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 www.firebretbielema.com 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.


Edward said...

What a game! I was hoping for a 2006 Auburn performance and while not quite and it came damn close!

Duff Beach said...

Nice to see you mention Turner. He had another solid game. His contributions this year have been largely overlooked, but he's turned in a solid performance as a hybrid TE/FB, and as a leader. We'll miss him.

Phil Mitten said...

1. The play showed Henry is still a cornerback at heart.
2. No QB controversy next year: Tolzien's willingness to stand in the pocket until he got drilled was impressive.
3. Think how different things would have been it UW had beaten OSU and NW like it should have. Would you rather end a 10-3 season on a high note or get drilled in a BCS bowl?

Mark said...

From a Wisconsin/Nebraska fan: We need to find a way to get Tolzien to Lincoln to teach Nebraska's QB, Zac Lee, a thing or two about pocket presence. (You'll see why if you watch the Holiday Bowl tonight.)

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