Thursday, December 31, 2009

UW-Ohio State thoughts

Over Christmas the guys in my family were talking about Evan Turner's injury and how it obviously significantly weakens Ohio State. Someone asked when we played them, and when I responded New Year's Eve in Madison someone else said it was too bad we didn't get them in Columbus while he was out.

We do play them again January 16 in Columbus, and it's a good bet Turner will still be out then. OSU is going to have a tough time beating any good team without him, they were brutal today. They have a lot of good players even without Turner, but they also have no point guard and no post play, and playing five swingmen with similar skill sets can only get you so far.

This afternoon it got the Buckeyes roughly half as many points against Wisconsin as UW-Green Bay scored.

But this isn't an opponent-bashing post, we played really well, great way to close out the calendar year.

-Crowd was electric today, best since the Duke game. Glad to see the kids make it back for this one.

-Early quote from Steve Lavin about Trevon Hughes: "He is completely at peace with his game." Very well said. He's not forcing shots, the form on his jumper is beautiful, and he's under control (most of the time).

-Listening to the radio pregame a thought crossed my mind: "When was the last time any of our key guys missed extensive time with foul trouble?" Then it happened to Jon Leuer, and we didn't miss a beat. Plus, he came out on fire in the second half, and even ended up with five assists in 18 minutes.

-I love how Rob Wilson and Ryan Evans get in the game and shoot almost as soon as they touch the ball. Seriously, I do. We have enough patient guys who run the offense all the way through, and that's good. But every now and then we need to mix up some quicker shots to guard against becoming too predictable, something Pop usually does but that these young bucks are willing to do, too. (For further reading, see my post last year where I advocated the Badgers taking more bad shots, which I'm sure made a lot of you roll your eyes.)

-If only that trait could be grafted onto Keaton Nankivil, who made two confident jumpers in our first half run that essentially put the game away. Keep shooting big fella, you're good at it!

-Has Jordan Taylor reached the point where we're taking his contributions for granted? He played 26 minutes with 12 points, three assists, three rebounds, two steals, and no turnovers. Pretty sure he was at the point when Pop went off in the first half. Love that kid.

-Late in the first half, we had back-to-back terrible inbounds plays from our own baseline. First, Jarmusz's pass was knocked out of bounds, then his next pass was stolen. Please Bo, please, DRAW UP A PLAY FOR THESE SITUATIONS!

-Ohio State's zone was either lazy or just unaware on countless occasions, not impressive at all.

-Dallas Lauderdale does a lot of things well for Ohio State, but he is one of the worst shooters I've ever seen. How about that early play where he made a nice post move to get around Nankivil, then shot an uncontested 3-footer about 3 feet high and to the left of the rim. Or the free throw that he banked in. Ugh.

-Liked Turner's decision to rock the sweater vest today, but it was way too baggy. Heading into fashion commentary, time to wrap it up.

I sincerely hope we are ranked higher than Ohio State when the new polls come out next week. We proved today that, right now at least, we are a far better team. At Penn State on Sunday, followed by four games against ranked teams, so getting to 2-0 is a necessity.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

UW-Miami box score

I'm still glowing from last night's Badger win, what a way to end the season and get a strong start on 2010. Again, more on that later. Let's look at the box score for some stats that may not have been available immediately after the game.

-Time of possession edge for Bucky: 39:15 to 20:45. Love it. Great balanced play calling by Paul Chryst and above average execution allows that to happen.

-More on that: Miami had 71 tackles, Wisconsin had 41.

-Red zone efficiency: 4-for-4. Stellar all year.

-The temperature was indeed 50 degrees at gametime. It just baffles me that this is heater weather for any team, even one from Florida. Did you see those fat guys from UCLA walking around shirtless in 30-degree Washington, D.C., before their bowl game? Wish I hadn't, but you have to like their attitude. Miami didn't have it.

-Niles Brinkley led us with six tackles. I thought the late hit penalty he got whistled for was iffy, but it was close enough to not be horrible.

-On penalties: I thought the two Kraig Appleton got called for were iffy, but close enough to be horrible. Glad to see him out there a lot, he could conceivably take a big step forward next year, a la Nick Toon this year.

-What a way for O'Brien Schofield to go out: two sacks and a forced fumble. You could argue that Scott Tolzien's performance had more to do with us reversing last year's course with his efficient play, but it's hard to argue that any single player was more important to this year's success than Schofield. He made a ton of tackles behind the line of scrimmage and exhibited terrific leadership. We've got a ton coming back next year, but O'Beezy will be tough to replace.

-Although J.J. Watt seems like a great bet to do it. Two tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups. It would be great to see a full year of J.J. at full strength.

-Chris Borland: two tackles for loss and two QB hurries. No extra points. Jae McFadden and Culmer St. Jean had solid games, but with Borland, Blake Sorensen and Mike Taylor coming back I'm not worried about this unit at all. Especially excited about Taylor's return.

-Another note on Brad Nortman: three punts downed inside the 20, only six punt return yards for Miami.

Watching the rest of these bowl games will be much more enjoyable after last night's win. Hopefully the Big Ten goes on to have a solid showing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

UW-Miami thoughts

What a win. What a win! Outstanding effort all the way around by the Badgers, great finish to a very satisfying year.

There are larger implications from winning this game, which we'll get to in the days to come, while we focus on tonight's game immediately. But the one thing I couldn't help but think in the immediate aftermath was this: Bret Bielema has a signature win, and the days of seem like a long, long time ago. This program heads into the offseason on solid footing.

On to tonight's game:

-Other than the first play of the game, we thoroughly dominated this game. For being the team that 90% of experts picked to win this game, Miami came out flat, predictable, and had glaring weaknesses exposed. The weather, "c0ld" at around 50 degrees, seemed to adversely affect Miami (did you see Donna Shalala bundled up like it was February in Madison? She's gotten soft). Our December game at Hawaii helped us maintain a good rhythm heading into this game, and we basically played our game: balanced offense, pass rush leading the defense. Miami was running trick plays from the opening whistle and didn't seem convinced they were the better team. If that was the case, they were right.

-Be honest: when we botched yet another onside kick recovery (how many was that this year?), you thought we were going to steal defeat from the jaws of victory, didn't you? Or was that just me? But give a load of credit to our defense, especially the line, who played great all night. Give the defensive game ball to J.J. Watt, who is setting the stage for two all-conference seasons. O'Brien Schofield was terrific too, we've come to expect that from him. And Chris Borland was around the ball a ton, showing some great speed and pass rush moves (Did you see his spin move that caused the Miami lineman to fall down? Vintage Borland.)

-Give credit to our defensive backs, too. The pass rush was consistent and kept Jacory Harris off balance, but with a couple exceptions our guys had decent coverage. A note on Chris Maragos: when he went off injured after our last kickoff, I noted it to Jana as a huge problem, and Miami marched straight down the field. Harris made a good throw to Hankerson, who made a nice catch in front of Aaron Henry, who should have blown him up instead of waiting for a tipped ball to fall into his hands. We'll miss Maragos.

-We heard a lot about Miami's run defense leading up to this game, and about our failings in the run game against Ohio State and Iowa (maybe they have pretty good defenses). Well guess what? We ran for 170 yards, John Clay went for 121 yards and two touchdowns, and Montee Ball had a solid 61 and didn't look intimidated at all. Let's identify who deserves primary credit for this:

Gabe Carimi, Travis Frederick, John Moffitt, Kevin Zeitler, Josh Oglesby. With a few exceptions, the holes weren't gaping, but they were substantial enough for 3-4 yards at a crack, which we'll take all day. Carimi coming back from his early leg injury was huge, as was Oglesby after his several-game absence. It's hard to properly identify interior blocking at times, but Frederick, Moffitt, and Zeitler were solid.

-Lance Kendricks had a big block on Clay's second touchdown run, but more notably he had 128 yards receiving. Good time to have a career day and set the stage for an all-conference senior season. Throw in Garrett Graham's six catches for 73 yards, and our tight ends went for more than 200 yards receiving tonight. That's one way to negate Miami's advantage at cornerback. Big props to Paul Chryst for designing a game plan that put these two guys in open spaces.

-Somebody had to get them the ball, and Scott Tolzien played a great game. He completed almost 75% of his throws and went for more than 250 yards (we also heard about his strugles against ranked teams too, didn't we?). He had the pick, but that was more the result of a nice play by Miami's lineman. Our pass protection wasn't exactly airtight, but it gave Tolzien enough time to diagnose the coverage and step into throws, and he consistently got the ball out just in time to the right guy. In last year's Champs Sports Bowl, our scattershot quarterback play helped us get blown out. In this year's, it helped us pull an upset.

-Speaking of last year, how do you think last year's team would have done after giving up a game-opening kickoff return for a touchdown*; throwing a pick on the edge of the red zone; fumbling away the game-salting touchdown; racking up 60 yards in penalties, which all seemed to negate crucial plays; fumbling an onside kick? Any one or two of those things would have done in last year's team. This year's team was resilient, we overcame all those negatives. Give credit to the captains: Maragos, Schofield, Graham, Mickey Turner, with help from the likes of Watt, Moffitt, Sherer, McFadden. Great leadership and chemistry this year.

-All year I've been complaining about Brad Nortman's propensity for kicking the ball into the end zone. Today he had at least two great punts that pinned Miami deep in their own territory. Great time for him to figure that out. And how about Philip Welch coming through with two field goals? Who's next to find his accuracy, Mason Crosby?

Did you see how the kids mobbed Bielema after the game? It was the best indication yet to me that this team realized that while Bielema and his staff took a lot of heat after 2008 (rightfully so), the players themselves had to take ownership of the results as well. The fact that they took a program that started with a ton of question marks in August and turned it into 10 wins and a victory over an ascendant Miami program in their home state in a game nobody thought they'd win had to be an incredibly satisfying experience for them to share. It showed in their reaction.

Watching tonight's game was an incredibly satisfying experience for me and Badger fans around the world.

Going to try and sleep now, wish me luck.

UW-Miami halftime thoughts

For as poorly as this game started, you have to be happy with a 17-7 halftime lead. I mean really, we've dominated this game with the exception of one play. It could be 24-0 or 28-0. Now the key is to make the proper halftime adjustments, or counter their adjustments.

It's funny that Miami has heaters on the sideline, it appears to be around 50 degrees. They're over there shivering (Donna Shalala in a parka!) while our guys are in short sleeves. That can't be good for their mindset.

Surprised that Miami called so many trick plays so early in the game. On one hand, it's a bowl game, you've had a chance to work on some new things like that. On the other hand, you're the prohibitive favorite, you should line up and play straight. Their kickoff return reverse was just beautiful, especially after seeing that aerial view showing that Shields actually lined up on the first line of blockers.

We've run the ball very well with Clay, he's been patient and let his blocking develop. On his long run, Travis Frederick and John Moffitt had picture perfect blocks. On his touchdown run Lance Kendricks blasted the defender backward. And Montee Ball has looked good in his carries of relief.

What a great half by Kendricks ... except for that end around, which we busted out for the first time since the Purdue game. Tolzien has been fairly sharp, the interception was a nice play by their defensive lineman.

J.J. Watt and O'Brien Schofield have played their usual game, and the other guy who's stuck out on defense has been Jay Valai. And other than that opening return, the special teams have been good with Brad Nortman and Philip Welch contributing nice kicks.

Miami looks out of synch right now offensively, and their defense has shown cracks. Jacory Harris looks hobbled, and they just lost their fastest back. It would be nice to get six right off the bat, make them predictable, and play keepaway with our running game.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Wow, this bowl game really snuck up on us. If only we were playing in the Alamo Bowl against the team whose coach locks concussed players in closets, we'd have a few more post-Christmas days to mull over our bowl matchup.

But it's here, and we're the marquee game tonight. Should be a good one. Everyone has been asking me what I think, and while I think Miami should be favored, I also think the Badgers are going to win.

Why? A gut feeling as much as anything. As much as we agonize over this year's losses to Ohio State, Iowa and Northwestern, let's not forget about nine good wins.

As much as we fret about Miami's skill players and excellent young quarterback, let's not forget that we have an above-average pass rush (against a line missing its standout left tackle) and a run defense that didn't allow a 100-yard rusher in Big Ten play. It's not inconceivable that O'Brien Schofield, J.J. Watt, or Chris Borland could have a huge day for the front seven. Jacory Harris has thrown the ball to the other team a lot this year, why not again Tuesday night?

As much as we worry about facing a defense that slowed Georgia Tech's rushing attack, let's not forget that we have impeccable offensive balance. It's not inconceivable that John Clay could go for 150 yards, that Scott Tolzien could go for 250 yards, that Nick Toon or Garrett Graham could go for 100 yards and a couple touchdowns.

My point is that we have good players, too. Unlike last year, this year's Badgers have chemistry. The leadership is better this year. The coaching has been better. The quarterback play has been competent most of the year, which has kept the weaker parts of our team from being exposed.

I think this game is going to come down to special teams. We need either David Gilreath or Philip Welch to produce an unexpected plus play, and to not suffer any big negative plays (fumble, long return allowed).

So here it is: Wisconsin 26, Miami 23. Let's go Badgers!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

UW-Chicago thoughts

Watched Sunday's game on a picture-in-picture during the end of the Packer game, then later at home while reading Bill Simmons' new book. Figured I wouldn't miss much, and I was right.

Wasn't it only a few years ago that Illinois-Chicago was pretty tough and a fierce rival of UWM's in the Horizon League? They had some guys who just looked terrible out there, very much out of place on a Division 1 roster.

So not much to report on, but I did take away these positives:

-Ryan Evans played a great game. He's confident, aggressive, not afraid to make something happen. A very solid second guy off the bench.

-Rob Wilson didn't score, but grabbed eight rebounds and played solid defense. Good move by Bo to get him 16 minutes in our last non-conference game.

-Also good to get Mike Bruesewitz double-digit minutes, although he hasn't looked like the difference-maker he was in Hawaii. He's got a lot of time left in Madison, though.

-Jordan Taylor looks ready to play 20-plus minutes a night in the Big Ten and let Pop focus on scoring for stretches.

-Has a very good game from Jon Leuer become a given? He looked like an eighth grader playing with fifth graders yesterday, particularly on the offensive boards.

(Favorite moment from the broadcast: J-Bo throws Leuer an alley-oop that looks like a shot, really well-designed and executed play. Tim Doyle talks about how Leuer identified the airball early and adjusted, even after Craig Coshun twice correctly identified it as a pass. I mean, the pass/"shot" was three feet right and three feet short of the rim. J-Bo's struggled at times this year, but he always hits the rim! Great call as usual, Timmy.)

-And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Keaton Nankivil's dunk. The lineup we're trotting out there this year looks much more athletic than last year's.

Which is important because the Big Ten is going to be rough this year. Doyle is predicting an undefeated home run for us in conference play, which I appreciate but don't agree with. Still, I don't see how you could feel much better about the Badgers' chances right now, they've played very well and shown some unexpected strengths.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Nobody loves Tolzien

Saw this mentioned on the other day, I remember this during the Ohio State game, it was pretty funny.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

In continuing with the Badgercentric tradition of posting feel-good videos on Christmas, we present the UW-Purdue game from 2004:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Royce White quits Gophers on YouTube

I may be a few days late on this, but, as the kids might say, OMG.

If memory serves, it was only a few short months ago that our poor Gopher fan friend Chris Toren was just raving about Royce, that this was the type of elite athlete Tubby Smith was bringing in now. My comment was something like, "Yeah, we'll see if he lasts one year." For once it turns out I was prescient.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

UW-Milwaukee thoughts

You know who had the best game tonight? Shon Morris of the Big Ten Network. He was funny, witty, insightful. Kudos, Shon Morris. You're much better than Tim Doyle.

As for the game, what sticks out to me is that we didn't play great defense. Milwaukee didn't put up a ton of points, but that was because their shots started going awry, not because we were forcing them into anything uncomfortable. They were able to successfully get the ball into James Eayrs and Anthony Hill on a number of occasions because we didn't have weakside help positioned properly. And we seemed to give up post-guard switches way too early on ball screens. Better offensive players will make us pay for that. Our defense needs to be better.

-Jon Leuer was superb tonight. Morris made the excellent point that right now there's no hesitation in his game, spot on. Jon's making post moves, pulling up for jumpers off the dribble, getting putbacks. Only thing he didn't do tonight was make a 3-pointer, but as you know I'm just fine with that. If you're playing against us, who do you put on Leuer? I'd put a 6-6 guy on him and front him aggressively.

-On that hesitation point, tonight Keaton Nankivil hesitated, and as such only took a few shots. The other night against Cal Poly, he didn't and he shot extremely well. Same last year in the Purdue game at home. Morris said Keaton doesn't know how good he can be, which is exactly right. I would love to see him look for his shot more, he could be the third scorer that would make us very dangerous.

-Jordan Taylor didn't shoot a high percentage tonight but he played well. Point guard is in good hands for the next couple years.

-Mike Bruesewitz got minutes ahead of Jared Berggren tonight, which goes back to my point a few days ago about having too many 6-11+ guys. Would have liked to see Rob Wilson get a few minutes tonight.

-I've seen pictures of Eayrs before and knew he was a wide body, but this was the first time I'd seen him play. He's a good player, knows his way around the basket. It does puzzle me, though, how a basketball player -- someone who runs for more than two hours a day for almost six months a year and theoretically works out almost that much the rest of the year -- could be that overweight. Had the same thoughts abou Oliver Miller when he was active, and other heavy dudes. Would Eayrs' effectiveness actually be diminished with less weight? Hard to say.

-I like Ricky Franklin, he's a nice guard. A few years back when he was coming out of high school word was that he was considering walking on at UW, and lots of us were excited. Didn't work out, but he's done well for himself in Milwaukee.

-Milwaukee's not bad, they'll win some games this year. They're the type of team that might beat a Butler but lose to a lesser team in their league the next time out. During their halftime chat, Brent Stover asked Bo Ryan and Rob Jeter if they'd ever be on the same bench again. My thought was I hope not, because it would mean that Robby got canned at Milwaukee. It would be great if he could get that program back to the level it reached under Bruce Pearl, so he would become the logical successor to Bo in Madison.

Up next is what looks like a really bad Illinois-Chicago team, which should be a good opportunity to play the regulars 25 minutes for an Ohio State tuneup, then get Wilson, Berggren, Bruiser, et al some floor time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bigger Ten

Since news started trickling out about Big Ten expansion, lots of people at work have been asking what I think of it. In a nutshell, I think it's a great idea, naming challenges aside.

(In high school, we played in the Wisconsin Little Ten, which had eight teams in it, so I've seen it go both ways.)

Expansion is the logical thing to do, and not just so the conference has a game after Thanksgiving and takes in revenue from a football championship game. More important is adding another top academic institution, broadening the base of exposure to help recruiting, and adding television markets. Here are my preferred Big Ten additions, in order of preference and likelihood:

-Missouri: Good academics, can deliver St. Louis and Kansas City, good athletic traditions but not insurmountable, makes sense geographically. We've recruited really well in St. Louis at times over the years. But has strong ties to former Big Eight schools, rivalry with Kansas.

-Louisville: Great basketball tradition and coach, has reached high levels of football success recently, adjacent to Indiana and Ohio. We've never really recruited there, would be tough to go in and beat Cards, Kentucky, Ohio State and Indiana. Not sure about academics, but it doesn't seem to make anyone's top lists. No history with Big East, although that could be said for much of that monstrosity of a conference.

-Rutgers: Good academics, big state school in rich recruiting state that has been good to us. Not much athletic tradition, recent football success aside, and they aren't really relevant in the New York media market.

-Syracuse: Would love to add them, but it's a long shot.

-Pittsburgh: Same with Pitt.

-Iowa State: Seems like a good school, has had some athletic success at times, but it's hard to see two schools from a states as small as Iowa being in one BCS conference.

I'm not even going to put Notre Dame on this list. They should stay independent, and will, and it makes sense for them. No need to exert our brains thinking about this one.

A friend at work was throwing out names like Boise State and TCU, not sure where he heard that, but it doesn't make much sense. You start doing that and you become a ridiculous amalgamation of teams like the Big East, which makes no sense. Better to stick at 11 than to add a 12th team that doesn't fit right.

What's interesting is to think about how two Big Ten divisions would break down. East-West seems logical, and if the 12th school was Missouri, it would probably go something like:

West: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern, Missouri
East: Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State

The East looks stronger, at least for football, but maybe by not as large of a margin as it might seem. If it was someone like Louisville or Rutgers, it could look something like this:

West: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue
East: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Louisville/Rutgers

You'd almost have to do it this way to preserve the best conference rivalries, the 10 bucket-related games Minnesota plays every year notwithstanding.

(Then again, to reference my high school again, our town had West Bend East and West Bend West in a city that runs primarily north and south, and kids from the same street went to different schools. So reason doesn't always prevail.)

Adding Penn State almost 20 years ago has worked out well. PSU has been a nice addition to the conference without becoming dominant, and has stretched the league's horizons sufficiently eastward. We'll see what happens this time around, should be interesting.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The majors

On the topic of academics, I found this in a post on the other night while reading endless speculation about the Jeronne Maymon deal at Marquette and what it means (which, for the record, Badgercentric will refrain from entering).

From "idoublebogie" comparing majors for players at MU and UW:

Vander (Blue)'s Mom should look at this :

Acker - Comm. Studies
Butler - Undecided (he's a JUNIOR)
Buycks - Comm. Studies
Cadougan - Undecided
Cubillan - Undecided (he's a SENIOR)
Fulce - Undecided (JUNIOR)
Hayward - Social Welfare
Johnson-Odom - Undecided
Maymon - Undecided
Mbao - Undecided
Otule - Undecided
Williams - Undecided

Berggren - Undecided
Bohannon - Business Marketing
Bruiser - Undecided
Evans - Business
Gavinski - Human Ecology
Hughes - Life Sciences Communications
Jarmusz - Business
Leuer - Business
Markolf - Finance
Nankivil - Engineering
Taylor - Marketing
Wilson - Human Ecology

Now, there's an old saying about people who live in glass houses, and UW athletics is certainly not above reproach academically. Just look at that recent report indicating that Miami is actually ahead of Wisconsin in terms of its football program's academic performance.

But that's an impressive roster of majors for our guys. The two Undecideds are freshmen, and you see plenty of challenging majors like engineering, business, finance.

Conversely if you're Buzz Williams and you look at your guys' collective record of academic "focus," you ought to be embarrassed.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Been thinking a lot about this Big Ten expansion talk lately, will write a longer post on it in a day or two. But first a brief quote from Missouri governor Jay Nixon I read in the paper yesterday morning:

"When you compare Oklahoma State to Northwestern, when you compare Texas Tech to Wisconsin, I mean, you begin looking at educational possibilities that are worth looking at," he said.

I have friends who went to both Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, smart people. If I'm them and see that quote, I'm pretty cheesed at Nixon and think "You know what? Have fun in the Big Ten."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Alando Tucker: Minister of Hygiene

Can't say I'm as diligent as Alando about flu prevention ...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

UW-Cal Poly thoughts

That was a lot less stressful than the last time the Badgers played Cal Poly.

First off ...

Was that a J.P. Gavinski dunk? My lord, that was exciting. And off a sweet feed from Brett Valentyn. That's why games like these are valuable, so guys like these two get some playing time.

Other than predictably good games from Trevon Hughes and Jon Leuer, there were some things to like:

-Keaton Nankivil came out lookin aggressively for his shot, and made them. He's a good shooter, and when he hits from the perimeter, we're much tougher to guard.

-Jason Bohannon looked comfortable shooting from the perimeter tonight. If he gains confidence from that and it spills over into our important game, tonight is valuable.

-Guys like Jared Berggren and Rob Wilson got more minutes than usual, and Mike Bruesewitz saw time after not seeing the floor much lately. I think our rotation might be too tight for them to see anything more than spot action, but they're all capable of contributing.

-We shot 61% from the floor, 54% on 3-pointers.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Best of the decade: How I voted

Here's how I voted:

Best play of the decade
Football (Oct. 15, 2005) Jonathan Casillas blocks a punt that Ben Strickland recovers for a touchdown with 30 seconds left to complete a 10-point comeback in the final three minutes and give UW a 38-34 win at Minnesota.

Maybe the most excited I've ever been at a Badger sporting event. Those of us who were in that dump of a dome will never forget it.

Close #2: Men’s Hockey (March 26, 2006) Jack Skille scores the game-winning goal in the third overtime against Cornell to advance to the Frozen Four. My brother and I were there, what a tremendous game. The aftermath of this one was a little different than the Casillas-Strickland game, since they'd been playing for about six hours, we were dead tired, and had a long drive home ahead of us. Andy and I waited in line at a concession stand behind Darrell Bevell during one overtiem intermission, he had just been named the Vikings' offensive coordinator, good guy.

But it's hard to argue with Michael Flowers' shot to beat Texas (watched it in my bedroom) or the Scott Starks Purdue play (watched it somewhere in Central Washington at in-laws' house).

Best Student-Athlete of the Decade
I chose Devin Harris. Chris Solinsky, Joe Thomas, Dany Heatley and Alando Tucker are my runners-up. Jimmy Leonhard, too.

Best Team of the Decade
2005-06 men's hockey. Why them and not any of the women's national champions, who were more dominant? Because there are a lot more teams playing Division 1 men's hockey, tougher to reach the top of the mountain.

Who did you vote for?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bucky's best of the decade

A few days ago I got an interesting email from the athletic department, notifying recipients of online voting at for the best Wisconsin play, athletes, and teams of the past decade.

There are only three pages of voting, but tons of great choices. What a trip down memory lane! I urge you to take a minute at the link above and take the survey, it will remind you of how great it is to be a Badger fan.
Stop back tomorrow and I'll tell you how I voted.

Big problem?

Nothing in the Badgers' win over Marquette bothered me much, but after a day of reflection I came up with something.

Nearly a quarter of our roster right now is basically ineffective, and that fraction is in danger of increasing to a third next season.

Based on the guys Marquette put on the floor yesterday, we didn't play anyone taller than 6-10 Jon Leuer or 6-8 Keaton Nankivil. Now, MU is one of the smaller teams we'll play this year, and there will be games when Jared Berggren gets minutes against opposing bigs.

But for the most part, we can match up with opposing frontcourts by playing Leuer, Nankivil, Ryan Evans and maybe Mike Bruesewitz. And we'll match up well. Even at 6-6, Evans and Bruesewitz have the size and athleticism to man up on opposing 4 men.

When will Berggren play? Right now, it looks like both Nankivil and Leuer will need to be in foul trouble before he gets extended minutes. I would like to see Bo Ryan get the freshman more playing time in the pre-conference season, because this scenario will probably present itself at some point in Big Ten play.

Yet it's tough to see Berggren getting more than five minutes of floor time in any game, and J.P. Gavinski and Ian Markolf will only play in lopsided games. So that's three of our four guys 6-10 or taller who don't figure to provide many useful minutes this season.

All three of those guys are back next year, and we'll add 6-11 Evan Anderson. Anderson, like Berggren a highly-rated high school center, figures to either redshirt or play limited minutes in his first year on campus.

What I'm getting at here is not that Anderson and Berggren will never contribute, I think they will be key parts of the team at some point. But Markolf and Gavinski probably won't ever be contributors. They seem like good program guys, well liked by their teammates, hopefully good students.

Going forward, though, given the roster composition of most of our opponents, we probably don't need quite so many guys over 6-8, as long as those 6-8 guys are strong post defenders, like Nankivil. True 7-foot centers aren't necessary to win in today's college game, and not many teams have those guys.

If Anderson turns out to be the second coming of Greg Oden, then hey, gotta love the center. But if we're talking about mid-level recruits, I'd rather take a 6-6 guy or a guard than another guy 6-10 or taller.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

UW-Marquette thoughts

Full disclosure: I didn't watch Saturday's game live. Watching the UW-Marquette game live sends my blood pressure into outer space, so I chose instead to take Will to see UW-Stevens Point play Elmhurst College. Of course, I followed the score on my BlackBerry, which sent my blood pressure at least into the ozone, so not much was gained.

But I just watched it recorded, and have to be pleased with the outcome, especially after Wednesday's result in Green Bay. We were the better team, but Marquette is athletic and scrappy and gave us a good run.

The game was a good indication of where the Badgers are right now, and what needs to happen for this season to be a success.

We have two very good players, one inside and one outside. Jon Leuer was a beast, and unless he takes a major step back he can carry us for long stretches of time. Trevon Hughes didn't have a great game, but he's excused, he's been playing very well. While both these guys probably won't end up on the all-conference team, they're playing at that level now.

Off the bench, Jordan Taylor has earned Bo Ryan's trust, and by extension mine. Ryan Evans too, he brings energy, athleticism, hustle. Both have bright futures as their roles expand.

How far we go this season will boil down to Jason Bohannon and Keaton Nankivil. If they pick their games up a notch, we can regularly beat the best teams in the Big Ten. If not, we look like a .500 conference team that can beat Marquette but lose to Green Bay, like we saw this week.

J-Bo is really struggling from the floor; then again, if memory serves he was at this time last year. But last year it was more a matter of him not getting shots off, this year it's him missing open looks. Keaton is tougher to figure -- he played 22 minutes yesterday, but I can't remember him at all. Maybe that was a function of the matchups Marquette provided, but I thought he would match up well with Butler or Hayward.

We'll see.

As for Marquette, they have some nice pieces, and in a Big East that has as many horrible teams as it usually does they'll win some games. But long term, where are they headed? Right now they're heavily dependent upon junior college players and a holdover from the Tom Crean era.

Like under Crean, they don't seem to have much of a "system," but instead rely heavily on individual play and effort. To their credit, they outrebounded a bigger team. That leads to uneven performances, both during a season and during games. Yesterday when Hayward and Johnson-Odom were hitting (by the way, our defense on the latter was atrocious, very lazy, and he made us pay by knocking down some 3-pointers) Marquette was tough. But then they'd go cold for stretches and we'd build our lead back to a comfortable margin. They didn't have anything to get them through the dry spells. Then again, I suppose you could have made the same critique about the Swing during our losing streak last year, but that was at the opposite end of the patience spectrum.

I suppose if I'm Vander Blue I can see the appeal in playing like that, but how do you develop like a player that way? It's glorified pickup ball. Good luck with that.

Good win, looking forward to closing the non-conference schedule with no more surprises or drama.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sports Illustrated jinx for Clay?

Probably not. This is a cool shot, isn't it? It figures: I'd subscribed to SI for about 10 years and let it lapse earlier this year, and now they put a Badger football player on the cover.

The only other Badgers I can think of on SI's cover were Brian Butch and Alando Tucker on the 2006-07 men's basketball preview issue. Anyone else come to mind?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

UW-Hawaii thoughts

Finally got to watch the entire Wisconsin-Hawaii game Wednesday night after watching bits and pieces of it Saturday night during a family Christmas get-together. It was a nice, relaxing time, knowing what happened already. Some thoughts:

-O'Brien Schofield was just a beast, again, with two sacks and constant pressure. J.J. Watt finished the regular season strong, too, with two sacks and a tackle for loss. Those two ended up being the top TFL duo in the country -- did not expect that at the beginning of the season.

-Chris Borland and Louis Nzegwu also had sacks. There is solid hope to have a good pass rush again next season.

-And Borland kicked two extra points! Thought I dreamt that, but the box score and replay confirmed.

-Time of possession edge: 37:57 - 22:03.

-Workmanlike games for John Clay and Montee Ball, although Ball had more negative yardage runs than I would have liked -- 17 yards lost. He did look comfortable as a receiver out of the backfield.

-Scott Tolzien completed 80% of his passes. His accuracy and the pass rush from Schofield and Watt are the two biggest reasons we won nine games this year.

-David Gilreath had a really nice game, scoring on the end-around, making a great comeback on a long pass from Tolzien, and averaging almost 50 yards on two kickoff returns. Did you notice how, on that long pass play, Gilreath caught the ball and the Hawaii defender was standing there with his arms out, and a second later looked surprised he didn't have the ball? Funny.

-Lance Kendricks had a couple nice catches, but what I really liked was his block on Gilreath's touchdown run. Conversely, Garrett Graham was called for yet another hold. It's like he had a target on his jersey this year.

-It was really nice to see Dustin Sherer score that last touchdown, and his teammates' reaction (especially Zach Brown). Many stories have been written about the class Sherer showed in handling his demotion, and it shouldn't be understated. One reason this team achieved so much more than last year's was chemistry and leadership, and a vocally disappointed Sherer could have disrupted that. He didn't, and you can tell his teammates loved him for it.

Coming in I was a tiny bit worried that Hawaii would give us a good game. They were, after all, playing well and playing for bowl eligibility. That we dominated so thoroughly is a testament to the job Bret Bielema and his staff did getting the team prepared and focused.

Since their return, many of the Badgers on Twitter have frequently detailed their longing for paradise, but I think it's finally wearing off as their focus turns to Miami. This will be a good three weeks to get ready for the 'Canes and get the youngsters some additional practice time.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

UW-Green Bay thoughts

I turned 34 today, and as far as birthday presents go, tonight's game was on par with a gift certificate for a discounted colonoscopy. Which I'll probably receive several birthdays from now.

Let me lead with something I wrote in the aftermath of the win over Duke:

So many of the national stories in the wake of last night's games had a theme along the lines of "Never doubt Bo Ryan ... the Badgers will definitely make the NCAA Tournament ... they're a Big Ten title contender." I appreciate the sentiment but think that we might be getting ahead of ourselves. There are a lot of games left to play.

The bold is newly added, and I'm sorely disappointed that I had to bring up that passage just two games after that seminal win a week ago. But tonight showed that Wisconsin is far from a finished product.

Green Bay may turn out to be a tournament-caliber team, but thus far this season they have losses to UAB and Long Beach State under their belts, with no wins of note before tonight. They're a veteran team that has some decent guards, but there's no real polite way of saying this: this is a bad loss for the Badgers.

It started early, when Green Bay seemingly made every shot they took, especially Bryquis Perine. They ended up shooting less than 50% somehow, but still scored 88 points, and grabbed a ton of offensive rebounds on the rare occasions they did miss. It felt like all five of GB's starters had career games tonight.

We turned the ball over almost 20 times, when Duke could only force us to cough it up five times.

Wait a minute -- UW-Green Bay scored 88 points on the Badgers? Good lord.

Offensively, where was Jason Bohannon? He took four shots tonight. Troy Cotton managed to hoist up 13 for GB, Rahmon Fletcher 16, Perine 20. Our best shooter took four.

Trevon Hughes kept us close by getting fouled 154 times and wearing out a path to the free throw line, and Jon Leuer played well, too. But when the Badgers score 84 points -- 75 in regulation -- there's no way in hell they should lose to a Horizon League team. That was some god-awful defense from the fellas in red tonight.

You know, if we're going to lose a game we weren't expecting to, I'd rather it be to a local program like Green Bay and not, say, Oakland. My earlier snarkiness aside, I've always hoped the Phoenix would return to the glory they experienced during the Dick Bennett days, those were exciting. It would be great if they ran the Horizon and made this loss look not quite so bad.

But right now, it feels pretty bad. Not exactly a momentum-builder heading into the Marquette game.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


So it's the Champs Sports Bowl vs. Miami, eh? Here's my thought process:

-First of all, what in the world are Outback Bowl organizers thinking? A 7-5 Auburn team? A Northwestern team that's going to bring less fans than any other Big Ten team? Good luck with that. If the kids cooperate, I can sleep in on New Year's Day, this will be a forgettable game.

-Second, I don't begrudge the Outback for taking Northwestern over us. They did, after all, beat us. (Although, Northwestern beat two bowl teams and lost to Syracuse; we beat four bowl teams).

-Third, I didn't want to go to the Outback Bowl in the first place, given how many years in a row we've bowled in Florida, including that bowl two years ago, and we've played a lot of SEC teams in the postseason lately. The one I really wanted was the Alamo Bowl. We recruit in Texas, and haven't played a Big 12 team in awhile. Plus, Jana and I had hoped to visit a friend in Texas over the holidays. Michigan State-Texas Tech is another bad matchup, the Red Raiders should win easily.

-Fourth, the Champs Sports Bowl sounds like a bowl Minnesota should be playing in, like Insight Bowl. (There's another terrible game involving a Big Ten team -- Minnesota/Iowa State.) The name just sounds cheesy.

-Fifth, I actually like the draw. It's tough to see a boatload of Badger fans making the trip to Florida for this one, especially on the tails of the Hawaii trip. But Miami, like Florida State last year, is a great opponent. Great history, great name, great players, great coach. Yet very beatable. We can get more into that later, but it's a good, fair test. Plus, we recruit Florida heavily, and showing up there every winter can only help our efforts there.

So while I think the Badgers deserved a January bowl game after a better-than-expected year, this one's okay. It's funny: the last time we played Miami was roughly 20 years ago, when they were at the peak of their power. If you would have told me then that a bowl matchup with the Hurricanes would every qualify as even a slight letdown for UW someday, I would have laughed.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Duke: The afterglow

One of the best parts of last night's big win? Having every other person at work stop me in the hall or pop their head in my office to talk about it. The Badgers have created a buzz. Here are some other thoughts:

-J.P. Tokoto was in attendance, and apparently came away very impressed. I saw a cool picture of him talking with Brian Butch. Let's face it: it's still a long shot that J.P. will end up in Madison. But last night showed him that Wisconsin can beat the nation's premier teams, that the Kohl Center is an electric place, that being a part of the Madison student body is an incredible experience. Can't hurt.

-What do you reckon Trevon Hughes' scoring average will be this season? My money is on something like 15.5 ppg. He's playing at a higher level than any point guard we've had since Devin Harris. (Who, by the way, is getting criticized on Twitter for giving the Badgers props in the wake of last night's game.)

-As well as Pop played, we won this game in the frontcourt. Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas, Miles and Mason Plumlee -- all of their dudes were highly-recruited post players. Yet Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil totally outplayed them, 25 points and 11 rebounds to six points and 14 rebounds. Our guys were more athletic.

-Seventeen assists, six turnovers for us last night (thanks for the catch nuclearbadger!). That'll win you some games.

-So many of the national stories in the wake of last night's games had a theme along the lines of "Never doubt Bo Ryan ... the Badgers will definitely make the NCAA Tournament ... they're a Big Ten title contender." I appreciate the sentiment but think that we might be getting ahead of ourselves. There are a lot of games left to play.

-No disrespect to any of our remaining non-conference opponents, but we should enter non-conference play no worse than 10-2, with Marquette being the team that can beat us. That would put us on solid footing for an NCAA berth, at 9-9 with wins over Arizona, Maryland and Duke out of conference.

Our early Big Ten schedule is brutal, though, with Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue in the first four. The latter half of our conference schedule is the easier half, so hopefully we can hang in there and not suffer a conference of confidence in January.

But all that is still a month off. Let's keep enjoying last night.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

UW-Duke thoughts

Awesome win, just thrilled with tonight's effort. This isn't Duke's best team ever, but it's still Duke. They're #6 in the country, loaded with McDonald's All-Americans, had never lost in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. We ended that, and the conference likely won the Challenge, with our win being the difference. What an awesome feeling. Huge win for the program, and for the conference.

-The strong early start was so important, we played with the lead the whole game. Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil were assertive early, confidently looking for their shots.

-Trevon Hughes carried the load for most of the rest of the game, he played a terrific game. He's a big game player, really seems to play his best against our best opponents. Played great defense.

-My #2 player of the game is Ryan Evans. The defensive job he did on Kyle Singler, after Singler was unconscious early, was critical. That last play where Singler had the ball, and Evans stayed in front of him and forced a bad shot, was big time defense. Plus, he was aggressive on the boards, and I loved when he tried to throw down that alley-oop, even if he missed it.

-Speaking of dunks, Leuer, Nankivil, and Jared Berggren got into the act, another welcome sign of aggressive play in the paint. I was surprised that Duke yielded those looks, they were pretty blatant defensive breakdowns.

-We won despite not keeping up our torried shooting start, ended up shooting 44% for the game. That speaks to good defense and rebounding.

-Nit picking time. How did this Andre Dawkins get so wide open, especially after he made a couple 3-pointers? Jason Bohannon really struggled from behind the arc, 0-for-6, he makes two of those and the game is over earlier. Nankivil missed the front end of a one-and-one when we were up 11, and I thought that might be a turning point. And on a critical late possession, it was Jordan Taylor, not Pop, taking the shot with the clock running down -- why?

But hey, when the alarm clock rings tomorrow I'll have forgotten all about those things and just remember the win. Should be a great confidence boost for the Badgers and carry over to the rest of the year, like the Texas win two years ago.

I'm tired, more thoughts tomorrow ...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Academic All-Big Ten Badgers

Let's step away from the field for a moment and give credit to to the Badger football players who earned academic All-Big Ten honors:

Zach Brown, Gabe Carimi, Nate Emanuel, Bradie Ewing, Antonio Fenelus, Matthew Groff, Will Hartmann, Jordan Hein, Aaron Henry, Tyler Holland, Peter Konz, Andrew Lukasko, Prince Moody, Brad Nortman, Chukwuma Offor, Curt Phillips, Devin Smith, Blake Sorensen, Scott Tolzien, Mickey Turner, J.J. Watt, Drew Woodward.

That's eight starters, five key reserves, and a smattering of special teams contributors. Nice work in the classroom, fellas!

John Clay to the NFL?

Not yet. Thank goodness.

Friday, November 27, 2009

John Clay to the NFL?

Last week the Journal Sentinel had a story about UW coaches seeking input about John Clay's NFL draft stock. It was an appropriate story to write: Clay is in line to be the Big Ten's offensive MVP, and as a third-year player he is eligible to enter the draft.

John has to look into it -- it's his professional vocation on the line -- but my sense is that he's best served waiting another year or even two. From my living room floor, here's how he stacks up.

Pros: Great size, lean, decent medium-range speed, pad level, nose for the end zone

Cons: Lack of breakaway speed (Fresno TD run notwithstanding), receiving ability (no chance to showcase yet), physical style has led to some injuries, ball security -- early in the year, and late in the loss to Northwestern

Without looking at all the other potential draftees among running backs, Clay seems like a third round pick at best, fifth or sixth round pick at worst. He's probably better than P.J. Hill was a year ago at this time, but not by a mile.

If Clay left, a Montee Ball-Zach Brown combo wouldn't be terrible going into next year. But a Clay-Ball-Brown rotation would be nasty and the driving force for what could be a huge 2010 for us.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

UW-Maryland thoughts

Nice win against a ranked team, one that might pay big dividends come March.

I like what this team looks like right now. Good guard play. Improved outside shooting. A go-to post scorer. Lots of big bodies inside to give fouls. Young players bringing energy.

We had Duke a week from now, a game we probably won't win, but looking at the rest of the schedule I'm thinking we're 10-3 heading into the Big Ten, at worst. An Arizona-Gonzaga-Maryland-Duke run makes for a very high quality non-conference schedule.

-My one beef today is with the turnovers, way too many. And while Maryland's defense was good, the turnovers were self-inflicted. Shooting 49.1% and making 10 3-pointers can cover that up, but I'd rather hang onto the ball.

-The scoring was balanced early, then Jason Bohannon took over, then Jon Leuer, and J-Bo's free throw shooting finished things off. What did I say about J-Bo making 75% of his clean looks? Today he was 4-of-5, and when he has the ball in his hands at the end of the game I feel like it's over.

-Leuer didn't do much for awhile, but in the second half he found the places he likes to be in the post and scored on a variety of moves. At 6-10, I can't think of a lot of guys can shut him down playing behind him. Our opponents are either going to have to deny him, double him, or use footwork to push him further away from the rim.

-Really liked Ryan Evans' dunk early. No, it's not my high school infatuation with dunking, but more a reflection of aggressive play. Keaton Nankivil missed another attempt later (fouled in the process), but I still liked it.

-Trevon Hughes had a poor shooting game but did a great job on Greivis Vazquez, whose 18 points were deceiving and not impactful.

-Obviously didn't like all the turnovers, but we did have a healthy 14 assists. Also outrebounded the Terps 33-24, with Keaton, Leuer, and Mike Bruesewitz active on the offensive glass.

-In the immediate postgame Doug Gottlieb said, in praising Leuer, "You look at the Badgers and wonder who's going to replace the scoring and athleticism of Joe Krabbenhoft." Krabby was many wonderful things for our program and I love him, but those are two words that have never been pinned to him, at least not in his collegiate career.

Very productive trip to Hawaii: two wins and an understandable loss. Duke next week represents an opportunity like the Texas game two years ago -- win and the guys might start seeing something special is possible.

UW-Gonzaga thoughts

Not really disappointed with this loss. I watched Gonzaga's game at Michigan State last week, and they played Sparty really tough before losing. They're athletic, skilled, deep, balanced, and well-coached. Might not be quite as good as some of their recent editions, but they could get to that point. Beating them would have been a huge resume builder, but losing is no big deal.

Some things to like in tonight's game:

-Jon Leuer played very well. He seems to have a good sense on where he should go on the floor in order to find 8- or 10-foot jumpers, turnaround or otherwise. Trevon Hughes didn't have his best game, but we know what he's capable of. With Pop and Leuer, we've got two go-to guys who can create their own shot in different ways, which is nice.

-Jordan Taylor was my second star of the game, he played very, very well. I still see him as more of a caretaker than a scorer, but he's shown flashes of being a go-to guy. He didn't shoot free throws well.

-Both of our point guards struggled containing Demetri Goodson's penetration. Then again, there will be a lot of guys who struggle to hang with him this year.

-Keaton Nankivil missed multiple dunk attempts for the second straight night, as Erik Olson pointed out on Twitter. My response to that was that I hope Keaton keeps trying to throw those down -- better to err on the side of being overly aggressive than trying to lay it in.

-Jason Bohannon still struggles to get his shot off against good defenders. He did get a few clean looks tonight that he missed. It's to the point where against good teams, he's got to make, oh, 75% of his clean 3-point looks if we're going to end up on top.

-The ease with which Robert Sacre caught and scored in the post is disconcerting. We don't have an elite shot blocker, and our height is average, so we can't let 7-footers catch the ball four feet from the basket.

-Still searching for a plus inbounds player from under the basket. If I drew one up and emailed it to Bo Ryan, do you think he'd use it? I've got an old Leroy Young special nicknamed Pick For The Picker.

-Did you see that shot of a shirtless Bo from the team's snorkeling trip? Hot stuff!

So we get Maryland tomorrow for third place. They're projected as an NCAA tournament team, we're not, so it's another chance to build the resume. Guessing that after two hours I'll be sufficiently sick of Greivis Vasquez, a fine player who seems too cocky for my tastes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

UW-Arizona in Hawaii?

Did you watch the Badger basketball game in Hawaii last night? I didn't -- but recorded it and am watching it right now. Would rather be sleeping, but Charlie apparently would not.

Know that we won, which is great. Know that we got off to a great defensive start. Know that Pop played well, as did Nankivil, who had another explosive dunk. Know that we will typically need Jon Leuer to play more than 10 minutes to beat good teams.

I'm only midway through the first half right now, but the last thing I know is that Mike Bruesewitz looked very impressive against the Wildcats -- active, physical, versatile. See that he earned 22 minutes of playing and grabbed seven rebounds, three offensive. Frankly, if he's good enough to do that on a semi-regular basis I'll be pleasantly surprised and we'll be that much deeper and better.

At the point I'm at in the game we're shooting too many jumpers and not getting to the line, but overall the play has been good.

So we've got Gonzaga tonight. They looked very tough to me in playing Michigan State down to the wire in Lansing, so we'll have our hands full. But it's a prime time game on ESPN during a big college basketball week, so we're already winners.

Final Big Ten thoughts

I've said it several times this year, but to reiterate: the Big Ten was not good this year. The best team is unimaginative and has lots of holes. The worst team is the winningest program of all time. Lots of mediocrity in the middle. Hopefully Big Ten football can get back on track, like basketball has.

1. Ohio State. Good team. If I were a Buckeye fan (and thank goodness I'm not, couldn't look in the mirror), I would be incredibly frustrated with the offense. Yes, Jim Tressel's uber-conservative philosophy wins games and such, but they don't beat elite teams that way. They probably have the talent to do so, but not the temperament. If I'm Terrelle Pryor, I watched that Oregon-Arizona game Saturday night, saw what Jeremiah Masoli was doing in that offense, and kicking myself for casting my lot with the modern day Woody Hayes.

2. Iowa. Only scoring 12 points at home against Minnesota? Ugh. Nasty defense, though. Let's hope Kirk Ferentz jumps to Notre Dame or the NFL, he has the Hawkeyes rolling again.

3. Penn State. Saturday showed that they are clearly better than Wisconsin, because of their defense, best in the league in points allowed. Offense led the league in third down conversion perentage. Also, they won in Evanston.

4. Wisconsin. Us or Northwestern in this spot? I think we beat them by two touchdowns in Madison, one on a neutral field. We didn't beat a team that ended with a winning conference record this year. I like that we led the conference in time of possession again.

5. Northwestern. They do it with smoke and mirrors. If they jump us in the bowl selection process, it would not be undeserved.

6. Michigan State. The conference's most disappointing team. What happened? They ranked just behind Minnesota in penalties this year, shades of the Same Old Spartans. Greg Jones is the best player in the conference.

7. Purdue. I feel bad that they didn't qualify for a bowl. Their game at Camp Randall aside, they were much improved this year, but still a long way from contending for a conference title.

8. Minnesota. This is progress? In three years under Tim Brewster they've gone 1-11, 7-6 and are now 6-6 with the chance for a bowl win looking slim, whoever they play. They lose Eric Decker, and their offense was awful without him. Like Rich Rodriguez is doing at Michigan, Brew will probably make thinly veiled references to poor recruiting by his predecessor, but Glen Mason was winning consistently until he was fired. Here's what would trouble me: the Gophers were the most penalized team in the conference this year, and they sure don't have enough talent to overcome that. That's a reflection on the coaching, as it was on UW in 2008.

9. Illinois. You could say they were the most disappointing team in the conference because of all the talent on that roster, but this is what you expect from a Ron Zook team.

10. Indiana. I bet they make a bowl game next year. Like Purdue, they're not far from six or seven wins. But while their passing game is nice, their defense may be even worse next year, and it was pretty bad this year.

11. Michigan. Watched the second half of the Ohio State game Saturday, and the announcers were talking about how RichRod had shared with them that Tate Forcier was struggling academically, and discussed how Forcier's brothers had both transferred. Forcier's play declined this season, but aside from Brandon Graham, he was the lone bright spot for Michigan this season. If he leaves, they start all over again at quarterback again, which means they'll struggle again. Rodriguez talks about underperforming in February, but per Rivals, their recruiting classes have ranked (nationally) eighth in 2009, 10th in 2008, 12th in 2007, 13th in 2006, sixth in 2005. Ohio State is the only Big Ten program that has been comparable. It's coaching, dude.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Actual all-conference Badgers

So how did I do? Not bad. Underestimated John Moffitt, Jay Valai and Brad Nortman. Happy to be right on the rest.

LB Chris Borland, Fr.
Big Ten Freshman of the Year (media and coaches)
Honorable mention All-Big Ten (media and coaches)
Lots of very good linebackers in the Big Ten, couldn't see him any higher than HM.

T Gabe Carimi, Jr.
First-team All-Big Ten (media)
Second-team All-Big Ten (coaches)
So the coaches think someone named Dennis Landolt from Penn State is better than Gabe? Huh.

RB John Clay, So.
Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (media and coaches)
First-team All-Big Ten (media and coaches)

TE Garrett Graham, Sr.
First-team All-Big Ten (media)
Second-team All-Big Ten (coaches)
Tony Moeaki being chosen over him on the coaches first team is a joke.

S Chris Maragos, Sr.
Honorable mention All-Big Ten (media and coaches)
Big Ten Sportsmanship honoree
I like the sportsmanship award more than the HM. Great honor for another great walk-on story.

G John Moffitt, Jr.
First-team All-Big Ten (media and coaches)
Who'd have thought the public face/mouth of the program would be a guard?

P Brad Nortman, So.
Honorable mention All-Big Ten (coaches)
I nitpick with him, but Brad was very solid this year, few worries about him.

DE O’Brien Schofield, Sr.
First-team All-Big Ten (media and coaches)
Very surprised that both OB and Jared Odrick were first team picks over Ryan Kerrigan and the Ohio State guys.

QB Scott Tolzien, Jr.
Honorable mention All-Big Ten (coaches)

WR Nick Toon, So.
Honorable mention All-Big Ten (media and coaches)

S Jay Valai, Jr.
Second-team All-Big Ten (coaches)
Honorable mention All-Big Ten (media)

DE J.J. Watt, So.
Honorable mention All-Big Ten (media)

Also of interest:

-Ohio State's defense had one first team pick, Kurt Coleman.

-The coaches made Juice Williams an HM pick. Huh?

-The media made Terrelle Pryor an HM pick. Huh? The Juice/Pryor guys must have cast their votes in August.

-There weren't many top-flight running backs in the conference this season.

-Here's my favorite selection: Eric Decker was a Sportsmanship Award honoree by the coaches. Apparently no one asked Jack Ikegwuonu or his testicles.

All-conference Badgers

The Big Ten will reveal its all-conference football teams tonight, and Wisconsin should be better-represented than last year, when Allen Langford and Garrett Graham were the only two all-league Badgers. Here's how I see our potential selections breaking down.

First team
John Clay -- No brainer, leads the conference in rushing and touchdowns. Should be offensive player of the year. (Aside: it's sort of hilarious that Terrelle Pryor and Juice Williams were the odds-on picks for offensive player of the year in the preseason, isn't it?)

Gabe Carimi -- Best lineman on the league's highest-scoring offense.

Garrett Graham -- Easily the best receiving tight end in the conference, also an asset in the run game.

O'Brien Schofield -- Started really hot, and though he didn't maintain his breakneck pace as the competition stiffened, he set the tone early for a defense which exceeded expectations this year. Part of me fears that he may get lost in the shuffle of all the Big Ten's excellent defensive linemen -- Brandon Graham, Ryan Kerrigan, Adrian Clayborn, Ohio State's guys -- but OB should be one of the top four.

Honorable mention
Scott Tolzien -- Had a really nice season. Other quarterbacks may have better numbers and may be more dynamic, but I'm happy with our guy.

Nick Toon -- If he played in an offense that passed more, or on a team that was behind more, his numbers would be much better and he'd be a first teamer.

Chris Maragos -- Had four interceptions and played really well, but there were at least four better defensive backs in the league this year.

J.J. Watt -- Nice debut. With Schofield gone next year expect him to elevate his game.

Chris Borland -- Can you choose a special teams player who isn't a returner or kicker? If they have a plcae for someone like this, Borland makes it. Second in the league in forced fumbles and tied for first in fumbles recovered despite only starting a handful of games. A playmaker.

John Moffitt -- A second guy from the line that led the league's top rushing attack ought to earn some sort of all-conference honors. But who? Moffitt? Josh Oglesby? Peter Konz? Kevin Zeitler? I probably picked Moffitt because he's so gregarious, but despite some rocky moments he has opened plenty of holes on the left side and pulling right.

Hopefully I forgot a guy or two, and of these second-tier guys get bumped up, but either way there have been plenty of individual performances to be happy with this year.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

UW-Northwestern box score

Reviewing the box score from our loss in Evanston, there still wasn't much to like.

-Wayne Larrivee and Chris Martin (who I probably came down on too hard on Saturday) kept talking about how Northwestern pushes tempo and shoots for 80 offensive plays. Turns out they ran 66 and we ran 65.

-They had nine penalties. If they had played a clean second half, the final score probably wouldn't have been that close.

-Same with third down conversions. The finals were 6-of-14 for them, 4-of-13 for us, but they were converting over 50% until near the end. This is an area in which we've really improved this year, on both sides of the ball, but Saturday we weren't good on third down.

-Have we run that end around to Lance Kendricks since he gained almost 100 yards on it during the Purdue game? Why not?

-Who was our defensive star of the game? Blake Sorensen led in tackles but didn't seem to make any big plays. Devin Smith broke up two passes and had seven tackles, but seemed to get burned in coverage on a regular basis. Jae McFadden had a tackle for loss and fumble recovery, but also had a blatant facemask penalty.

Chris Borland had a quiet game, credited with a forced fumble but seeing the replay I question that. O'Brien Schofield and J.J. Watt were effectively neutralized. Niles Brinkley had a big hit on Northwestern's last real possession to break up a third down pass.

How about Jeff Stehle, who tipped a pass and had a sack?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

UW-Northwestern thoughts

Any time the Badgers lose to Northwestern, in any sport, it really stings. Why? Because the school does not care about athletics. The students, faculty, alumni, surrounding area -- no one cares. Clearly.

They are the Big Ten's premier academic institution, and for that they should be lauded. That's what universities should strive for. But their facilities are laughable, their athletes less talented, their paying fans far fewer in numbers than most of the conference.

And yet, our football team never seems to win in Evanston. Much to the delight of the several thousand polite people wearing purple, whose individual cheers were audible during the broadcast. Their students rushed the field after this game, which made them 5-3, 8-4 and likely gave them an Alamo Bowl berth. Really? I thought these kids were smart.

The final margin was two points, but it wasn't that close. We were outplayed from start to finish. Winning that game would have been highway robbery. I would have taken that, of course, but it it would not have been deserved. Northwestern took it to us and got the result they deserved.

At some point in the fourth quarter Charissa Thompson remarked that the Badgers' sideline was quiet, and had been all game, while Northwestern's was enthusiastic and lively. That showed on the field. Our guys had their moments, but it felt like they were going through the motions. Northwestern played with enthusiasm and heart.

Overall, I'm still really happy with the way this season has played out, and will elaborate more on that later, but today sucked.

-I hate harping on individual guys, they're amateurs giving it their best, but Isaac Anderson had the worst game by an individual Badger in recent years that I can remember. First offensive play of the game he drops a touchdown pass. Then he muffs the kickoff return and gives us awful field position. Then his holding call wipes out a first down catch and run by Nick Toon (who had another nice game). Then he's penalized for running forward before the snap on a play in which he caught a touchdown pass. Ike's had a nice year for us, but he really struggled today.

-Thought Scott Tolzien played a nice game. He generally found open guys, although he wasn't able to avoid the pass rush at key times.

-Awesome game for Garrett Graham, who sewed up all-conference honors today. They could not hang with him.

-During the game I was writing a post on John Clay's NFL draft prospects, and remarked that his ball security has been much better since he had his problems early this year. Then he coughs it up on not much of a hit when we're driving in for the go-ahead score. In my mind he's still clearly the Big Ten's offensive player of the year, but today was not one of his better days.

-There will probably be some praise for Mike Hankwitz in the aftermath of this one, but we still scored 31 points, so their defense wasn't that good. There's a good chance we might end up leading the conference in scoring this year.

-The secondary did not have its best day today, but a lackluster pass rush had a lot to do with their struggles. Mike Kafka had plenty of time to throw, and when we did get close to him we generally weren't able to bring him down. Decent player.

-Defense made it the entire year without allowing 100 yards rushing to a Big Ten opponent. Sort of unbelievable, no?

-Can't think of a single defensive player who stood out as playing well individually today.

-I've been tough on David Gilreath for his returns this season, but that punt return for a touchdown today was really nice. Not spectacular, but excellent execution between the returner and his blockers was textbook.

-Despite the general lack of interest surrounding Northwestern sports, they still wind up having good teams from time to time because of the sheer will of leaders like Pat Fitzgerald. That guy is a hell of a coach, and as long as they hold on to him -- which should be a long time -- they will be competitive.

Boy am I glad I didn't make the trip to Evanston today!

UW-Northwestern halftime thoughts

Wow, that was horrible. Northwestern is a slightly above-average team, well-coached, but they looked like the freaking 1984 San Francisco 49ers in the first half. I honestly don't see any way we win this game, our guys look uninterested, and our coaches overmatched.

-Isaac Anderson's first half performance sums it up. On our first play he drops a touchdown pass on a perfectly thrown ball from Scott Tolzien. Later he muffs a kickoff, then doesn't realize he needs to hustle after it and get it out of the end zone.

-Tolzien has played reasonably well. Paul Chryst has done a good job of getting Garrett Graham open, and Scotty has found his tight end.

-That doesn't really matter if we can't get the running game going. I can't think of one run thus far that has indicated we're ready to bust out. And this isn't Iowa or Ohio State we're playing against here, it's Mike Hankwitz stopping us with smoke and mirrors.

-We've had absolutely no pass rush so far, so while you can say our defensive backs have been clueless, Mike Kafka has had all day to find his guys.

-Poor special teams again. We allow their slow kickoff return guy to take one back into our territory, untouched except for a pathetic tackle attempt. Brad Nortman booms a coffin corner punt almost out of Northwestern's end zone. Anderson's muff.

-On Twitter our guy Randy Kessler commented that he hates Wayne Larrivee. If he weren't the Packers' radio guy I'd hate him 100% of the time, too, now I tolerate him for three hours on Sundays. Pair him with Chris Martin, terrible all the time but even more annoying calling a game with his alma mater, Northwestern, and when we're playing poorly ... it's tough to listen to.

-Seeing the see of red at Northwestern's high school stadium (Jim Polzin estimates that in his sight line it's 80-20 UW-NU fans, although he can't see a large portion of the stands) made me feel good, but if I was with my fellow Badger fans right now I would be incredibly upset for having made the drive.

I was trying to figure out what this does for our bowl prospects, but right now I'd be better off going to help Jana paint our laundry room. We're going with a very bright yellow, in case you're interested.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Three questions from Edward

Regular reader Edward was nice enough to comment on a recent post in which he posed me three interesting questions. Here goes:

Am I going to jinx the Badgers by going to Evanston next weekend to watch them (Badgers at Northwestern is always both exciting and terrible)?

Yes, Edward, you are. I thought about seeing if NU had tickets available for the game, since it's an easy drive for me and my wife and mom would probably find some things for the boys to do in Chicago.

But then I remembered that my dad, brother, and brother-in-law went to Evanston in January to watch the Badgers play basketball, and even though we had a ton of UW fans in attendance, we lost. Glad we went, and we'll probably go again. But watching the Wisconsin football team lose on the road -- which I have not experienced since the 1998 Michigan game -- is excruciating.

The game this Saturday is really important -- for a 10-win season, January 1 bowl implications, an outside shot at a Big Ten title -- so I figured I'd play it safe and watch the game on TV. In addition, I will be wearing the same clothes I've worn every other Saturday this fall.

I think the final score of this game will be something like 24-23.

What do you think the chances of Iowa and Penn State losing and Wisconsin getting into the BCS are?

Slim and none. I'd peg the odds of either Iowa or Penn State losing at 3:1, both at 20:1. It's a long shot that Minnesota beats Iowa. I'd peg the odds of Wisconsin getting into the BCS at 100:1. Word is out that the Big Ten isn't all that hot this season, and the Ohio State-Iowa game reinforced that to the rest of the world. Plus, TCU and Boise State going to deservingly take two BCS spots away from BCS conference schools.

What is up with the bad couple weeks for Badgers in the NFL? I kind of follow them in the NFL but ... Owen Daniels gets injured for the season after Jaworski calls him the best TE in pro football, Chris Chambers gets cut because, apparently, they thought his personal life was getting in the way of his play and Jim Leonhard suffers a broken thumb. Are any Badgers actually having a good year in the NFL?

I was thinking the same thing Monday night while watching the Browns-Ravens game. The Browns are one of what seems like 10 god-awful teams in the NFL, and they are dragging the best former Badger in the pros, Joe Thomas, down with them. So I turned to this handy link I found on Twitter, which informed me that:

-Lee Evans caught two touchdown passes last week.
-Chambers averaged 20 yards per catch.
-Matt Shaughnessy had his second career sack. He's looking like a guy who turns out to be a better pro than collegian.
-Leonhard had a nice game, and might not necessarily be out.
-Some other guys did some other intangible things.

I think the ascension of Daniels, Leonhard and Thomas was something of an aberration, and what we saw last week is more in line with typical Badgers-in-the-NFL production.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

UW-Oakland thoughts

OK, I didn't watch this game. Didn't listen to it. Didn't attend it. Followed the in-game blog intermittently.

But this is a great photo, isn't it? I read that Keaton Nankivili threw down a monster dunk, and it sure looks like he did. Had a nice game -- 13 points, nine rebounds, four blocks. He was 5-for-8 from the field, but 1-for-4 on 3-pointers. Ordinarily that stat would bother me, but I like Keaton's shot from that range and hope he shoots it often.

Conversely, Jon Leuer had 12 points, but missed all three of his 3-pointers. I would rather he stay close to the basket, 15 feet and in, I like what he's doing from short range.

Pop had 15 points, but I wish he didn't have to play 35 minutes for us to beat Oakland.

Nice effort from Ryan Evans, seven rebounds in 22 minutes. It would be nice if he continued to deserve those kind of minutes.

And last but not least, Mike Bruesewitz will not be redshirting this year, played two minutes. This seems like a curious decision, with Evans looking solid and Tim Jarmusz also solid at the 3 spot. Hopefully it's not one of those Greg Stiemsma/Nankivil deals where he plays 25 minutes this year as a freshman and three years from now is looking like a really good player right when he exhausts his eligibility.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kyle French

This past weekend I had the opportunity to watch UW recruit Kyle French, a kicker for Menomonee Falls. My brother-in-law Nick was a star for the Falls back in the day, and the game (against Appleton North in the Division 1 semifinals) was in Oshkosh, only an hour away.

As French lined up for his first attempt, about a 40-yarder, Nick told me that when Kyle has missed this year, he's missed left. And guess which way he missed the 40-yarder? He came back and made about a 22-yarder to clinch the game in the fourth quarter.

He has plenty of leg, though, each kick he attempted had the power and trajectory you'd hope for. And, kicking from his own 40 with the aid of a slight wind, he nearly put his last kickoff through the uprights.

As long as Philip Welch stays solid, French can redshirt, mature for another year, then kick three years for the Badgers.

Interestingly, Whitefish Bay's Will Hagerup, a top punting prospect, recently chose Michigan, presumably because he didn't want to have to sit behind Brad Nortman.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Big Ten thoughts

Last week I was watching the Big Ten Network, and the studio analysts were debating a simple question: is it good for the Big Ten if Ohio State wins it every year?

One guy said yes, it's good to have a team in the national hunt every year. The other guy said no, it's better if other teams rise up and get their shots on a regular basis.

You would think that my take on this would be aligned with the latter view, and for the most part that's true. But on the other hand, Iowa, along with Minnesota, is the Big Ten program most like ours. Our states' demographics are similar, we recruit many of the same areas out of state, our staff has many Iowa connections. If they win the Big Ten, they strengthen their position relative to Wisconsin. If Ohio State wins, so what? It's like the Yankees winning the AL East. They should win the conference every year anyway, as the lone big-time school in a talent-rich state.

Saturday's Iowa-Ohio State game was much better than I thought it would be, a great credit to Iowa. A Facebook friend of mine posted a link to a good story, and I found a similar one:

Everybody a loser in Ohio State's disgusting 'victory'

Thorny victory for OSU

Ohio State is a most uninspiring conference champion and BCS qualifier, only headed to Pasadena because of a dearth of elite Big Ten teams. Their very good defense has no stars. Their most celebrated player, Terrelle Pryor, is more hype than production -- he threw for 93 yards. OSU's saving grace is they won't be embarrassed in the national title game, and since the Pac-10 also stinks this year they have a good shot to win the Rose Bowl.

Here's how I see the conference with one week to go.

1. Iowa. If Ricky Stanzi's healthy, they win in Columbus. But give that Vandenberg kid credit, he showed some guts and poise. Wish Kirk Ferentz would have had the guts to go for the win at the end of regulation.

2. Ohio State. Yawn.

3. Wisconsin. It's crazy, but if Michigan somehow beats Ohio State we would win a share of the conference title. I'd take that in a second. As long as we're picking nits on every other team, though, do we have a win over a quality team this year? Fresno State may be the best team we've beaten.

4. Penn State. It's hard to differentiate between us and PSU, but why are they ranked ahead of us? We lost to the same teams, but they lost both at home, while one of ours was on the road. We have similarly ho-hum non-conference resumes. I suppose their defense is better than ours.

5. Northwestern. They lost to Syracuse and Minnesota early, but have gotten consistently better since. My respect for Pat Fitzgerald and his staff remains the same as it was before the season.

6. Michigan State. Hope they beat Penn State, but if they don't this season has to be considered a disappointment. It may be already. Their biggest win this year is over a terrible Michigan team.

7. Minnesota. Huge win over South Dakota State. Wonder where that one will rank on Tim Brewster's resume when he needs to dust it off in another year or two. Apparently the win made the Gophers bowl eligible, so we should hope they beat Iowa on Saturday so we can possibly finish ahead of the Hawks. Fat chance of that happening, though, Minnesota looks awful now.

8. Purdue. Can't finish. Marginally better in first year under Danny Hope.

9. Illinois. Fire Zook?

10. Indiana. Can't finish. Marginally better than they were last year, Bill Lynch should be safe.

11. Michigan. I love it when Michigan-Ohio State is a no-lose situation for people who hate both teams. If Ohio State wins, Michigan fails to qualify for a bowl. If Michigan wins, we have a chance to tie for the Big Ten title. Fat chance of that happening, though. Michigan's defense is so bad even Pryor should be able to move the ball against them.

The Big Ten stinks this year. But by my count, so does the Pac-10, Big East, Big 12 and ACC.

Monday, November 16, 2009

UW-IPFW thoughts

Toggled back and forth between the Badger and Packer games Saturday afternoon and evening, and frankly the Packer game was far more interesting. As much as the Badgers' win was convincing and expected, the thing that stuck out to me was the six straight UW possessions that ended in turnovers. I'm not overly concerned, but what an ugly stretch that was.

A potential implication was that Jordan Taylor was playing the point at the start of that stretch, and Bo appeared to be making a point when he put Wquinton Smith in with about 10 minutes to play, which is unprecedented. Jordan will pull it together.

Jon Leuer looked good. He made 8 of 10 shots, and none of his field goal attempts were 3-pointers. His postgame is decisive and confident, and he made a couple mid-range jumpers.

Glad to see Ryan Evans earning minutes and playing well, he seems to be able to defend swingmen and do some things on the boards. Rob Wilson didn't hesitate on offense.

And what about Timmy Jarmusz hitting three 3-pointers and leading the team in rebounding? He's a lot like Joe Krabbenhoft, only a little better shooter and not as good a rebounder and defender.

Jason Bohannon played 31 minutes and took only three shots -- but blocked three shots. Can't imagine that'll happen again.

The Big Ten Network announcers said our game against Oakland on Wednesday will be a challenge, so that should be interesting to watch. Iowa lost to something called UTSA on Sunday, so I guess anything's possible.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

UW-Michigan box score thoughts

Had a few minutes to look over the detailed box score of the win over Michigan, and here's what stood out:

-Scott Tolzien averaged 15 yards per completion, vs. 9.2 yards for Michigan's QBs. Our passing game isn't just dinking and dunking and tossing it to the backs in the flat, it's picking up big chunks of yardage at a time.

-Our time of possession edge was 35:49 to 24:11. In the fourth quarter it was 12:02 to 2:58. For the year our averaged is 33:15 to 26:45. I love that.

-Piggybacking on that, John Clay went over 1,000 yards Saturday, which makes five straight seasons we've had a 1,000-yard rusher. This following two non-1,000-yard years after a 10-year run. Don't know why, but that streak was always really important to me, it epitomized what Wisconsin football was all about under Barry Alvarez and how it should always be. A streak like that is dependent upon featured backs staying healthy -- if Anthony Davis had stayed healthy this streak would be at 17 straight years -- but it shows that we value the run and always have good lines who can lead the way for our backs.

-I know it was just one run, but let me say again that Zach Brown looked very good on his one carry, for 12 yards. Is Montee Ball really that much better than him right now? Between the tackles, maybe, but Brown can get around the corner. Was his concussion fairly serious, or has the staff just not gotten over his fumbling?

-Nick Toon is averaging 15.1 yards per catch right now, that's pretty darn good.

-Thought Isaac Anderson looked pretty good on kickoff returns, better than David Gilreath has looked this year, although he still did a little too much stutter stepping.

-Chris Borland led us with 11 tackles, had 1.5 tackles for loss and half a sack, forced a fumble and had a QB hurry. And his performance didn't stick out one bit. Has he already gotten so good and so consistent that we're taking him for granted?

-Blake Sorensen was second in tackles with seven. His play has been quietly solid this year, much better than I expected.

-O'Brien Schofield with seven tackles, two hurries, a TFL and half a sack. Great way to cap his home career. Same for Jae McFadden, with six tackles and 2.5 TFLs.

-And let's hear it once again for Jeff Stehle, who had two TFLs and a sack in his last home game. He, Dan Moore and Patrick Butrym have really been decent at a position I figured would be a major weakness for us this year.

This Badger team won't go down in history as one of the best ever, but every week it's fun to look at these box scores and see different guys stepping in and contributing.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

UW-Michigan thoughts

That was exactly the second half we were looking for! I could not be more pleased with the win -- defense played well enough, offense was in control when the game mattered, lots of guys got involved. Always good to beat Michigan, which will probably be back at some point in the near future. They've got some good playmakers, but a lot of holes on defense and in the running game.

Most points ever against Michigan? I'll take that.

-I was hard on Scott Tolzien for his first half performance. He was brilliant in the second half. Helped, of course, by the fact that he had all day to throw and his receivers were wide open. Nick Toon had another career day, Isaac Anderson was open time and again, and Garrett Graham delivered the performance we expect from him. Lance Kendricks made a really nice, athletic play on his touchdown reception. We'll give the passing game a B, but an A+ for the second half.

-John Clay won't go down as the top star of this game, but had another very good day. As I Tweeted late in the game, who is a better candidate for Big Ten offensive player of the year than him? Montee Ball got a lot of good reps, and Zach Brown had one very nice run. Reassuring to see the running back depth that our offensive needs. A- for the run game.

-So let's give props to the offensive line for the job they did protecting Tolzien in the second half and for run blocking, excellent job fellas. Jake Bscherer must have done a good job replacing Josh Oglesby. Gabe Carimi was called for two holds, one of which was a terrible call in which he had whipped his guy and the guy just twisted and fell.

-Hard to pick one guy on defense, but a lot of guys were solid. Niles Brinkley made a nice pick that should help his confidence. Devin Smith's coverage improved as the game went on. Jae McFadden had some nice player early in the second half. The Big Ten Network crew named O'Brien Schofield the defensive player of the game, he did most of his damage early.

-It's sort of incredible that we haven't allowed a Big Ten opponent to rush for 100 yards this year. Coming into the season that figured to be a weakness, with two new defensive tackles and two new linebackers. But that unit has obviously been excellent, and our success has stemmed from there.

One more Big Ten team to go, and Northwestern is always tricky. But we've guaranteed a winning conference record in a rebuilding year. The senior class that played its last home game today deserves a lot of credit for that.

Last year the Michigan game was the lowest of lows for the Badgers and their fans. This year the Michigan game is a reason for us to smile and enjoy life in red.

UW-Michigan halftime thoughts

The only reason this game is close is because of our self-inflicted wounds: Scott Tolzien's interception and his fumble Michigan returned for a fumble. Then again, they ran into our punter and had a field goal blocked, so neither team has played a spotless half.

What bothers me is something Big Ten Network analyst Chris Martin said at one point: Michigan is playing with a greater sense of urgency than we are. He was right. Michigan is fired up, we are methodical. They need to win to become bowl eligible, and they aren't going to get that win against Ohio State. We need this win to keep hopes of a 10-win regular season alive, but we're not playing like it.

-Tolzien is carving up Michigan's pass defense when he has time to throw. Their pass coverage is truly putrid, Nick Toon and Garrett Graham have been wide open a lot. Michigan does have a decent pass rush, and Brandon Graham is as good as advertised. We need to double-team him, or chip him with a tight end or back at least, because Tolzien will make plays if Graham doesn't get to him.

-We also haven't done much in the run game yet, need to pound John Clay more. From my living room, Clay was absolutely not in the end zone on that touchdown, and I'm really surprised the refs didn't overturn that call. The end-around to Lance Kendricks worked nicely again.

-Conversely, Garrett Graham was called for holding on an end-around to David Gilreath. Without having stats in front of me, I'm pretty sure Graham has been called for holding more than any of our linemen this year.

-Toon is really coming on, isn't he? Can't wait to see what he and Tolzien can do together next year.

-Huge play by J.J. Watt on the blocked field goal. It's interesting that Michigan took a delay of game penalty to try and get its kicker a better angle for the kick, but we declined it. Not sure whether or not that played into the result of that kick, but it's worth taking a look at.

-Our run defense has been solid so far. Jeff Stehle probably just played his best half of football as a Badger, in his last home game. O'Brien Schofield has had a decent game thus far as well.

Problem is, when we don't pressure Tate Forcier quickly, he's carving us up. His receivers are wide open more often than not, and he's finding them. That kid's a good player, the word is he's been in decline lately but he hasn't shown it today.

My buddy Jim Polzin just noted on Twitter that Michigan has been outscored 75-12 in the second half of its last three games. That's encouraging, but Indiana had a recent history of second half collapses and outplayed us then in our game last week. Have to go out and make it happen, not just sit around waiting for them to implode.