Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wisconsin-Michigan State thoughts

Another satisfying win for the Badgers. As the season progresses we'll learn more about just how good Michigan State actually is, but given their passing game, I still think they're a bowl team. But right now, this feels like our best win since the Fresno State road win in week 3 last season, and maybe since we beat Michigan in Madison in 2007.

Lots to like about this one:

-With 38 points, the offense is going to get the bulk of the game recap. But let's talk about the defense first. We're playing a lot of kids, most of whom haven't played much before this season.

It's going to sound funny after a game in which we allowed 395 yards passing, but I thought the defensive backs played well today. The first couple touchdowns they had came on beautiful passes and catches, not necessarily poor coverage. Chris Maragos -- until he got torched on that inexplicable 91-yard touchdown pass in the last minute of the game -- played great. Jay Valai made a bunch of tackles. Blair White, who baffled me by absolutely killing us last year, was held to one catch, which was key. Kevin Claxton showed up with a big hit. Devin Smith almost (should have) had a pick.

Lots of reps for different defensive linemen, including Louis Nzegwu's first playing time of the season, and I saw David Gilbert and Brendan Kelly in there a lot as well. Chris Borland made several nice plays on defense, including a sack and a tipped pass. Patrick Butrym contributed a couple nice plays. Mike Taylor was a force.

-The defense has forced 12 turnovers thus far, leading the Big Ten. Would be nice to keep up that pace.

-I didn't like the start, but Paul Chryst really called a great game. In the first half he passed extensively, taking advantage of MSU's suspect pass defense. That set up the run. In the second half, John Clay really ran well, which set up the pass nicely. Chryst had a good feel for the situation and rhythm of the game today, which had a lot to do with us scoring 38 points.

-Not sure how this ended up, but at one point we had run 45 of our 65 offensive plays in Michigan State territory, which also had a lot to do with us scoring 38 points.

-The other telling stat I saw was that at one point, MSU had an average of 8.4 yards to go on third down and the Badgers had 5. We were efficient on third down on both sides of the ball.

-Really proud of the way John Clay responded this week after his Wofford nightmare. He did look tentative at times, carrying the ball with two arms, but for the most part showed patience and vision and ran with authority. Just the response we needed.

-MVP was Garrett Graham, though. As this year was progressing, I was thinking that he might not rack up the numbers to earn him the sort of recognition he deserves, but three touchdown catches today really helps. We know his blocking his every bit as important as his receiving, but catches, yards, and scores will get him noticed.

-Nick Toon with another solid afternoon, ran a great route on a great call by Chryst and caught a great pass for another touchdown.

-And what can you say about Scott Tolzien? Another really solid performance. I can't think of a single play where I kicked the couch because of anything he did. They plays that stick out to me are not necessarily the touchdowns, but those little 5-yard outs he threw Lance Kendricks a couple times today. He had eight touchdowns now this season, which is more than either Dustin Sherer or Allan Evridge had last year. Easily our most pleasant surprise.

-On special teams, can I talk about Chris Borland again? Did you see him recover that onside kick? He is just so athletic. His body type doesn't allow him to fit into any nice, logical boxes, but as Chris Spielman said he is just a football player. I would stop short of calling him a legend, as Bob Griese started to. It will be fun to watch him for the next 3-1/2 years.

-Speaking of the announcers, for my money, Spielman may be the best color guy in college football, and he's stuck doing 11 a.m. games and sharing mic time with Griese, who isn't very good. Dave Pasch is solid on the play-by-play. Spielman so often makes good points one way or the other. I did like the dig Griese got in on Spielman about Purdue not having jumping around classes like Ohio State did/does.

Some things I didn't like today:

-That 91-yard touchdown we allowed in the last minute was mind-boggling. Have you ever seen anything like it?

-Zach Brown had a nightmare game. In the first half Chryst called a pitch running left that went for like minus-seven yards. We run that same play in the second half and it's a fumble that absolutely should not have happened.

-Then, on a nice catch and run Brown made for a first down, Isaac Anderson gets called for a questionable holding penalty.

Overall, what was nice about today was that those plays didn't sink us like they did last year. It was Michigan State that shots itself in the foot time after time, not us, and we made them pay for their mistakes. As Marcus Cromartie just Tweeted: "Yea we won again ... mich. st. wasn't ready."

This win negates some of the putrid taste in our mouths that last year's gaem deposited.

I'm not getting plane tickets for Los Angeles just yet, this team still has a lot to work on. But so does just about everyone else in the Big Ten. We still need to play a game on the road, let alone win one, but hey -- why not Wisconsin?


B Hermann said...

Last night on BTN, they noted that UW is 16 for 16 in red zone possessions this year...14 of them were TDs. You can win a lot of games by keeping that up!

Scott Tappa said...

I saw that stat looking at the season box score last night, and was surprised. Usually you'd have an end-of-the-game drive end in the red zone or something weird like that. That's a really high level of touchdown conversions, and I think it's a testament to our tight end play.

Edward said...

What a great win! Shows what recruiting rankings are worth. By the 4th quarter, I told my wife, "Seriously, if they reopened recruiting, USC and Florida would be knocking on Borland and Taylor's door right now." Hopefully a redux of 2006 this year. No expectations, no pressure, 12 wins.

ksagendorph said...

Isn't a blog much better to read after a few wins? Big game at Minnesota, I like our chances.