Twenty-one years ago, my dad took me to my first Badger game at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin lost to Michigan 62-14. We walked up to the ticket office five minutes before kickoff and got tickets on the 45-yard-line. The stadium was about half full.
Today, I took my son to his first Badger game at Camp Randall. Wisconsin beat Purdue 37-0. We were lucky to get tickets because Purdue returned some of its allotment. The stadium was full, save for a few students who couldn't drag themselves to the game.
What a pleasant difference two decades makes. Today was the best kind of game: a laugher, decided in the Badgers' favor early, yet still some drama late as the defense tried to preserve a shutout. I was nervous coming in, given how well Purdue had played lately and how we had played in our last two games.
We played a pretty good game today, but PU just stunk. Joey Elliott wasn't accurate, and when he was his receivers dropped the ball. They couldn't stop the run. They couldn't hang onto the ball. And we did what we needed to do, with pleasing results.
-Let's start with the special teams. David Gilbert's play was amazing, and another piece of evidence in the case against that ridiculous method of punt protection. I have been surprised not to see Gilbert in more for more snaps at defensive end, but he, like Chris Borland, has proven to be a real playmaker on special teams. And good for Aaron Henry getting a score, hopefully that will help his confidence.
-Speaking of confidence, let's not overlook Philip Welch making all three of his field goal attempts. This week the talk was of his inconsistency, his groin injury, of Alec Lerner maybe getting some attempts. But he looked sharp on his field goals, and booted a couple touchbacks. I thought Brad Nortman looked good, too. Only blot on the special teams was David Gilreath fielding a punt at his own 5, then almost running himself into a safety. He did have a couple nice returns.
-Purdue helped our defense pitch the shutout, but the boys played pretty darn well, too. J.J. Watt sticks out in my mind, with some nice penetration and knocking down the pass at the end to preserve the goose egg. His new haircut is brutal, though. Dan Moore and Jeff Stehle got in on tackles for loss, as did Jae McFadden, who led us with nine tackles and was around the ball a lot. Brendan Kelly made a good play at the line of scrimmage and knocked down a pass.
-And what about my favorite rookie, Chris Borland? One TFL and two fumble recoveries, including one in which he forced the fumble. Assuming Mike Taylor comes back healthy next year, that's an awesome plamaking duo at linebacker for the next three years.
-It was Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley at corner the whole game, as suspected, and they played well enough. Nice pick by Devin, showed some good footwork to stay inbounds.
-Purdue was 2 of 16 on third down, awesome.
-Offensively, didn't you want to see Lance Kendricks get to 100 yards rushing? Has a tight end run for 100 yards ... ever? In the past 50 years? Great play to start the game, and they never figured out how to stop it. What a weapon.
-Also loved the first drive: 80 yards, all rushing. John Clay did nothing spectacular today, but racked up 123 yards rushing like he should have. Montee Ball's first run was nice, but after that there didn't seem to be anything there and he was repeatedly stuffed. Was it the blocking or was he misreading things?
-First catches for Kraig Appleton, glad to see his burnt redshirt won't go for naught. The best play he made was actually on a catch rule incomplete because his foot was just out of bounds. He sure looks the part physically, every bit as built as Nick Toon.
-Sort of a nothing game for Scott Tolzien, who made some decent passes and some not-so-great passes; at least none of them were picked. He had Toon open for a touchdown but overthrew it a bit, Toon made a great play to make the catch. He may have held on to the ball a bit long on a couple occassions, resulting in sacks, but that's debatable.
-Time of possession edge for Bucky: 36:45 to 23:15.
-Well-officiated game, only six penalties, gave things a nice flow.
-Listening to the postgame radio show, heard this gem from Van Stoutt interviewing Watt:
Stoutt: J.J., Indiana beat Iowa today. How does it feel to control your own destiny?
Watt: Um, I think Iowa came back and won that game. I think it was 42-24.
Nice one, Van. Even if Iowa had lost, how would that mean the Badgers controlled their own destiny?
Who's next, Indiana? They're spunkier than expected. But I like where we're at.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Twenty-one years ago, my dad took me to my first Badger game at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin lost to Michigan 62-14. We walked up to the ticket office five minutes before kickoff and got tickets on the 45-yard-line. The stadium was about half full.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Here's an interesting fact: According to Athlon's season preview magazine, Purdue signed 21 players in its 2009 recruiting class. Fourteen of them are from Florida. Zero of them are from Indiana.
Interesting, no? True, new coach Danny Hope is from Florida and has strong ties there, and there are a lot of athletes down there. It makes sense to mine that place for talent, as we're doing. But geez, Indiana has some players too, and it doesn't make sense to concede all of them to IU, Notre Dame, Michigan, etc. Given the statue of IU, maybe it makes sense for us to get in on that.
Two weeks ago, this game seemed like a cakewalk to me. Then Purdue beat Ohio State, we collapsed against Iowa, and this looks a lot tougher.
Still, it's a game we should win. Frankly, we should be favored to win all five of our remaining regular season games. But, just as frankly, we could lose any of them. It's just that type of team.
We've got to to come out and run John Clay. Repeatedly. PU has the ninth-best rush defense in the Big Ten. Pound the rock.
Of course, Paul Chryst possessing a superior offensive football mind to mine, it wouldn't shock me to see us come out with Scott Tolzien winging the ball around. Especially since starting seems to give Clay the heebie-jeebies.
We'll be in Madison today, hoping to catch Kids Day the the Kohl. Tomorrow I'll be taking Will to his first Badger game. We've been practicing by attending high school games just down the street from our house. Wish me luck!
Thursday, October 29, 2009
What a great day for former Wisconsin running backs yesterday, as P.J. Hill and Chris Pressley were both signed by NFL teams. The only downside to Hill signing with the Eagles is that it comes because Brian Westbrook, one of the key players on my fantasy team, might be out with a concussion. It's doubtful P.J. will see much playing time, but whatever, he'll be able to hang out with Jack Ikegwuonu.
As Dave Heller says, with B.J. Askew out for the season Pressley has a better chance of playing. After all, teams don't sign fullbacks to sit, that's usually not a position where teams stockpile guys ... unless it's the Packers.
Monday, October 26, 2009
A friend of mine at work attended Sunday's basketball scrimmage and passed along these thoughts:
We went to the Red-White scrimmage last night. Great fun. Some thoughts:
-Jared Berggren could be Brian Butch's little brother. Physically they look a lot alike and have similar games, although Berggren doesn't have the outside shot -- yet. I like him. Not sure how much he'll be able to contribute in the Big 10 but he'll play.
-Ryan Evans has some hops and made a few nice plays. And he has this '80s fade haircut going for him.
-Keaton Nankivil looks a lot quicker than last year.
-Trevon Hughes is a man. Offensive players better be very careful with the ball around him or they will quickly become defensive players.
-Not sure why Ian Markolf didn't redshirt last season: he looks like a stiff -- not as bad as Gavinski but does not look comfortable with the ball at all.
-Get Mike Bruesewitz in the weight room another year and he will be the second coming of Joe Krabbenhoft. Not sure where the interior points are going to come from.
-Jon Leuer still looks more comfortable working outside in than inside.
-The new uniforms feature REALLY long shorts.
Thanks Paul! Here's another good review from Hoops Marinara.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Earlier this week we heard that Mike Taylor's knee injury will sideline him for the rest of the season. First thought: dammit! Not another rotten thing to happen to the Badgers this week!
Second thought: Silver lining is that Chris Borland will be on the field even more.
Third thought: Why wasn't Borland getting snaps instead of Culmer St. Jean or Jae McFadden?
Fourth thought: St. Jean and McFadden, while not playing a starring role, haven't been bad this season. Linebacker, which I thought was perhaps our weakest entering the season, has actually been a plus position.
Fifth thought: Blake Sorensen's been better this year than I'd reckoned, too.
Final thought: But Taylor was our best linebacker this season. He was always around the ball, always making plays in the opponent's backfield. As Bielema said, Taylor has three years ahead of him, and assuming he recovers well he'll keep getting better. Linebacker looks good for the next few years.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Well, surprise, surprise, some good Badger-related news this week. Marcus Landry made the Knicks!
What a great story: Marcus pays his own way to try out for the team, sticks it out, and eventually sticks for the opening-day roster. Everyone knows his story, couldn't happen to a better guy.
In all honesty, I'm surprised. Landry was a nice college player, never quite reached stardom. His game doesn't seem suited for the NBA. At 6-7, you'd think he'd have to play small forward, and his quickness and ball handling skills do not appear to be NBA-caliber.
He does have a nice postup game. Much like another undersized four-man, for the Rockets: Carl Landry. My suspicion is that if Marcus's name was Smith, he may not have even gotten this shot in the first place.
But whatever, this is great news! In that vein, Hoops Marinara has a really nice rundown of other former Badgers playing professionally.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Unsurprisingly, not much to like in reviewing the box score from the Iowa game. Here are a few things:
-We held them to 1.7 yards per rush.
-We only had two penalties.
And ... that's it. Scoreboard.
-We averaged 44.6 yards per punt, but only 38.6 yards net. I've been pretty happy with Brad Nortman this year, but his work pinning punts inside the 10 could improve.
-Chris Borland led the Badgers with 10 tackles. Won't be the last time. Added a sack, 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. I can't remember the last time a true freshman made such an impact on such a consistent basis on defense.
-J.J. Watt had eight tackles, and a whopping four for loss.
-That was a nicely timed blitz by Devin Smith that resulted in his sack. Would like to see more corner blitzes.
-Two tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, and a quarterback hurry for O'Brien Schofield. Louis Nzegwu had a hurry too.
We're four weeks into the Big Ten season, and if anything is certain, it's this: the conference is every bit as mediocre as critics have alleged. If Iowa is the league's best team -- and they most certainly are -- and no one's even close -- and no one is -- that's troubling.
Which makes our losses the last two weeks even more troubling. True, the Badgers have performed about as well as expected. But with Michigan still seemingly not back all the way, Ohio State capable of losing at Purdue, and Penn State beatable, this was a year where the door was open for the second tier to do something special. Unfortunately, it's Kirk Ferentz's team that has barged through.
1. Iowa. They still have to play at Michigan State and Ohio State, but would you pick against them in either of those?
2. Penn State. In line to get blown out by an SEC team in the Capital One Bowl.
3. Ohio State. At least they're not in line to get blown out in a BCS bowl any more, god forbid the national title game. What a terrible offense.
4. Wisconsin. Michigan State has the better record, but their opponents haven't been that tough and we beat them. This is as much a reflection on the conference's weakness as the Badgers' performance thus far.
5. Michigan State. Has rebounded nicely from a rough start, as predicted.
6. Michigan. Beat someone before you bust out the "We're Back!!!" banners.
7. Minnesota. En route to a Glen Mason-esque finish.
8. Purdue. I suppose, they beat Ohio State.
9. Northwestern. Thought they'd be better.
10. Indiana. The game story for the Hoosiers' win over Illinois mentioned their bowl hopes. Uh huh.
11. Illinois. Wow, who saw this coming? That Ron Zook is a heckuva coach.
Posted by Scott Tappa at 7:06 PM
Sunday, October 18, 2009
So Vander Blue has committed to Marquette. That's just the kick in the groin we needed after the football loss to Iowa.
Don't even know what to say ... other than to say this seems like a very immature choice to close an awkward process. Marquette gets the nod because they run a four-guard offense (Buzz Williams' glorified YMCA "scheme")? Because he's been friends with Jeronne Maymon since he was a kid (first time I've truly been disappointed in Maymon's college choice)? Whatever. If that's what floats your boat, so be it.
What UW has to offer isn't exactly a perfect package. But, bias acknowledged, I think Wisconsin is a better choice than Marquette. For anyone, let alone Vander Blue.
But hey, committing to UW that early was an immature move as well. Maybe if he hadn't chosen us first this wouldn't hurt so bad.
Making immature decisions is what teenage boys do. Lord knows I made plenty of immature decisions when I was Vander's age, they just weren't this public.
Fully expecting much gloating from Marquette fans, as is their right. I'll do my best to ignore it, or delete it if it happens to show up here.
Even if, as I'm hoping, Vander goes on to have an undistinguished college career that doesn't leave us longing, that would be disappointing because we'd wonder what he could have done playing for a real coach. Chances are he'll have a good college career, based on what he's shown in high school. He's the real deal.
The only way this works out well for us is if he transfers home in a year or two, which given the way things go at Marquette isn't impossible, and Vander took the high road and was classy in his comments about Bo and Howard Moore. But given the hard feelings that have come from this process, isn't likely.
I can't take the high road on this. For the second straight day, I'm livid. This sucks.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Today's proceedings at Camp Randall have left me feeling livid. Livid!
This is the first time this year that I have been truly disappointed in this team, and in this program. Because make no mistake about it: the results of today's game prove that Iowa has a program far superior to ours.
Not superior players, mind you. Their offensive skill position players are pedestrian at best, ours are more talented. Their quarterback still doesn't impress me -- he just threw the ball to wide-open players. They have a good defense, but as we showed in the first half, it's not impossible to move the ball on them.
And yet ... they dominated the second half today and go home winners. Their players' execution was nearly flawless. More importantly, the scheme adjustments they made at halftime were far better than anything we did.
Think about it: in the first half, we were running the ball for 5-7 yards a pop. There were big holes. On passing plays, we had guys open, and Scott Tolzien found them.
In the second half, with basically the same guys on the field (forget Garrett Graham's injury -- while he's obviously an important part of our offense, the results would have been the same with him) we created no holes, our receivers were double covered, and Tolzien threw it to the guys in white jerseys.
Defensively we were no less disappointing. For all the raves about Moeaki, definitely a good player, if Antonio Fenelus can't run with a tight end, we've got problems. Their running back will probably win praise, but he got his yards when our defense lost its focus and composure.
And when the defense did make a big play to give the offense a chance to score without actually moving the ball, Philip Welch shanks the kick right. We've gone from field goal kicking seeming like a definite strength at the season's beginning to being an uncertainty at best, a liability at worst.
Near the end of the game, when they were having their way with us, this thought occurred to me: It's like we weren't even on the field in the second half. Iowa did whatever they wanted.
Every time the cameras cut to Kirk Ferentz on the sideline, so calm and in control, I thought, "Man, I wish that guy was our coach, and his staff our staff." It's not the first time I've thought that way. But this year, when the Big Ten is truly up for grabs, if we had superior leadership like Iowa we could be pricing plane tickets for Pasadena now. Instead we're looking at what, San Antonio? No shame in that, but in years where the traditional Big Ten powers show vulnerability, we've got to be ready to take advantage. This year, we're not quite there.
Remember what I wrote at halftime?
"While I'm happy with the proceedings thus far, I also remember Barry Alvarez's last game in 2005, when we were up by a similar score at halftime and got dominated by Iowa in the second half. They make good halftime adjustments. Let's hope our coaches can do the same."
Unfortunately, today was a carbon copy of 2005. That loss left me feeling similarly upset and disappointed. But that year, we rebounded to beat Hawaii and then Auburn in a bowl, definitely a great ending to what ended up being a very nice season. Purdue is looking better than I figured, we'll have to bring it in two weeks. Let's hope our players and coaches take the week off to figure out how to be more like Iowa.
Not too much to complain about in the first half, we played well. Offense moved the ball fairly regularly, but Iowa's excellent defenders made some plays you'd expect them to make. Our defense was tight, with the exception of the one long pass play. I'd much rather be up two scores.
-Horrible kickoff coverage again to start the game. Iowa's Wegher looked like he was running in sand, but he still got it out past the 40. A Twitter post noted that we seemed to have more defensive regulars on the unit on subsequent kickoffs -- good move.
-J.J. Watt has been excellent coming off both edges, and O'Brien Schofield has continued adding to his honors resume. We need them to keep making those plays in the second half of the game, and the season.
-Mike Taylor gets hurt, and who's around the ball making plays? Chris Borland, of course. He's awesome. Hope Taylor's injury isn't too bad.
-John Clay was really running well before he got hurt, showing nice patience and vision. The offensive line has looked really good on running plays, the last one being Montee Ball's touchdown run -- great execution. Ball is looking like a guy we can trust.
-On his first punt return, David Gilreath doesn't call fair catch and gets drilled by a gunner with a running start. On Iowa's next punt, he doesn't catch it and the Hawkeeys get 15-20 yards in favorable bounces. Not only is our punt return game not a positive right now, it's a liability.
-I had just finished praising Jay Valai to my dad -- how he's had less highlight hits this year but also less major miscues -- when he seemed to be out of position on Iowa's long pass play. Can't say for sure without seeing the film or knowing the coverage call, though, so it may not have been his fault.
-Why put Curt Phillips in? Scott Tolzien was coming off his best drive throwing the ball, and we follow that up with a three-and-out. True, Curt looked good on his keeper run and was a shoestring tackle away from breaking it. And since Phillips hadn't played in a couple weeks it's not likely Iowa spent any time preparing for him. But it was a curious decision at the time.
While I'm happy with the proceedings thus far, I also remember Barry Alvarez's last game in 2005, when we were up by a similar score at halftime and got dominated by Iowa in the second half. They make good halftime adjustments. Let's hope our coaches can do the same.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Tomorrow is a barometer game. Iowa is the most comparable Big Ten program to UW. Our states are similar demographically. We recruit the same areas outside of the Midwest. Not sure if you've heard or not, but our head coach has a Hawkeye tattoo on his leg.
However, we rarely seem to be at or near the top of the conference in the same year. Just 2004, the year when we lost at Michigan State, then went into Iowa City still with a chance to go the Rose Bowl but were humiliated, comes to mind.
This is shaping up to be one of those years. Right now, based on its wins over Penn State and Michigan, Iowa seems like the better team. Then again, they barely beat Northern Iowa and Arkansas State. I would expect the first team to show up at Camp Randall.
Iowa's defense is nasty. Their defensive line is good, but not as good as Ohio State's. Conversely, I think their back seven is better than Ohio State's. I can't see us scoring more than 20 points.
On the other hand, their offense doesn't scare me a bit. Lots of people give Ricky Stanzi props, but to me he's an average quarterback at best. Their running backs aren't nearly as good as ours, or their receivers. Nice line, though. Still, I can't see them scoring more than 20 points.
So where does that leave us? Special teams. Which doesn't leave me feeling very confident.
Win this one, and we've got a legit shot at the Rose Bowl. Lose, and it's Alamo Bowl at best.
Time to show you're in control, Bret.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Posted by Scott Tappa at 8:44 PM
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
The Big Ten has announced a new bowl lineup starting next season, with most of the shake-up coming at the bottom. The first new bowl is the Texas Bowl in Houston, with a Big 12 opponent. I wonder what airline tickets from Minneapolis to Houston go for?
Or Minneapolis to Dallas, for something called the Dallas Football Classic versus a Conference USA team. Ugh.
The best new bowl game is the Gator Bowl, which is one of my favorites. There's a lot of history in that Jacksonville bowl, and we'll get an SEC team. We also still have the Insight Bowl, Outback, Capital One, and Rose Bowls.
Say goodbye to the Champs Sports Bowl, which was forgettable, and the Alamo Bowl, which I liked.
Posted by Scott Tappa at 8:35 PM
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
So we've added Washington to the future non-conference schedule, a home-and-home series in 2017 and2018. Very nice addition of a big name opponent.
Right? I think so. But consider this:
The first game in this series won't happen for another eight years. Eight years ago, Washington won the Pac-10 and played in the Rose Bowl. But in the ensuing years, UW football cratered, and last year they were arguably the worst big-conference team in college football. They beat USC this year and appear to be getting better, but they're not all the way back.
Who knows, maybe Washington will be back to conference and national championship caliber status in 2017. Maybe they'll stink. Maybe they'll go back and forth several times. Point is, it's hard to know when you're making out the non-conference schedule so far in advance.
How good will Oregon State, Washington State, and Arizona State when they show up on our schedule in the next decade? All of them have had their moments of greatness, all of them have suffered through mediocrity.
That 2017 home schedule looks awesome, though, with Virginia Tech joining Washington in making the trip to Camp Randall. That is, of course, unless whoever our coach is at the time decides to push the Virginia Tech date back another decade and schedule Cal Poly instead.
Posted by Scott Tappa at 6:30 AM
Monday, October 12, 2009
Last week our good friend Todd Milewski forwarded me a notice that John McPoland passed away after a 21-month battle with cancer. Very sad news, very sad. John had a big impact on my life, I owe a great deal to him.
Posted by Scott Tappa at 5:49 AM
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Looking at the box score from the UW-Ohio State game just confirmed what was not hard to spot during the game. I'm not sure whether to be extremely frustrated and disappointed by this, or to be optimistic.
First downs: UW 22, OSU 8
Yards passing: UW 250, OSU 87
Total offensive yards: UW 368, OSU 184 (and that's with us losing 48 yards on sacks)
Total offensive plays: UW 89 (89!), OSU 40
Possession time: UW 42:47, OSU 17:13
How about these:
Average yards per kickoff return: OSU 34.8, UW 15.2
Interceptions-return yards-touchdowns: OSU 2-121-2, UW 1-13-0
-We had our first two fruitless trips into the red zone this year, breaks a nice streak.
-Montee Ball and Zach Brown didn't get many carries, but Ball did look much better on his chances. The TV sideline reporter said Brown had some sort of head injury. Ball entered the game when our line was clicking, and maybe Brown would have gained 6-plus yards a carry at that time. But it's hard to see how Brown stays at the top of the depth chart.
-Terrelle Pryor: 5-for-13, 87 yards, one interception, one touchdown. That's player of the year stuff.
-Scott Tolzien spread the ball around to 10 different receivers, pretty impressive ball distribution. Isaac Anderson did a nice job finding openings with six catches, but as noted yesterday, it should have been eight and one touchdown. Even a Kyle Jefferson sighting. Still waiting for a Kraig Appleton catch, there has to be a reason we burned his redshirt.
-Brad Nortman: 48.8 yards per punt, not bad.
-O'Brien Schofield is clearly our best defensive player and had another great game: two sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss. Who's our second-best defensive player? I think it's clearly Mike Taylor, who was around the ball a lot against OSU: team-high eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss. I love that our leading tackler is a freshman.
-Not much else to report from the defense, which was only on the field for 40 plays. The cornerbacks seemed to play well.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
A couple minutes ago Jana walked through the living room and asked who was winning. When I told her Ohio State, by 18 points, she commended me for keeping my cool. It's all about expecations, I told her. Didn't expect to win this game, and we didn't.
Sure, it's a disappointing result. It exposed our flaws in a big way, and showed we are not among the Big Ten elite, at least not at this moment. But there was still a lot to like. Thoughts:
-Let's give Scott Tolzien a C-minus for this game. Obviously, the two picks he threw that were returned for touchdowns were devastating, the difference in this game. But he still stood in against a tough pass rush and kept his poise, especially when OSU knew we had to pass, showing some decent escape ability at times. He spread the ball around nicely. Millen correctly pointed out that Tolzien was locking onto one receiver and not leaving him, which also hurt him at Minnesota last week. He got better at that later, but it cost him. How would you grade him?
-Tolzien should have had at least on touchdown pass, but Isaac Anderson dropped a well-thrown ball. Two drops today for Ike, can't have those and expect to win at Ohio State.
-The offensive line did get better in the second half after a shaky start.
-Guess we don't have that kickoff coverage figured out yet. Did any Badger lay a finger on Small on the return? We had three guys basically run into two blockers just to the right of the crease Small ran through. To the untrained eye, Bradie Ewing looked like the guy who ran himself out of position. What's the solution? Play starters on the coverage units? Seems risky, but the guys we're running out there on that unit now aren't getting it done, at all.
-Then there's Maurice Moore's sorry kickoff return. What else could Chris Borland have done to stop him from leaving the end zone, tackle him? Credit the offense for putting a drive together after that, it looked like the wheels were going to fall off big time at that point.
-Also missed a couple field goals, the second was one that definitely should have gone through. Maybe Philip Welch isn't out of the woods. Bottom line: even with a touchdown on a trick play, special teams are still a liability. Still coached by one Bret Bielema.
-Montee Ball looked good on his reps, ran well, showed patience, followed blocking. Also looked comfortable as a receiver out of the backfield.
-O'Brien Schofield was outstanding again today, showed a great pass rush and pursuit. He's halfway to an all-conference nod this year, and looking like an NFL prospect, maybe a 3-4 outside linebacker.
-Pryor did not impress me one bit. Perhaps the most damning thing he did Saturday was forget lose his helmet before their first drive of the third quarter. Right now he is a superior athlete taking snaps, but not much of a quarterback. The talent around him is slightly above average at best, our defense handled them for all but a few plays.
-That said, Ohio State's defense is every bit as good as feared. I like how they're a no-name unit, seems like anyone can make a play. Like us they have a deep defensive line rotation; unlike us, their guys are big and experienced. Their safeties are awesome, and the cornerbacks I'd never heard of before today were impressive. But we moved the ball on them, just couldn't finish. But they're going to need Pryor to be better to get through that Penn State-Iowa-Michigan stretch to close their season.
Bottom line: we don't shoot ourselves in the foot three times, this is anyone's game at the end. The key will be how we rebound against Iowa next week. Clean up the play? Or go into the fetal position and drop another one? Right now I'm betting on the latter.
It will be interesting to see how the Hawkeyes play against Michigan tonight. Will they be the team that dominated at Penn State or the one that struggled at home against Northern Iowa and Arkansas State? Right now I'm betting on the former.
More from the box score tomorrow.
Pretty frustrating to have completely outplayed Ohio State in the first half but be losing. Our defense dominates, then goes into its sieve mode, one half early. We're 2-1 on time of possession, which is great. We're still in it, and should have plenty of chances to pull this one out.
-Last year against these guys our first defensive possession was about as bad as it gets. This year, completely opposite, set the tone for the rest of the half. Pryor has not looked good at all, but his running ability really bails him out.
-O'Brien Schofield has made some nice pass rush moves, including a great inside move to draw a hold.
-Let's just run that end around to David Gilreath every play, it works. He's not expending any energy returning punts.
-Antonio Fenelus has played pretty well so far in coverage and on special teams. Aaron Henry had a really nice possession midway through, hopefully that'll push him on to more consistent play.
-John Moffitt struggled early, giving up a sack and blocking nobody in space on a screen. Is guard really his best position?
-Culmer St. Jean made a great drop and showed great hands on that pick. Conversely, that play showed just how medicore Pryor is as a passer, terrible read and pass.
-Even if Chris Maragos doesn't score on the fake field goal, I still like the call -- playing to win and not to lose against a favored team in an intimidating environment. We ran a successful fake punt last time we played in Columbus. I didn't think Maragos had the speed to turn the corner, and thought his right foot might have been out short of the first down, but it all turned out well.
-John Clay's lean is a yard or two less than it was last week against much better defenders, but I'm okay with how he's run so far. He does seem to be wrapping the ball with two hands quicker than usual, which limits his mobility.
-Too bad Garrett Graham got called for holding (it's happened recently, right? and another one on the first possession of the second half!), wiped out a nice run by Montee Ball, very well blocked by the left side of the line.
-That field goal by Philip Welch was't a gimme, very important. He almost made another 57-yarder at the end there. He seems to have overcome his early season yips.
-Scott Tolzien isn't playing all that well, although like with Clay, the opposition has a lot to do with it. I liked the move to have him roll out, that should help him buy time, rather than subjecting him to the OSU pass rush that clearly has an advantage on our line.
Keep running the ball and we'll have a shot. Let's see what happens.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Wednesday afternoon on my drive home from work, I was listening to the daily Badger update, with Matt LePay talking with Bret Bielema about things. The guys were talking about Ohio State's front seven, which is nasty as usual.
Bielema was talking about linebacker Austin Spitler, who is from Bellbrook, Ohio. "Oh, I wanted him," said Bielema. "He was just a tremendous player."
Then the coach moved onto fellow linebacker Brian Rolle, who was Aaron Henry's high school teammate in Immokalee, Fla. "I offered him a scholarship when he was a sophomore," Bielema said. "He was just such an amazing athlete."
So, 0-for-2 on those priority recruits. It's always interesting to hear coaches talk candidly about the ones who got away. Especially college coaches, because you really don't hear them talk about it that often. After all, it's a reminder that they got beat on the recruiting trail, which is only slightly worse than getting beat on the field.
Spitler and Rolle are studs, but they're not as good as James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman. But the defensive line is just about the same as last year. They're big, deep, and fast. They lost their best cover corner from last year, but their safeties are outstanding.
Watching Ohio State against USC in Week 2, I got a feeling of dread. A "We're going to score three points in Columbus and be embarrassed" sort of dread. They're still tough, but having seen five games of our offense, I think we can score 17-24 points. As we've done so far, I can see the pass setting up the run, as long as the offensive line gives Scott Tolzien a little bit of time to throw. Did you realize he's only been sacked twice this season?
Which might be enough. Terrelle Pryor is a physical freak, but he ain't Vince Young yet. The rest of the guys are good, but none of them scare you like a Beanie Wells did.
Ohio State definitely should win this game, it being in Columbus, but we've got a puncher's shot. Our play doesn't necessarily need to be flawless, but it needs to be cleaner than any full game we've seen so far. No more than one turnover. Better kick coverage. Maybe a plus play in the return game. Garrett Graham is going to get the ball a lot. We might rush for less than 4 yards per carry, but can't go away from it.
Should be a good game. If we win ... the fall of 2009 gets exponentially more interesting.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Frankly, the out-of-state football recruits excite me more than the in-state guys. Not just because their other offers are somewhat more impressive, but because of where they're from -- two linebackers from Ohio (where my main man Chris Borland came from), an athlete from St. Louis and a quarterback from New Jersey.
We've always gotten good kids from those states, and it's encouraging to see us going back there with regularity. Surprisingly, no one yet from Texas, although it's not over yet. Can't remember the last time we had a kid from Maryland.
Joseph Brennan, QB, Cherry Hill, N.J.
A 6-4 quarterback who chose us over Miami and Stanford, not bad. His highly-coveted teammate Sherard Cadogan is considering us as well.
Manasseh Garner, LB/TE, Pittsburgh
Not that big yet for his projected positions, but apparently very athletic. Maybe he ends up like a Travis Beckum type.
Josh Harrison, LB, Huber Heights, Ohio
Cody Byers, LB, Kettering, Ohio
Warren Herring, DE/TE, Belleville, Ill.
Of all the recruits, Herring is the highest rated at his position. St. Louis has been very good to us in the past, good chance it could happen again here.
Frank Tamakloe, DB, Olney, Md.
This guy had a lot of good offers, a nice get. My first thought on him was that he's got really nice size for a safety -- 6-3, but he needs to put on weight. Good student.
Jameson Wright, DB, Fort Pierce, Fla.
Was also sniffing around Wake Forest and Rutgers.
It would be nice to land a headliner before February, but things are shaping up just fine.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
It's been awhile since I ran down any sort of recruiting news, but Bret Bielema and friends have been assembling the class of 2010. As I write this the most recent recruiting news is highly-rated Whitefish Bay punter Will Hagerup choosing -- gulp -- Michigan over Wisconsin and several other big-name schools. Disappointed, but not devastated since Brad Nortman has two more years of eligibility remaining.
It's not a class for the ages yet, there are no Parade All-Americans or guys ranked in the top 10 at their positions, but it seems like this class is full of solid prospects from places that have been good to us in the past.
Most of the early commits were in-state, so let's look at those guys first.
Bryce Gilbert, DT, Brookfield
An early commit, he was interested in some other Big Ten schools, but his only other offers were from I-AA schools and Indiana, which may as well be a I-AA school.
Jake Irwin, DE, Waunakee
Gotta love the Madison-area kids.
Jeff Lewis, RB, Brookfield
He's got good size, 6-2, 200, but isn't necessarily a power runner.
Marquis Mason, WR, Madison
Great size at 6-5, 215, he's apparently going to try to play basketball at Madison as well. Comparisons to Donald Hayes?
Michael Trotter, DB, Milwaukee
Good-sized safety from Marquette High, his other offers were like a lot of these guys -- I-AA, MAC, and Indiana.
Konrad Zagzebski, DE, Schofield
Probably the best in-state prospect in this class, he originally committed to Minnesota but changed his mind. Glad he did. Is coming off a knee injury.
Dallas Lewallen, OL, Berlin
His high school team is winless, but apparently he's playing well.
On one hand, you could be a cynic and complain that we're taking a lot of kids that have lesser offers and interest. On the other, it is crucial to the identity and success of this program that we continue bringing in the best kids from the state, even if they're not all four-star prospects. Just need to coach 'em up.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
One last comment about the trip the East Dakota, then I'm done. For awhile, anyway.
Talking to Toren after the game, and listening to WCCO on the drive home Sunday morning, two distinct schools of thought emerged from Gopher observers.
We'll never win.
The first is Toren's view. Talking things over at Schwalbach's house after the game, Chris made the prediction that Minnesota will never -- ever! -- become a program that cracks the top third of the Big Ten on a regular basis. Those of us who did not graduate from the University of Minnesota disagreed with him. Maybe we were just trying to console him in a sportsmanlike manner after his sixth straight loss in this rivalry.
My counterpoint to him was that they just need to find their guy, their Barry Alvarez, who turns it all around and builds a modern tradition. After all, demographically Minnesota is very similar to Wisconsin and Iowa, and before Barry arrived, we had less overall football history than Minnesota does even after their recent decades of mediocrity. Do I think Tim Brewster is that guy? No, not for a minute, and I don't think many Gopher fans do either.
Chris's strongest point was this: University of Minnesota football will always take a back seat to pro sports in the Twin Cities. Case in point: until we let the Gophers back in the game late in the fourth quarter, the biggest cheer from the home fans in the second half came when Goldy Gopher stripped down to reveal he (she?) was wearing one of the new NFL Europe jerseys Brett Favre wears nowadays.
Last weekend was being billed as the biggest in Minnesota sports history, or at least recent history. And yet there was the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, the most-played rivalry in college football history, ranking right around the Wild-Blue Jackets opener, just ahead of a marathon and Bucks-Timberwolves preseason hoops in Mankato.
Will Minneapolis ever rank with Madison for gameday atmosphere? No chance. But as the Badger program was rising in the 1990s, so were the Packers, and statewide media and fan attention drifted to the Northeast. Didn't stop UW from creating a football program that inspired deep loyalty and passion around the state, though. Theoretically, Minnesota can do the same thing.
On the other hand, despite what Brewster and Sid Hartman would tell you, they aren't close. If you listen to Sid, who is basically the voice of Minnesota sports, the Gophers got screwed by the refs, which is really the only reason they didn't beat the Badgers.
I'll paraphrase, but on the radio one of Sid's first questions to Brewster went like this: "That jerk official has been doing this for 100 years and he has no place being out there anymore! He can't even run with the players, he just drops flags! In the first half it was all penalties on the Gophers, none on Wisconsin! I've never seen a penalty called on the 1-yard-line! A chop block?!"
Pause. Crickets. Did the Voice of Minnesota Sports just call Dave Witvoet a jerk? Is everyone considering the irony of Sid accusing someone else being too old to do a good job? Sid's co-host says, "How do you expect coach Brewster to respond to that, Sid?"
That's right: Minnesota thinks Witvoet has it in for them, and is the one thing standing between them and Pasadena. Take it to The Bank.
As the conversation goes on, you get more along the same vein. "Tell you what, no one's really taking it to you," Sid says to Brewster. "There's a lot of parity in the Big Ten this year, you're still right in this thing."
Then they start talking recruiting, and how excited Brew is about the class they're putting together, it's going to be the one that puts them over the top. Thing is, if you look at Minnesota's depth chart, they start eight seniors, two juniors and a sophomore on defense, and four seniors and three juniors on offense.
This is a very experienced team that can't stop the run or block the run, that commits silly penalties and turnovers. They are not a very well-coached team.
So while Minnesota's class of 2010 might be a good one, it's also a good bet Brewster won't be around to coach them at the end of their college careers. When they pull the plug on him and send him back to coaching NFL tight ends, Joel Maturi will have a chance to find his Alvarez. It's possible he will and Minnesota will do what we did. I hope not.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Tell you what: I could watch our second half offensive performance over and over and over again. Aside from the fumbles and penalties, of course.
John Clay and the blockers operating in front of him just manhandled Minnesota time and time again. Emasculated the Gophers. Embarrassed them. There was Lee Campbell, visibly upset with himself after Clay shrugged him off on a touchdown run. There was that Triplett guy walking off the field groggy after Clay ran him over. There was Gopher defensive back Simmons, shaking in his shoes as Clay picked up steam in the open field, consciously waiting until Clay was almost by him and just diving at Clay's feet.
This is why we beat Minnesota every year. We are stronger and tougher than them. It was apparent sitting seven rows up Saturday, and just as apparent watching the replay.
Other thoughts after getting a TV view of the game.
-You know what else I could watch over and over again? Those ESPN clips of all the empty trophy cases at Minnesota's new stadium. I'll bet someone in their SID office is in trouble for allowing that to happen.
-Early on, Scott Tolzien scrambled and ran into former Badger Kimmy Royston, knocking him back. In the aftermath, Royston was the one talking trash, as if he were the one who had lowered the boom, not the one who got his ass kicked by our slow-footed quarterback. Man, we really miss Royston ...
-Speaking of Tolzien running, I didn't realize his fumble was forced. During the game it appeared he just coughed it up by himself, but on TV it was clear a Minnesota defensive lineman made a nice play to knock the ball loose.
-Louis Nzegwu's sack where he ran down Weber was really a coverage sack. But he made another nice hustle play where he ran down a Minnesota wide receiver downfield. He's a nice logical replacement for O'Brien Schofield next year.
-Watching Zach Brown's fumble and the return for a touchdown made me throw up in my mouth. How does that happen there? For all intents and purposes the game is over at that point. Instead my blood pressure remains elevated for another half-hour. It's too bad he's had troubles hanging onto the ball. For all the increased talk about Montee Ball, from the limited looks we had at him Saturday Brown is still clearly the faster, shiftier back.
-Aaron Henry appears to be the #4 cornerback now behind Antonio Fenelus, Devin Smith, and Niles Brinkley. Shaky knee? Shaky confidence? Other guys' improvement? A little bit of all those things, probably. He had pretty decent coverage on Decker's touchdown, but Weber made a good throw and Decker made a good play on the ball. Aaron also did make a play on the ball on the Gophers' last drive. Henry's got a lot of football to play yet for us, but I'm still a little worried about him.
-Did you see Decker making that Axe-chopping motion after his touchdown? Nice, huh? That'll have to do for him, I guess, since the only wood he'll ever ... never mind.
-Fenelus led us with nine tackles.
-Which was our special teams lowlight? The Gophers' repeated long kickoff returns? Smith and Fenelus fighting each other to keep Brad Nortman's excellent punt out of the end zone, neither succeeding? David Gilreath running full steam into Prince Moody on a return? This unit still needs tons of work.
-Oh yeah, and we also almost had a punt blocked.
-Among Minnesota's many bush league moves is having their band play loud, annoying noises right up until the opponent's snap. Not music, just banging on drums and blowing into horns.
-As much as Lance Kendricks is a nice receiver, he's really become an asset as a blocker. He's not Mickey Turner or Garrett Graham, but he's not a liability either and engages defenders sufficiently enough to give his backs some room. His footwork on the touchdown catch was really nice, and his vision on his other catch of Tolzien's beautifully-thrown ball was great too.
-The tight end screen to Garrett Graham was the perfect call at the perfect time by Paul Chryst.
-Apparently the 12-men-on-the-field penalty was defensive line coach Charlie Partridge's fault for sending in two defensive tackles. The penalty was a good call, Patrick Butrym was not off the field at the snap. Mike Taylor made a nice play on that pick, again, had to reach back across his body. He's good good hands and good instincts.
-Did you happen to notice that before the Gophers' onside kick, Bret Bielema was about five yards on the field yelling instructions and a staffer ran out and pulled him back to the sideline. After last year's Michigan State fiasco, does Bielema have a chaperone to keep him from penalties like that?
-Speaking of onside kicks, that's three times in five games where our opponent has tried one, and we're still not all that good at fielding them.
-Speaking of onside kicks, how funny was it that Minnesota was penalized for having a guy standing to the wrong side of the kicker? That's simple knowledge of the rules. That's the kind of thing we would have been penalized for last year.
-On our second-to-last possession, we passed on third-and-long rather than running. Most people would have run there, and I probably would have too, but passing there wasn't as dumb as it may have originally appeared. Given that they had just gone 80 yards in about 10 seconds on their previous drive, the difference between them having 1:45 and 1:20, only needing a field goal attempt to force overtime, wasn't that great. Why not make a legit attempt at a first down and end it?
-Why was Minnesota running play action passes on their last drive? Was running really an option at that point? And didn't Weber used to be a pretty good runner? He looks downright slow now.
-You know what else I could watch over and over and over? Chris Borland running by Minnesota's big, slow offensive linemen. And I didn't even have to rewind the DVR, it was happening on every single play. On one play, Borland spun around and Wills didn't realize he'd been beaten for another three seconds. Then, Borland has the athleticism to stop, change direction, and tip Weber's pass.
-Looks like Blake Sorensen forced that last fumble, not Schofield, but O'Beezy was right there on the play. Whatever helps him with his all-conference resume.
This team and this game effort still has plenty of warts, but watching the kids run around with the Axe makes you forget all of it. It doesn't get much better than that.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
The question tomorrow at work will be, What did you think of Minnesota's new stadium? That is, of course, if the average sports fan in Wisconsin even realizes the Gophers have a new stadium, or if they somehow forget that the Minnesota Favres are playing the Packers in The Biggest Football Game In The History of Earth.
My response will be, It's very nice, it would easily be the nicest stadium in the MAC.
All right, all right, too snotty. Minnesota did a nice job with the new place. As Barry Alvarez told Sid Hartman on the radio this morning, they got their bang for their buck, or something like that. The few bugs we experienced will likely be ironed out over time. Even though it was overcast and damp, that was better than heading inside a dome on a beautiful fall day.
The exterior of the place is strange, lots of windows and glass. Not ugly by any means, but it looked more like a commercial building than a stadium.
The worst part, by far, was entry. We arrived at the gates about 15 minutes before kickoff, and waited in line so long we missed the first seven minutes of play. This was after we chose the unfortunately-named "Express" line. The game tickets had bar codes on them, but the ticket takers for some reason had no bar code readers.
Inside, the concession stands did not have cash registers. Instead, the workers used calculators to tally up orders, sort of like they do at the Iola-Scandinavia JV games by my house. Another technical blunder I observed came after a Gopher interception, when the scoreboard flashed "FIELD GOAL!!! FIELD GOAL!!!"
Other than that things were really nice. Our excellent seats, obtained by Matt Schwalbach, were actual seats, not benches or benches with seat backs attached. With cup holders! Much nicer than Camp Randall seats. We were more or less surrounded by Gopher fans who were very civil and sportsmanlike, as I believe we were in return. I got two yummy chocolate chip cookies for $1, as good a value as you'll find anywhere.
The school harkens to its successful past with signs noting its Big Ten and national championships between the lower and upper decks, although it does remind me of the banners we had at the Field House honoring all of our national championship boxing teams from the 1950s. Cheesy, however, are the signs circling the upper deck noting the Gophers' bowl appearances. Do you really want to be bragging about appearances in the Music City and Micron PC Bowls?
The concourses are plenty big, overall much better than Camp Randall. They also have some unused room at one end of the field, where I would put statues of someone like, say, Bronco Nagurski.
Unlike entering the stadium, exiting was very easy. Of course, that's because only about 15 Gopher fans were still there for their band's version of the Fifth Quarter. Their music was so quiet that about 100 Badger fans staging their own spoken-word version of a Camp Randall Fifth Quarter in the upper deck drowned out the Minnesota band.
The game was announced as a sellout, but there were plenty of empty seats in the corners of the student section. Hilariously, our Gopher friend Chris Toren, the ultimate good sport after years of crushing defeats in this game, claimed that it was for spillover media. Right, the U issued 15 press passes to Japanese media members who didn't come when the forecast showed rain.
It is undeniable, though, that there were far fewer Badger fans in attendance than in prior years. The actual ratio was hard to determine from our seats, but watching the TV replay I would think only about 10% of the crowd was wearing red. Give it a few years and see how tough tickets are to find once the novelty of the new field wears off.
Bottom line: nice place, good for the Minnesota program, 1,000 times better than the Metrodome.
Just in case this point hadn't been made clear ...
Decker goes Axe-less for career
Too bad, I'll miss the old crotch-slugger. I was thinking, if he really wants to get his hands on Paul Bunyan's Axe, he can come down to our spring game in April, during the family events they let people take pictures with it.
Posted by Scott Tappa at 8:33 PM
Saturday, October 3, 2009
I'm getting too old for this!
Today's game should not have been close. We absolutely dominated the second half, ran the ball with authority, Tolzien settled down. And yet ...
Couldn't close the deal until the absolute end. Brown's fumble ... what can you say? The back-to-back 40-yard pass plays that allowed Minnesota to get close. Letting the Gophers convert fourth-and-16.
But we beat Minnesota. Again. Got to see our kids parade the Axe around their shiny, tiny new stadium. We're 5-0. Can't complain too much.
-I just loved the way we blocked for John Clay and the way he ran. It appeared that we wouldn't be able to do to much up the gut, with their enormous defensive tackles, but the off tackle runs were so effective. Especially around the left, have to credit Gabe Carimi. It will be interesting to see how the staff arranges the depth chart heading into next week. It's hard to see how they can keep Brown at #1, but if they're dead set on keeping Clay at #2 for whatever pscyhological reasons are at play, who are they going to start? Montee Ball? Stay tuned. Just happy Clay is looking like the back we envisioned.
-Tolzien was shaky at times, which is understandable given it was his first road start. Early on it seemed like he was fixating on his first option and not moving further into his progressions, which led to the first pick. But he played much better in the second half. His two passes to Lance Kendricks were very nice, particularly the second one that he dropped over Kendricks' shoulder. He fell back on Garrett Graham a bunch, smart move. Loved Paul Chryst's naked bootleg call that led to our last touchdown, and how Tolzien covered up with two arms at the end.
-Minnesota should have run the ball more, they were reasonably effective when they committed to it. When they fell back on the pass, our rush was effective in rushing Weber. O'Brien Schofield and Louis Nzegwu each had two sacks, and were relentless in their rushes. Chris Borland just continues to make plays, he was embarrassing Minnesota's right tackle. And let's not forget the excellent play Patrick Butrym made to intercept Weber's tipped pass. Minnesota was up three and driving for another score at that point, and we dominated play thereafter.
-All kidding aside, TCF Bank Stadium is nice. They need to come up with a better way of getting people in, we had a ridiculous wait and missed the first five minutes of the game. There are no cash registers at the concession stands. And they appear to treat Micron PC Bowl appearances just as importantly as national championships. But all in all it's a nice place, definitely a huge upgrade from the Metrodome.
I'll have more thoughts later, but back to the celebration.
Friday, October 2, 2009
I'm pretty sure the Badgers are going to lose to Minnesota tomorrow. Which will be disappointing, especially since I'll be there, but since it won't be unexpected, it won't be devastating. Here's what I see happening:
-Eric Decker doesn't necessarily kill us, but he's productive and has at least one key touchdown.
-Duane Bennett has a better game than we would expect.
-We have a tough time running on their big defensive tackles, but still are able to muster up a respectable ground game. Zach Brown does well running off tackle.
-Scott Tolzien throws a couple picks and has his shakiest game of the year.
-We get a big, unexpected special teams play. Might as well come from hometown boy David Gilreath.
-Minnesota plays with the lead for most of the game, we keep things close. Unlike 2005, however, we don't pull out a miracle finish and fall just short.
Looking forward to seeing TCF Bank Park or whatever they're calling it. For all my teasing it appears like a nice place. Of course, if it happens to rain I'll be longing for that craphole the Gophers used to play in.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
With Diamond Taylor leaving school after violating the school's student-athlete discipline policy, a scholarship opened up a year early for Josh Gasser. He's a Port Washington kid whose stock was really on the rise, with offers from the likes of Maryland and Arizona State.
As of now he's slated to be the only point guard on the roster after Jordan Taylor exhausts his eligibility. At 6-4 he's taller than the kids we've had playing the position lately, which leads to the inevitable question of whether he'll be quick enough to guard the position in the Big Ten.
As a 20-plus points per game scorer, it's obvious he knows how to score. And judging by his jersey, he's plenty familiar with Bo Ryan's offense.
Gasser join Evan Anderson in the class. Now all we need is Vander Blue to re-commit. Come on Vander, we love you!