys at my grandma's house, and she doesn't get the Big Ten Network, so I watched the game recorded after returning home. Those two hours Will and Charlie spent with their great-grandma are more important than me watching the game live.

But I also didn't feel the strong urge to rush home and see the game, either, or write about it afterward. As noted earlier in the week, it's that numb feeling that has washed over this losing streak. But numbness is just one of the many emotions I've felt regarding Badger football lately.

Playing amateur psychiatrist, I posted the poll in the upper right-hand corner this week asking people to describe their emotions regarding the current state of Wisconsin football. As I type this, "embarrassed" is #1 at 53%, followed by "depressed" (25%), "angry" (21%), and quite possibly the most dangerous -- "disinterested" (19%). I'm not surprised to see no one has checked "optimistic," and am relieved no one checked "vindicated" -- who saw this coming, this year anyway?

The overwhelming embarrassment is easy to understand. Losing to the worst Michigan team ever; the confusion on Terrelle Pryor's game-winning touchdown run; Allan Evridge's turnover-every-20-snaps performance; capitulating in the face of Iowa's offensive line; the penalties, oh the penalties.

I checked "embarrassed." I'd much rather just be angry.

This poll is open past tomorrow's game against Illinois. Hopefully the Badgers will give us reason to check "optimistic."

Probably not.

Illinois 46, Wisconsin 27

Another T-Money?

Who has two thumbs and now apparently shares my nickname? This guy.

Leave it to Andy Bernard to bestow "T-Money" on Jim Halpert. In a Save the Date card, no less.

Rocket Badger

Just a brief interlude to remind Badger fans that we're not the only ones having a rough year ...

Funny: I lived 45 minutes from Toledo 10 years ago and was never once tempted to buy a Rockets shirt. Thanks to Uncle John, that gap in my wardrobe is now filled.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Anders Lee

It's always nice to receive reports from the field. This morning it was an email from Schwalbach, who has been watching some high school football with Toohey lately. It involves a standout Twin Cities high school athlete who was apparently headed for a Division 1 hockey scholarship, but now thinks he might want to play football.

Hey Taps,

Toohey and I went to a first-round playoff game (Edina vs. Mpls Southwest) and I’ve actually seen this Anders Lee kid play three time now. They play the spread at Edina so he puts up some pretty ridiculous numbers, especially running the ball (like 200 yds/game).

He forwarded me this nugget about him. I find it interesting given the current QB situation at UW. I’m not totally sold on the kid throwing the ball but he’s definitely a great athlete. I wonder if Bielema and Eaves can get together to make it work somehow (he’s a damn good hockey player)?

Toohey's original email, from a Star-Trib account of the game:

Lee, who was presumed to have a future in college hockey, appears headed for more football. Before the season he was all but set on playing hockey at Harvard, but football coaches have noticed the kind of autumn he is having. He has been offered scholarships by the Gophers, Northern Illinois, North Dakota State and Minnesota State Mankato, and been in close contact with other schools, Wisconsin among them.

I don't think there's any way a kid can play both Division 1 football and hockey, but it looks like this kid would be worth getting for at least one of them. If I were him, I'd go play hockey at Harvard!

Thanks for the tip guys. If anyone else happens to get first-hand accounts of prospective Badger recruits, by all means send them in.

BTW, that sure is some nice-looking facility Edina has, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The 500th post

Thought I'd take a quick break to mark the 500th post on Badgercentric. When I started this 13 months ago it was an outlet for my stream of consciousness thoughts on the Badgers, Packers, Brewers, The Office, movies, books, and other things.

Also, it was supposed to save a lot of small talk when meeting up with friends and family. "Well, did you read on my blog? ..." I start conversations, after which most people roll their eyes and say "No, not lately, sorry." Talk about awkward.

Now it's almost all Badgers, all the time, and though things aren't sunny in our world right now, things have been worse, and I'm optimistic they'll get better. It's been fun sharing thoughts with old friends, and making new ones.

Thanks for reading, here's to another 500 posts.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bo Ryan: Another Hill to Climb

It's taken more than a year, but finally a picture of my mom on the blog! My loving mother was nice enough to go pick up a new version of Bo Ryan's new book -- Bo Ryan: Another Hill to Climb -- at Little Professor in West Bend, and get the coach to sign a copy for me. (That's him in the black shirt, not, as at least one TV analyst might suggest, in the striped shirt with the W.)

Mom, who reads Badgercentric every day to make sure people are leaving nice comments for her boy, asked me beforehand if I wanted her to mention my blog to Bo. I asked her kindly to refrain. ("Awww Mom, you're embarrassing me in front of Bo Ryan!")

I'll read it soon and report back. If you're planning on buying it click on the Amazon link below first, and I'll get 4% of the sale price, or roughly 66 cents.

Guess who Bo's partner is on this book? I'll bet Mr. Schwab can tell me in three, two, one ...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday evening thoughts

This is what bums me out about the Badgers' current struggles: it's not only less fun to watch them play, it's also less fun to follow college football in general. When Wisconsin is in the hunt for the Big Ten title, or a January bowl game, scoreboard watching is a great way to pass the rest of a Saturday afternoon. When Bucky's in the top 10, you're always playing out scenarios in which we can move up a spot or two and maybe, just maybe, get a crack at the big one.

Now we're relegated to playing out the string with nothing but 11 a.m. start times in sight. On one hand, it's nice to have my blog all done by 3 p.m. On the other hand, nobody outside Badger Nation gives a rat's ass how our game went.

This coming weekend, I'm more interested in watching Georgia-LSU, Texas-Oklahoma State, and of course Penn State-Ohio State than our game. Don't get me wrong, I'm going to watch our game and hope like hell we break out of this wretched funk. There will be exciting, well-played football going on around the country ... too bad ours won't be one of them.

My Big Ten thoughts are as follows. Actually, my primary Big Ten thought right now is "who cares?"

1. Penn State. I hope it's not Ohio State. PSU apparently looked less than stellar for a good chunk of the Michigan game. They somehow stopped Steven Threet from ripping off 70-yard runs with his 5.4-second 40 speed.

2. Ohio State. Are they as good as they showed in beating Michigan State? Football fans around the country can only hope the Buckeyes lose this game, otherwise I've got a bad feeling that they'll be in the hunt for the BCS title game again.

3. Michigan State. Because Javon Ringer by himself is better than Northwestern and Minnesota.

4. Northwestern. Is there any more damning evidence of the Big Ten's mediocrity than the Wildcats' 6-1, 2-1 record?

5. Minnesota. How about the Gophers' 6-1, 2-1 record? Their schedule is so soft the rest of the way, they could conceivably shock the world. I read Joel Maturi got buckets of emails calling for Tim Brewster's contract to be extended after the U beat unranked Illinois. Jumping the gun a bit?

6. Illinois. I am probably their biggest fan outside the Land of Lincoln, and thinking they might hang 50 on us at Camp Randall on Saturday.

7. Iowa. If their line is as good as it was against us, they'll end up higher than this.

8-11. Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana. I wouldn't be surprised to see Michigan beat Michigan State. I wold be surprised to see us beat Illinois. I wouldn't be surprised to see Indiana and Purdue both be winless in conference play heading into their last game.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

UW-Iowa thoughts

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."

That sums it up. Because let's face it, this Iowa team that crushed us today is, at best, marginally above average. In this year's Big Ten, that could be enough for a top three finish, but that team has good lines and a good back and not much more.

Right now, that's a lot more than what you need to beat the Badgers.

-I really hate to say "I told you so," especially when it involves the subpar play of an amateur athlete who's out there trying his best. But does anyone still think Dustin Sherer is a better option at quarterback than Allan Evridge? With a couple exceptions, Sherer was pretty bad today. His accuracy was spotty. He locked onto his primary receiver and never seemed to progress from there. He's not mobile. He threw two picks and was a couple inches from throwing four or five.

The offensive line protected reasonably well, and we had receivers open, but the passing game never hit a rhythm today. I thought Scott Tolzien looked better at the end, but circumstances and personnel force you to take that with a grain of salt.

Who should start next week? Right now I'd say Tolzien, but might change my mind in a couple days ... or a couple hours.

-The BTN crew was going on and on about Shonn Greene and touting him as a Heisman candidate, but my mom could have run for 100 yards behind that offensive line today. On most of Greene's successful runs he wasn't touched for what seemed like 10 yards, and while he did show some nice moves and toughness to make everything he could out of those runs, his performance today was a reflection of his line's dominance.

Or our defensive front's ineptness. Forget getting into the backfield and recording tackles for loss. These guys were getting dominated at the point of attack, putting all the pressure on our defensive backs to make saving tackles.

-On Greene's first touchdown run, DeAndre Levy took a bad angle. Greene showed terrific patience, just waiting for our defenders to run themselves out of position to make a play.

On Greene's second touchdown run, he broke about 73 tackles. On his third touchdown run, Shane Carter ran himself to the wrong side of the Iowa blocking wall, and was in no position to even get a hand on Greene. On Greene's fourth TD run, he ran untouched until he was about 15 yards past the line of scrimmage.

Last year the problem on defense was overpursuit and bad angles to the ball. This year it seems to be the opposite problem, guys playing tentatively, then reacting after it's too late. Having never been an effective defensive football player myself, I imagine there's a fine line between the two that you need to hit to be effective. I can't remember another Badger team struggling so much to toe that line.

-John Clay ran fine, but BTN's Chris Martin said his pad level needed to be lower -- good point. Clay's a legit 6-2 and needs to make sure he's hitting linebackers in their stomachs, not their shoulders. Also thought P.J. Hill ran reasonably well until getting hurt. If his ankle was hurt, why was he standing on the sidelines? When I hurt my ankle enough to sit out at noontime hoops, no way I'm standing after that. Unfortunately he's on the verge of complete irrelevance.

-Iowa's tough against the run, but why did we throw the ball 20 times in the first half with a scattershot quarterback making his first start?

-The hang time on Brad Nortman's punts seems to be about a second less than it should be, doesn't it?

-The announcers commented that O'Brien Schofield was late getting on the field for the first play of the second half. After we kicked off. After knowing all of halftime that the first play from scrimmage in the second half would have our defense on the field. This is the stuff that's killing us.

-Josh Oglesby really struggled at tackle today, flat-out whiffing on pass rushers several times and committing at least one penalty. On the other side of the line, Eric Vanden Heuvel played fine, but there was one pass play, a designed swing pass to Zach Brown, where EVH was supposed to get out and block an Iowa cornerback in space, a la Joe Thomas. There's only one Joe Thomas.

-Officiating by no means cost us this game, but I wanted to bring to light two calls that really killed us. The first was a roughing the passer penalty on Jonathan Casillas. From the replays BTN showed, that looked like a horrible call. Iowa scored a couple plays later.

The second was the punt preceding the blocked Nortman punt. The refs got Prince Moody for hitting Andy Brodell after he apparently called fair catch. The replays showed a second or two before Brodell fielded the ball, and I never saw his hand go up. Brodell had to be calling for a fair catch the second the ball left Nortman's foot, or else it would have been caught on camera. He may have gotten his hand up, but I didn't see it. The offsetting penalties nullified what would have been a first down and made us re-kick, and we know what happened next.

-POSITIVE BADGER PLAY ALERT: The first two drives on offense and defense in the second half were solid. And Philip Welch continues to make the placekicking game the least of our concerns. Also thought our cornerbacks played well, or at least they didn't get beat badly today by Iowa's pedestrian quarterbacks and receivers. Sounds like Mario Goins has a concussion, though, hopefully he'll be all right for Illinois. Brown showed a spark late.

-If you would have told me that we'd outgain Iowa 409-375, hold them to 1-of-10 on third down conversions, and go 3-for-3 on field goal attempts, I would have liked our chances.

Where do we go from here? If you're like most of the people who've voted in the poll in the right-hand corner, not to a bowl, that's for sure.

Friday, October 17, 2008

UW-Iowa: Lining them up

We sure have passed around a lot of blame lately while assessing the Badgers' three-game losing streak, haven't we? It's quarterback play! It's play calling! It's receivers with the drops! We need to give the freshman running back more carries! Our defense tires in the second half! Argh!

Here's another theory: the offensive line play isn't as good as it could be under new coach Bob Bostad.

The line has not been a weakness, in my mind. They've done an adequate job of creating running lanes and protecting the quarterback.

But they also haven't been a dominant unit, either, and given the holes noted above, they need to be.

For instance, the Badgers are averaging 4.5 yards per carry -- seems good, right? But take away the Akron game -- 404 yards on 63 carries -- and UW is averaging 3.95 yards per carry. Not good.

In the passing game, the line has allowed nine sacks in three Big Ten games. Is the line to blame for all of those? Surely indecisive quarterback play and inconsistent play by a young receiving corps are prime culprits. But Allan Evridge hasn't exactly been sitting back in a protective bubble, either.

These things feed off each other. The lack of a threatening passing game makes it easier for opposing defenses to load up on the run, and at some point there's too many guys in the box for the line to block.

Just like with DelVaughn Alexander and the receivers, I'm not here to throw Bostad under the bus. He seems to be well-liked by the line, and wouldn't have gotten the job if he didn't know what he was doing. But it does make the contributions of former line coach Bob Palcic more appreciated.

The line will have its hands full with Iowa tomorrow, whether Gabe Carimi and Kraig Urbik play or not. Tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul seem to have been around forever, and linebacker A.J. Edds really played well against us in Madison last year. Their offense doesn't scare me much, but given our recent level of play, that seems like a foolhardy attitude.

It's time to get back to basics. Limit penalties. Carry out assignments. Make the simple play, one play at a time. Protect the ball. Do all those things and we'll have a good chance at returning to the pink locker rooms victorious.

Continue with the sloppy play, and it's a long ride home from Iowa City.

This game is personal for Bret Bielema. Let's hope his team takes a big step tomorrow toward making irrelevant.

Wisconsin 16, Iowa 14

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Devin gets hustled?

The other day Andy emailed me a link to a YouTube video of Devin Harris playing ball against some random bloke in a sweater -- and getting schooled. Check it out.

Apparently this guy is a British playground legend who asked Devin to play a little one on one. The story's kind of funny, talking about how this guy embarrassed one of the best point guards in the league ... please.

This just shows Devin's a good kid who doesn't take himself too seriously. Wouldn't it be cool to have a moment like that for yourself, though?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fire Bret Bielema?

Here's a new blog I saw reading Andy Baggot's first impressions, second thoughts, and the third degree thing on Monday:

Fire Bret Bielema

My first inclination was to never mention this thing, sort of like how television broadcasts don't show streakers running nude across the field.

My second thought was that the creators of this site are probably 19 years old and can barely remember our last losing season of 2001, let alone the dark days of 1989. Spoiled newcomers to the Badger sports bandwagon. It also bugs me that the blogger has chosen to remain anonymous -- if you're going to promote this sort of agenda, put your name behind it.

My third thought was let's roll the notion out there for discussion here. Should UW even be entertaining the notion of firing Bret Bielema at this juncture?

The obvious answer, to me anyway, is no. The guy is 24-8, 1-1 in bowl games, and while this year's team is 3-3, the losses were to Penn State, Ohio State, and an admittedly awful if traditionally tough Michigan. Wisconsin is a handful of plays away from being 5-1 and ranked in the top 15.

While it could be argued that Bielema's rookie 12-1 season was accomplished with Barry Alvarez's players, it could also be argued that UW is now struggling with Barry's last classes at the core. Bielema should be judged when this year's juniors and redshirt sophomores are seniors and juniors. (Of course, Bielema had a large role in recruiting this year's upperclassmen.)

It could also be argued, as one of my friends has, that the program could be in for a steep dropoff next season, when this year's senior class departs. Unfortunately, that dropoff is on the verge of happening a year early. The ramifications for such a decline in on-field performance are huge. Watching thousands of fans leave Saturday night's debacle prematurely served as a reminder that if the football program struggles and the revenue it generates decline, the whole athletic department is in jeopardy.

Still, firing coaches with a 24-8 record three years into their tenure sounds like something for Notre Dame or Nebraska, arrogant programs for whom national championships are the only acceptable outcome.

This season is half over. Things look bleak right now, but we just finished the toughest stretch of our schedule, and a 7-5 finish and a bowl game wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. There haven't been too many three-game losing streaks around here lately -- thank goodness!

On the other hand, the wheels could fall off and we could finish 4-8, playing Cal Poly in front of thousands of empty seats on November 22. I still don't think Bielema would be fired at that point, and would be given another year or maybe even two to get things moving in the right direction again.

Fire Bret Bielema? I don't think so. Unfortunately, it took me 496 words to explain why instead of three.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Recruiting update

Talking about the current Badgers is downright depressing, so let's look at some of the high school recruits to commit to Wisconsin in the last month. Not a bad crew.

Conor O'Neil, linebacker, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Led his team to a state title last year, is going to have to put on weight to play linebacker in college (he's 195 now). We beat out Auburn, Clemson, Purdue and Rutgers for Conor.

A.J. Fenton, linebacker, Erie, Pa. A top 20 recruit at linebacker who hasn't played the position much before this year, he also had offers from Illinois, Maryland, Pittsburgh and Stanford.

David Gilbert, defensive end, Oakland Park, Fla. He's 6-4, 220, runs a 4.7 40, he's from Florida - a young Erasmus James? We beat UConn, Kentucky, Louisville, South Carolina, and Central Florida for this dude.

Tyler Dippel, defensive tackle, Hartford, Wis. Seems like a pretty athletic kid who's going to grow into DT size. Had an offer from Stanford and some MAC schools.

The rest of the class includes: safety Josh Peprah of Plano, Texas; wide receiver Jeff Duckworth of Cincinnati; defensive end Casy Dehn of Owatonna, Minn.; tackle Travis Frederick of Walworth, Wis.; tight end Brian Wozniak of Loveland, Ohio; linebacker Chris Borland of Kettering, Ohio; running back Montee Ball of Wentzville, Mo.; tackle Zac Matthias of Hemlock, Mich.; quarterback Jon Budmayr of Woodstock, Ill.; guard Ryan Groy of Middleton; defensive tackle Jordan Kohout of Waupun; and defensive end Shelby Harris of Mequon.

What I like about this class thus far is that it includes five defensive linemen, a position that desperately needs an infusion of talent; it includes three players from Ohio, which has long been good to us; and we seem to be locking up all of the top prospects in Wisconsin.

For the entire list from Scout click here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Broken promise?

Last week Will forwarded me a story about Tom Savage, a top high school quarterback recruit from Pennsylvania who has committed to Rutgers. Savage is the older brother of former UW quarterback Bryan Savage, who transferred away after a year or two in Madison.

As Will points out, the story paints Barry Alvarez in a less-than-favorable light, saying he promised the Savages he would not leave coaching to become the full-time athletic director. Which he of course did.

That may be true, but Barry's ascension to full-time AD was not the only reason Savage transferred. If memory serves, Savage transferred because he wasn't going to beat out John Stocco anytime soon, and he wanted to play. Savage's classmate Sean Lewis moved from quarterback to tight end, and Savage transferred to Coffeyville Community College, then became a nice contributor at Hofstra. (Hey Will, isn't that where Wayne Chrebet went?)

Apparently former UW offensive coordinator Brian White recommended Savage to the Hofstra coaching staff. White's departure after the ascension of Paul Chryst as offensive coordinator (which would have happened no matter which office Alvarez occupied) is also cited as a reason Savage left.

The point of this isn't to rag on Savage, who never did anything to hurt the program. The point is that while his family may feel like Bryan got burned by his college choice, that stuff happens in college sports, and it doesn't make Alvarez a bad guy. Tom, a Rutgers recruit, says he learned a lot by watching what Bryan went through.

What happens if Greg Schiano leaves Rutgers to replace Joe Paterno at Penn State? Schiano might give recruits his word now that he'll never leave and be 100% sincere about it at this moment. But if another university comes along and makes him an offer he can't refuse, one that's best for him and his family, can he pass it up? Then Tom, for all his learning, is in roughly the same situation as his older brother.

It's a system that's less fair to the kids than it is to coaches. But that's life, and no matter who's coaching, the cream rises to the top.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday morning thoughts

Well, I have clearly underestimated Penn State, overestimated Terrelle Pryor (can't throw for 100 yards against Purdue?), underestimated Minnesota, and don't know what to make of Iowa. Here how I'd rank the Big Ten right now:

1. Penn State. You saw why last night. Don't see the obvious weakness here. Why did Daryll Clark sit behind Anthony Morelli for two seasons? The guy is tremendous.

2. Ohio State. Can't score an offensive touchdown at home against Purdue? 221 yards on offense? A significant weakness for this team.

3. Michigan State. Another day, another 35 carries for Javon Ringer.

4. Illinois. Minnesota beat them, but the Illini outgained them by 250 yards. We might be able to score on their defense.

5. Minnesota. Seems like Adam Weber has cut down on his turnovers.

6. Northwestern. They played someone legit and lost big, surprise, surprise.

7. Iowa. They had a guy named Jewel Hampton run for three touchdowns against Indiana? Parents can be so cruel.

8. Michigan. After they beat us their fans were commenting on our overweight offensive linemen (a position traditionally manned by skinny guys, apparently). Then I saw their, ahem, stocky kicker miss a chip shot to clinch a loss to Toledo. Maybe he was worn down. Better get him with that new conditioning coach, get rid of that paunch.

On a personal note: Toledo's quarterback yesterday was a kid named Aaron Opelt, who is from my old stomping grounds of Fremont, Ohio. When he was in fifth or sixth grade I helped coach a basketball team, and the only game we won was against his team. It helped that he had to leave at halftime, otherwise we likely would have ended up winless. His dad was the track coach at the local high school, really nice guy, and I was happy to see them come up with the big win.

Still, I was almost more disappointed Saturday about our loss to Michigan two weeks ago than the loss to Penn State, based on the fact that Michigan lost to Toledo.

9. Wisconsin. Spending the holidays in Detroit? Hopefully!

10. Purdue. Bad way to send Joe Tiller out.

11. Indiana. Maybe Tom Crean can lend one of his scholarship basketball players to help out.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

UW-Penn State thoughts

What happened in the second half? I was washing Charlie's bottles and flossing.

Actually, I managed to catch it all, and there's not much to say. This is a team with a broken will. The losses to Michigan and Ohio State were just emotional crushers, and the several times we had glimmers of hope tonight we immediately responded with horrible plays.

We can talk about players and play calling and other stuff, but this is on Bret Bielema to turn this thing around. This team's psyche needs rebuilding, one play at a time, before what started as a season with high expectations turns into an all-time disaster.

More big picture thoughts to come in the week ahead, but here's some thoughts on tonight's mess at Camp Randall.

-Good thing we pushed that Virginia Tech game back a decade, eh? Wouldn't want to endure that tough game and then start Big Ten play 0-3.

-Silver lining: tickets for that Minnesota game November 15 ought to be more affordable, unless the Gopher bandwagon gains its first members after their win today against Illinois.

-We've called out Allan Evridge and P.J. Hill, but how about Travis Beckum? First, he sits out most of the Michigan game, choosing to insert himself into the game after momentum had swung too far, then messes up the two-point conversion. Starting tonight's game, he whiffs on a block on third-and-one on the first drive, setting P.J. up for a loss, and our half of bad field position commences. Then a drive or two later he goes offside. This is the kind of crap that doesn't happen with good teams. He's still putting up good numbers when completely healthy, but he's not playing an all-around game.

-Liked that we came out running the ball, seven straight plays to start the game. It got us into manageable down and distance situations, but we just couldn't convert.

-Evridge started running, which is a skill he was supposed to have coming here from Kansas State but haven't seen so far, and made some plays. The touchdown run was impressive.

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

-The Evridge follows up that very positive drive with another fumble. Then he almost throws a pick on yet another batted ball on the next drive. It was the right move to get him out of there and replace him with Dustin Sherer.

-That said, I wasn't impressed with Sherer at all. Lucas and LePay, who somehow named him player of the game, are talking right now about how they think he earned more playing time going forward, and when asked, Bielema seemed to agree. What I saw was two good passes coming off the bench (one more than Evridge threw), then a variety of scattershot throws against a soft prevent defense.

Sherer's mechanics were subpar, although some of that might be attributable to the steady pass rush he faced. His feet were seldom set optimally, and his arm slot appeared different from throw to throw. His passes lacked zip and were not particularly accurate. He is slower than Evridge.

In my mind, for all his flaws, Evridge is still clearly the quarterback that gives Wisconsin the best chance to win this season. Which is frightening.

-Here's another little thing: on some play in the second half two Penn State defensive linemen jump the snap count and are in the backfield, yet John Moffitt doesn't snap the ball, and allows them to get back after what seems like an eternity.

-Another killer: 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.

-Here's another small thing: David Gilreath calls for a fair catch on his own 6. Everyone knows you just don't do that. He did just about nothing with ample return chances.

-The box score shows we had eight penalties for 74 yards, but it seemed like twice that much.

-After the first of Sherer's interceptions (that one that was overturned was a bad call by the replay guy) Moffitt got laid out by Aaron Maybin. It reminded me of Chad Clifton getting annihilated by Warren Sapp in a game at Tampa a few years ago. Thankfully Moffitt appeared OK. With Carimi out and Urbik hurt (hopefully not too badly), offensive line depth is now a concern.

-Did you notice Chris Maragos started at free safety for Shane Carter tonight?

-Penn State was much better than I thought. They are legitimate national title contenders and might not lose in Big Ten play. Clark is really impressive, and he is surrounded by guys who make plays and a good line. Same thing goes for Maybin and their defense. Just think how good they'd be if Sean Lee hadn't hurt his knee.

Too bad the game was so bland that the second half turned into one long tribute to Joe Paterno and Penn State football. Can't blame Mike Patrick and Todd Blackledge, they can only talk about the Scrambler at Mickies Dairy Bar and the fried Icelandic cod at the Avenue Bar for so long before getting back to "Sherer's pass to Graham sails high."

At least Iowa ... even next week's game looks tough now. Let's see what Bielema has up his sleeve.

UW-Penn State halftime thoughts

Just when Allan Evridge was showing signs of turning things around ... it's back to business as usual, which means no chance of beating Penn State.

I'm at a loss here. The defense isn't playing poorly at all, but Brad Nortman's punts, our non-existent blocking on returns, and in ability to convert on second- and third-and-short situations is just killing us.

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.

Hopefully we can make it competitive in the second half.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gimme a Jay!

The Badgers' 0-2 start to the Big Ten season has me feeling like three other seasons in recent memory: 1996, 1999 and 2000.

In 1996, Wisconsin dropped narrow decisions to Penn State, Ohio State, and Northwestern, and ended up with a middling 8-5 record.

In 1999, after falling to Cincinnati and Michigan, the Badgers won out and went 10-2.

In 2000, close losses to Northwestern and Michigan set the stage for an unsatisfying 9-4 season.

It's not a stretch to say that tomorrow's game against Penn State will determine which way the 2008 season will go. Lose, and the confidence is shot, making games against even the likes of Indiana and Minnesota something less than sure wins. Win, and the confidence level is high going into tough games against Illinois and Michigan State.

The difference, in my eye, is whether or not a new game-changing playmaker emerges. Brooks Bollinger made all the difference in '99. I remember sitting in the press box in Columbus as the Badgers stormed back from an early deficit against Ohio State for a blowout win. It was clear he had given this team its mojo back.

Who could that guy be this year? I give you two candidates: John Clay and Jay Valai. You may have heard of Clay; I won't write any more about him now.

But think about Valai. He was a force against Ohio State, knocking guys out left and right with huge hits. He might be a little guy, but it appears like he's our biggest hitter, maybe the biggest hitter we've had since Jason Doering. We need his hits to result in turnovers, and need those turnovers to result in six points. We need a mojo infusion.

Jay is also apparently quite charismatic, which makes him a good candidate to assume more of a leadership role, one which I think is currently lacking. (As I write this, the 2008 football poster featuring our 16 seniors is staring at me disapprovingly from the opposite wall of my office. Sorry guys, I'm disappointed with the leadership shown thus far.)

What, you say, about the game-changing, playmaking freshman running back on the 1996 team? That team had more holes and less depth than this year's squad.

As for the Penn State game, most people are seeing this as a win for the other guys. Hard to argue. The win over Illinois was impressive, but it's a little hard to see this as a top-5 team when they appear to lack All-American players. Don't get me wrong, Daryll Clark, Evan Roster, Derrick Williams, Aaron Maybin, Anthony Scirrotto ... there's not shortage of good players there. But the only player on that roster who seems like a star to me is Maurice Evans, who has been suspended much of this season. A real sum-of-its-parts team.

Still, that's more good players than we have at this moment, and a greater sum.

Penn State 33, Wisconsin 20

By the way, did you notice that I came within a point of picking the score of the Ohio State game correctly last week? Hopefully I'm more wrong this week.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Receiving little help

We've talked much lately about the Badgers' mediocre passing attack. In fairness to Allan Evridge, his best receiver, Travis Beckum, has played only 2-1/4 games because of injury this year, and his second-best receiver, Garrett Graham, has missed the first two Big Ten games.

The problem here is not just the injuries, but the fact that beyond our two superlative tight ends, we have little consistency at the wide receiver position. We have plenty of promising young players who have shown signs of becoming playmakers, but so far, none of them has progressed into a producer along the lines of Luke Swan, Brandon Williams, or any of them many other above-average wide receivers we've had.

Look at the depth chart. All five wide receivers listed on the two deep are sophomores (David Gilreath, Daven Jones, Kyle Jefferson, Isaac Anderson) or freshmen (Nick Toon). Maurice Moore also factors in, depending on his health. It's not a stretch to think that at least two of these guys will become 40-catch receivers at some point in their career, maybe even average 15 yards per catch. But right now they're either too small (Gilreath, Anderson, Moore), too skinny (Jefferson) or need to work on their hands (Toon, albeit only going on the TD drop at Michigan).

Plenty of recruiting misses, in addition to a lack of signees at the position, have led to this overreliance on youth.

In the class of 2004, which would be redshirt seniors this year, our only wide receiver recruits were Marcus Randle El and Jarvis Minton, and Randle El wasn't definitely going to play wideout. Obviously neither one of these guys panned out, although Randle El was great at running the fake end around.

In the otherwise very productive class of 2005, which would be true seniors or redshirt juniors this year, our wide receiver recruits were Jarmal Ruffin and Elijah Theus.

There's also the matter of the wide receivers' coach. For so long Henry Mason tutored the wideouts, and drew wide praise for his coaching and his recruiting. DelVaughn Alexander has replaced Mason during the latter's recuperation from injury, and while I don't know enough about coaching receivers to question Alexander's methods -- how many different drills can there be to help guys work on their hands? -- it makes you appreciate even more Mason's influence on the Badger passing game over the years.

So we have is a corps of receivers who would have been better served playing complementary roles this early in their careers, like Jefferson did so well early last year. Were Beckum and Graham healthy, that is where they would likely still be. Since the tight ends' health is going to be touch and go all year, our pups need to grow up in a hurry.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How does Evridge compare?

Following the Ohio State loss there was grumbling about Allan Evridge's play, perhaps made more raw by his game-ending interception thrown back across his body right to a Buckeye defender. Edward opined that this is the worst quarterback play we've gotten since Mike Samuel.

Knee-jerk, I agreed with him. But, because I'm a nerd, I decided to check the numbers and see just how his performance compares to the Badgers' starting quarterbacks of the last 16 seasons. Let me roll them out there, then tell me what you think.

Quarterback rating: Average - 130.6, Evridge - 125.4 (Note: I couldn't find Brooks Bollinger's 1999 rating anywhere, and he only threw 140 passes that season)

Completion percentage: Average - 57.8%, Evridge - 56.6%

Yards per completion: Average - 13.2, Evridge - 13.1

Touchdowns: Average - 12, Evridge (projected) - 13

Interceptions: Average - 7.6, Evridge (projected) - 10

Attempts per interception: Average - 31.8, Evridge - 30.5

Seems like if anything, Evridge is negligibly below average in most of these categories. Now let's see where Evridge ranks among the other 15 starting quarterbacks' seasons in key statistical categories. Average would be eighth or ninth in these rankings.

Quarterback rating: Best - 1993 Darrell Bevell, 155.2, Worst - 2004 John Stocco, 109.8, Evridge - ninth, 125.4

Completion percentage: Best - 1993 Darrell Bevell, 67.8%, Worst - 2001 Brooks Bollinger, 51.4%, Evridge - 11th, 55% (Note: Bevell holds the top three spots on this list, Bollinger three of the lowest five — and he's the one who's had an NFL playing career!)

Yards per completion: Best - 2003 Jim Sorgi, 16.1 (thank you Lee Evans!), Worst - 1994 Darrell Bevell, 11.1 (that's why he was so accurate), Evridge - 10th, 13.1

Yards per game: Best - 2005 John Stocco, 224.6, Worst - 1998 Mike Samuel, 97.9 (how does a team go to the Rose Bowl throwing for less than 100 yards per game?), Evridge - seventh, 179.8

Touchdowns: Best - 2005 John Stocco, 21, Worst - 1998 Mike Samuel/1999 Brooks Bollinger, 6, Evridge - ninth, 13 (projected)

Interceptions: Best - 1998 Mike Samuel/2001 and 2002 Brooks Bollinger, 4, Worst - 1997 Mike Samuel, 13 (maybe that's why he threw 82 fewer passes the next year), Evridge - sixth, 10 (projected)

Attempts per interception: Best - 1999 Brooks Bollinger, 70, Worst - 1997 Mike Samuel, 19.5, Evridge - eighth, 30.5

Here again, Evridge's numbers are average or slightly below average. So from a strictly statistical standpoint, Evridge really isn't horrible, he's middle of the road for Badger quarterbacks in the last 16 seasons. That would be OK if expectations were for this to be a middle of the road Wisconsin team. This had a chance to be a really good one, but mediocre quarterback play has been one of the factors why it is now staring down a .500 record halfway through the regular season.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Clay in '08

And now a word on the Wisconsin running back situation from my friend Matt Schwalbach (I'll look for a better mug shot later, buddy):

While not having the gravity or importance of our presidential election, an important question rages throughout UW football fandom. Do we go with the young and dynamic John Clay or the proven bruiser P.J. Hill at running back?

As John McCain and Barack Obama throw around accusations and half-truths, we voters attempt to find some semblance of fact through the pile of garbage. I do not profess to be an expert on international affairs or the financial mess we find ourselves hip deep in. I would not consider myself a maverick, but I do believe I can provide some clarity on the Badgers running back situation.

John Clay is our present and future hope at running back.

Before falling into mushy, hard-to-quantify intangibles, let’s dive into the undeniable facts in 2008.

First, let’s look into the games against Michigan and Ohio State, the 31st- and 32nd-ranked teams against the run nationally. Let’s throw out the three non-conference games, because none of those teams rank higher than 82nd in rush defense, with two of them amongst the worst in the NCAA (Akron and Fresno St.). We’re looking at what you do during the tough battles, not the cream puffs.

Clay has collected 46 percent of his 262 yards on the year (121) against the Wolverines and Buckeyes. Hill has only collected 26 percent of his 526 against these quality teams. Against UM and OSU, Clay handily wins the yards-per-carry battle, averaging 9.3 yards per carry to Hill’s 3.5.

Secondly, in an offense that lacks playmakers besides Travis Beckum and a quarterback situation that may be worse than at any point in recent UW history, you need all the help you can get scoring points. While P.J. has five touchdowns to Clay’s four (in 69 less carries, I might add), Clay provides a punch to the offense that Hill just doesn’t.

On the nine drives Clay has touched the ball two times or more, the Badgers have scored every single time. UW has managed seven touchdowns and two field goals on these nine drives. The Badgers have scored 17 touchdowns this year, which means that Clay’s been involved in 41 percent of UW drives that end in paydirt. This while carrying the ball nearly 70 times less than Hill.

Now, I know the coaching staff has brought Clay along slowly because of some concerns over his ability to get things right. I ask, at what cost? Add in the reality that this team is going to struggle to even get to a New Year’s Day bowl this year after high expectations, and it becomes a matter of nothing left to lose. UW will be very young the next couple of years, so why not get a jump start on the future.

P.J. seems to be a likable guy – a “program guy” – who has worked hard in the offseason to improve his body and become more effective. He can, and should, still play a role on the field and in the huddle. Unfortunately, he’s a victim of circumstance. It’s not his fault or an indictment on his play.

He’s good but Clay is great. “Clay in ’08.” It’s got a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

Point-counterpoint, 12 years later

An open letter to my dear friend Matt Schwalbach:

Twelve autumns ago, while we toiled in the bowels of Vilas Hall, as co-sports editors of the Daily Cardinal, a pudgy freshman running back started his Wisconsin football career quickly, and threatened to claim the starting job from a ballyhooed veteran, who had rushed for more than 1,000 yards himself the year before.

"Let's do a point-counterpoint," someone suggested (it was probably Vince Filak, now my friend on Facebook). "Who should start at tailback: Carl McCullough or Ron Dayne?"

Someone else volunteered to take the Dayne position; I forget who. So who was going to advocate McCullough? No takers.

You, Schwib, bravely stepped up to the plate and took the position that no one else on campus or in Badger Nation was willing to take at the time, aside from Mrs. McCullough.

So here we are, 12 years later. The Badgers' incumbent starter and two-time 1,000-yard rusher, P.J. Hill, is playing OK football, but seems to be lacking spark, missing sizzle. Then there's the young pup, John Clay, touted by many as the greatest running back in Wisconsin prep history. His runs against tough defenses from Michigan and Ohio State have electrified the masses, who are calling for more.

Just as for four years we heard "Roooooon Daaaaayne" from the PA announcer, we deserve four years of "Joooooohn Claaaaaay," don't we?

Schwib, to atone for the difficult spot in which you were placed 12 years ago, I am offering you the opportunity to pen a point-counterpoint piece advocating John Clay be the Badgers' starting tailback. The pro-P.J. side of things is open, but if there are no takers (not counting on Will Bottinick), I will take one for the team and write it. I've already got the "blitz pickup" and "knows all the plays" coaching cliches at my fingertips.

The opportunity is there, let me know if you want to take it.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Marcus Landry: The Family Guy

My brother, who knows a thing or two about parenting, the other day forwarded me a link to this excellent story about Marcus Landry. It's long, but not too long, give it a read.

Every day Jana and I find ourselves returning from work at 5:30 and engaging our boys until they go to bed, Will at 8 or so and Charlie any time around then. By 9 we are utterly exhausted. I can't imagine what it's like to be Landry, going to class like a normal student, getting in all the work required of a key player in a big-time college basketball program, parenting, then studying.

One might ask if it was a good decision to have three children before both parents had finished their college education, but they seem to be getting along just fine. Best of luck to Marcus, Efueko, and the kids.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday thoughts

At least the Brewers won last night. By my estimate, that's another $1 million-plus in ticket revenue alone, which the team could put toward paying for the equivalent of one start on CC Sabathia's next contract.

Onto more pressing matters, here's how I'm seeing the Big Ten right now:

1. Penn State. Still don't think they're national title caliber, and think they'll stumble at least once in conference, but clearly the class of the league right now.

2. Illinois. They're tough. Who's playing better than Juice Williams right now?

3. Ohio State. They've got to get Beanie Wells all lathered up more often. Maybe his toe is bugging him, although it sure didn't look like it last night.

4. Michigan State. But if we're going to rank you #4 in the conference, you shouldn't be beating Iowa by only three at home.

5. Michigan. Guess their defense isn't that good.

6. Wisconsin. A couple plays/minutes/calls/hearts from being on the top of this list. What could have been ...

7. Minnesota. Holding Indiana to seven points is sort of impressive.

8. Indiana. Kind of like Ohio State, without the running game or good defense.

9. Northwestern. I guess. They're saying Mike Hankwitz is making a big difference coordinating their defense. I'm saying they've beaten Syracuse, Duke, Southern Illinois, Ohio, and Iowa.

10. Iowa. What's going on Kirk? Maybe Bielema will be a candidate for the Hawkeyes job after this season, and maybe Barry lets him go. Seems unlikely, right? Not as unlikely as it did nine days ago.

11. Purdue. Sad way for Joe Tiller to go out.

That's what she said

Time for a pick-me-up, Badger fans. This ought to do the trick.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

UW-Ohio State thoughts

Well, that was disappointing, wasn't it? Looks like we're quickly fading from Big Ten title contender to afterthought. Motor City Bowl, here we come.

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.

-I liked seeing P.J. and Clay in the backfield at the same time, but can we give up on the pass in the flat to Hill? First Evridge bounces one, then P.J. can't handle a relative gimme.

-My guess is a lot of fans are going to be clamoring for Clay to be the starter after tonight's performance. I'm not ready to, but it's close. P.J. didn't run badly at all tonight, and his touchdown run, where he drove Ross Homan into the end zone, was a man's run. But things seem to pop more when Clay gets the carry. As Mike Patrick pointed out, he hits the hole faster than Hill.

-A key play early in the second half that killed momentum was Isaac Anderson's drop of a perfectly good Evridge pass. Didn't seem like a huge deal, but it cost us the chance to go up two scores and put more pressure on Pryor.

-Shane Carter was very tentative on Wells' big runs. It almost seems like because he got burned taking bad angles so often last season, he's trying to play things more cautiously this year -- and against good backs like Wells, the result is the same.

-That guy at Mickies Dairy Bar was reading the Herald, not the Cardinal -- that doesn't reflect reality, does it? ;)

-It was distressing that Pryor beat us on the final drive with his passing. He looked like he was shot putting the ball back there. Not sure if that's how he normally throws or if it was the hand injury, but it was ugly; got the job done, though. OSU's receivers were wide open, even though we appeared to be dropping six or seven guys into coverage.

-A key field position exchange came late in the third quarter, when Ohio State's A.J. Trapasso outpunted our Brad Nortman by about 20 yards. That negated a nice job our defense had done stopping them deep, and gave the Buckeyes a short field to drive for a field goal.

-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.)

Ohio State may win out and return to the national championship game (and the nation cringes), but there's really nothing special about this team yet. Just like there's nothing special about ours.

In a way, losing last week at Michigan makes this one easier to stomach (finally, a silver lining!). Maybe eased of the burden of great expectations, the Badgers will play loose and go on a run. Or maybe they go into a tailspin and this program is doing some soul searching this offseason. Right now it could go either way.

UW-Ohio State halftime thoughts

This has been a tough first half to watch, not necessarily because of the action, but because I've been switching back and forth between the Badger and Brewer games. Thank goodness for DVR.

After a shaky start, we've outplayed Ohio State thus far, and it's nice for that to be reflected in the halftime score. We've been more physical, gotten a number of players involved in offense, and Evridge has gradually played better. Keep it up and we've got a shot to win this one.

-Quote of the first half, upon seeing Ohio State's long-maned tight end Jake Ballard: "Look Daddy, I saw a girl on the field!" Good thing he didn't see Aubrey Pleasant.

-Ohio State's offensive line really blocked Beanie Wells' touchdown run well. Freshman center Michael Brewster engulfed Jonathan Casillas to create the key lane.

-Terrelle Pryor just eats up yardage when he runs, it seems like it takes him about three steps to cover 10 yards. We've done a nice job containing that part of his game, though. The key is to approach him under control and not running full speed, because he's shifty enough to sidestep that.

-If I were callings plays for Ohio State I'd run Wells every play until we stop him three in a row. Ten rushes in a half in a game like this isn't enough for that guy.

-Terrific play by Allen Langford on the pick. Pryor threw a bad ball, but Langford stayed right with the receiver and did a great job boxing out.

-You might expect this, but I love how Camp Randall looks at night. It just screams Big Game. If anyone reading this went to the game, please comment on how the crowd was, and why. On the broadcast Mike Patrick commented that the crowd seemed quiet, and wondered whether it was because of the band's absence.

-After two passes Mickey Turner's way I wrote "Why are we passing to Turner so much?" Especially one third down, where Evridge tried to squeeze a tough pass to Mickey when Travis Beckum was wide open. But Evridge and Turner both made nice plays on the touchdown later in the half.

-Look out if you're sitting in the front row, Jay Valai is hitting everything in sight tonight. His first big hit came on an Ohio State third down attempt, when he blew up the blocker -- when he should have attacked the receiver right next to him. But he laid a great lick on Dan Herron (hopefully he's okay) and later on Dane Sanzenbacher (ditto). He needs to be more consistently under control, but his reckless abandon feels right tonight.

-Dave Doeren has made some nice blitz calls, especially the one where Deandre Levy and Mike Newkirk got through to sack Pryor. The Buckeyes blocked Valai but let those two dudes come through untouched -- bad decision.

-I thought I saw Dustin Scherer warming up before the 91-yard touchdown drive, and thought him replacing Evridge at that point would be a good move. But Evridge stayed in and responded with a great drive.

-So Josh Oglesby's under the gun tonight, replacing Gabe Carimi. Heckuva time to make your debut at left tackle. Guess this means Jake Bscherer is definitely redshirting this season.

-Think we can put that David Gilreath end-around on the shelf for the rest of the night. It was fun while it lasted.

-That touchdown drive -- 91 yards, 8:16 -- was the best of the year, bar none. Terrific play calling, good running, timely passing when needed.

-John Clay looks good again. He always seems to be moving forward, even when he's dancing and waiting for a hole to develop. Sometimes P.J. seems like he stops in those situations, although he's had some solid runs as well.

-Another great hit: Billy Rentmeester runs over Brian Hartline on punt coverage. Love the way we're hitting.

-Evridge's best pass of the night came late to Kyle Jefferson to set up that field goal. Maybe if everyone's keying on Beckum that will be open again once or twice in the second half. OSU's got good DBs, though, wouldn't count on it.

Hopefully in 90 minutes we'll be basking in the glow of dual big wins by the home teams.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Leadership crisis?

Earlier this week, I did an interview with Aaron Rennie of CFB Weekly, the college football blog radio show. Click here to listen to it. My part comes last, and you'll listen to bloggers talking about Oregon State, Alabama, Missouri, and Michigan before getting to my segment. Aaron asked me questions about the Michigan game and the Madison tailgating scene.

He also asked what I thought the keys to the Ohio State game would be. Honestly, I didn't have much insightful to say. What it boiled down to was we have to turn Terrelle Pryor into a thrower and limit his running attempts, and our offense needs to establish the run. Rocket science, I know.

But I think what we're looking for here is something more intangible. This Badger team has talent and experience -- but does it have sufficient leadership? I'm worried that we're lacking in that area.

For all the talk about dropped balls and play calling and missed opportunities, those were just symptoms. The Badgers lacked the will and killer instinct to put a subpar Michigan team away last week.

For all the talk about Pryor and Beanie Wells and Ohio State's defense and how we'll handle them, the Badgers need leadership to carry them tomorrow night. Not just rah-rah, yell at your teammates leadership. But getting out there even if you're not 100%. Not committing mental errors that lead to penalties or botched plays. Not playing tentatively. Wisconsin's supposed leaders -- the upperclassmen who have started for multiple years -- have all been guilty of failing in one or more of those areas.

I thought the win at Fresno State showed this team had strong leadership, gutting out a close win in a tough environment. In reality, I probably overrated Fresno, and if we could have won that game by two scores.

Leadership (and a weaker Big Ten) is what lifted the 2006 team to a 12-1 record. This 2008 team is arguably more talented, but it stands on the brink of being 3-3 eight days from now, searching for answers.

Tomorrow night's game should be close. Ohio State isn't as good as most people thought coming into the season, and they're certainly not as bad as many people thought following their blowout loss at USC. Holding the game at night at Camp Randall is certainly an advantage for us. The game will probably be tight, and whichever team's leaders carry their team better will come out on top. Unfortunately, I think Jim Tressel's team has the edge.

Ohio State 21, Wisconsin 17

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Badger classic: Wisconsin 17, Ohio State 10

Over the summer I recorded the Big Ten Network's re-airing of Wisconsin's 2003 win over Ohio State at Camp Randall, which ended the defending national champions' 19-game winning streak. This being the five-year anniversary of that game, and with a Camp Randall night game against OSU scheduled for October 4, what better time to review that game than now?

-That was a nasty night, weather-wise. It wasn't such a bad day, but as gametime approached things got worse. Up here in Scandinavia, we got the same rain and wind that Madison got, which knocked my satellite reception out moments before the opening kickoff. I was miffed, but the feed came back soon enough.

-I would really like to remember this as the Lee Evans/Matt Schabert Game. The game-winning touchdown pass was a thing of beauty, a perfect route run by our All-American coming off knee surgery, the kid from Ohio who had been shut out to that point. Schabert was coming in off the bench cold, hadn't done much of anything to that point, and threw a perfect pass. Later he picked up a big first down on a naked bootleg. Never to be heard from again ...

-But whenever that game comes to mind, it's as the Robert Reynolds Chokes Sorgi Game. Five years hasn't really made me any less mad about the incident.

First Reynolds chokes Jim Sorgi, and no penalty is called. Then, Reynolds' coaches leave him in the game -- hey, he was their leading tackler that night, can't pull him, right? Then, after committing what was a borderline criminal act, Jim Tressel suspends him ... for one game!

Sure, he apologized afterward, but they were hollow words. With about five minutes to play in that game it looked like Ohio State was going to win, with Reynolds' choke of Sorgi a big reason why.

Not surprisingly, several years later Reynolds was involved in a domestic dispute with his then-wife. According to the AP story, "She said she was afraid because her husband is 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds and has a 'violent past.' She told police this wasn't the first time Reynolds had been violent, although only one report was previously filed with authorities." The Sorgi choking was mentioned at the bottom of the story.

All this self-righteousness from me aside, here's hoping Reynolds has gotten control of his violent side and is leading an honorable life nowadays.

At the time, with Maurice Clarett still a vivid memory, it seemed like Tressel was building a renegade program for the new millennium. The Buckeyes have seemingly cleaned up their act since.

-It's still baffling to me that if Sorgi was hurt so badly he couldn't speak, that if his throat or esophagus or vocal chords were that badly injured, why wasn't he taken to a hospital, or at least to the locker room? Instead he just looked like a sad little boy on the sideline, while Reynolds marched on.

-Ohio State these last 2-3 years is much, much better than they were in 2002-03, national title notwithstanding. It speaks to the overall strength of the rest of the college football world — specifically the SEC — that the Buckeyes have not won a national title with these players.

-OSU's offense in 2003 was very average, as was our defense. The Buckeyes' defense was fierce, though — Will Smith, A.J. Hawk, Will Allen, Chris Gamble. And what about B.J. Sander, the best third round draft pick in Packers history?

-Our guys looked slow wearing white shoes.

-Matt LePay commented in one of the many interviews airing around the broadcast that Barry Alvarez preferred playing teams like Ohio State because they are no frills. I feel exactly the same way — forget the Spread, line up and play football like men. Used to feel the same way about playing Michigan, until they decided to import the same offense Northwestern uses.

-Brandon Williams played really well early, did a nice job finding openings in the defense.

-Booker Stanley and Matt Bernstein were terrific pounding out tough yardage on the ground. That game showed the need for our program to have three capable tailbacks.

-Anttaj Hawthorne played a great game up front, flashing the promise that made him seem like a future NFL player. Alas, it was not to be.

-Spotted a true freshman Joe Thomas wearing #82 in the Jumbo package, funny.

-Still get goosebumps watching the end of a big Badger win like this one, even when the outcome is known ahead of time and I'm watching it on my living room floor by myself. Let's get 'em again this weekend!