As part of the ROTQ staff gathered to discuss the upcoming season. Many were shocked when I called for a nearly unblemished record for this football team. They have a favorable schedule, that includes a tough non-conference foe, Arizona State at home, along with the all important Ohio State game in October. The road schedule is fairly kind with tough tilts at Michigan State and Iowa.
A closer look
Offense: this team has the potential to be outstanding on offense. Some publications are calling this offensive line the best in the Big Ten and one of the elite units in the nation. The group has a little of everything, star power, talent, depth, and experience. Star Power: Gabe Carimi is in the eyes of many the best draft eligible left tackle prospect playing college football. Talent: we’ve been waiting, is this the year? Josh Oglesby came to Madison with the reputation as the nations top prep lineman, he has prototypical skills, but was called out by coaches this spring for an uneven performance. Depth: where to begin…there are 5 guys who started games last year inside. The coaches have noted they would be comfortable with nearly any combination of those five…this publication anticipates the recently healthy Peter Konz at center flanked by John Moffit and Travis Frederick. Experience: seniors and guys who have started a boatload of games. Lastly the groups size. It is a typical UW line, massive and powerful. I expect this group to wear down a lot of defenses this year…can they wear down OSU and Iowa’s formidable DL?
The offense is loaded with skill talent. Nick Toon and John Clay figure to land on everyones all Big Ten teams. Lance Kendricks superb performance in the Miami game has led many to believe that he’s the next great UW tight end. Since Paul Chryst has arrived UW has become TE-U sending Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum, and Garrett Graham to the NFL. Is Kendricks next? The issue is who will run with him in the UW two TE set? There are intriguing candidates in Brian Wozniak and Josh Byrne, but the most intriguing might be true freshmen Sherad Codagan and Mannesah Garner. Both of these frosh are ultra athletic with the ability to stretch defenses, one or both could become a receiving threat in 2010. The key to the offense is undoubtedly Scott Tolzein. The team will run effectively, the quest for Tolzein–to play fewer games like the OSU game. When he is on, he is terrific, however he struggled several times last year and the offense stalled. He has a mastery of the offense and should be more comfortable in his role this year. I believe he is poised to be the leagues second best signal caller behind Terrelle Pryor.
Offensive players to watch: skipping the household names, here are three names who could make UW’s offense exceptional.
1. James White: Montee Ball figures to be John Clay’s backup, but James White is that type of back UW has been searching for since Brian Calhoun left; a burner. White played on one of the nations top prep teams sharing reps with a Clemson recruit, he has big time speed and some wiggle to boot.
2. Peter Konz: his play last year was a big reason for UW’s success. He is cerebral and made sure everyone was in the right spot. His stablizing influence was missed during his absence from blood clots. He is healthy and unrestricted in his activities. His return could be a big boost and could allow the powerful Travis Frederick to play guard.
3. David Gilreath: foot injuries robbed him of the better part of two years. He played but lacked the explosiveness we saw early. Paul Chryst is a master at getting players in space. Gilreath in space could be a big boost to this offense.
Overall: this group has everything you need. They have a great OL, terrific all conference skill players, a horse of a running back, and a senior to lead them at QB. UW’s offense figures to be the Big Ten’s best and one of the nations finest.
Wisconsin has a very friendly November schedule. The key to their season is this Saturday is a tough test v. Iowa. Wisconsin closes with the bottom of the Big Ten and doesn’t have to face Penn State who has woodsheded them their last 3 meetings.
What to look for this Saturday. Unfortunately the game is at 11:00 which means the students won’t be there until 12:15. I find this an embarrassing tradition. Everyone from Bielema to Ryan to Barry Alvarez has addressed this issue, it needs to change. I recall a story about this blog’s editor playing a round of golf at 6:00 am after 15 drinks. He shot a 79. UW’s students need to shoot a 76 and get their by 10:30. Make this a a game resembling the old days, when yours truly had season tickets and the games were madness. Yeah we get that the students drink too much, but suck it up and get out of bed.
On Iowa. I am of the belief that Iowa has the Big Ten’s finest two coaches. Norm Parker runs a defense that is never out of place. They have significantly less ability on the field than OSU but it is reasonable to say their defense is better. They are not as fast, they are just smarter. Norm Parker is the reason. He is a sensational Defensive Coordinator. Iowa’s strength is their front seven, if you watched the PSU game, you saw Iowa pummel the Nittany Lion offensive line. This front seven is the equal of OSU. Hopefully playing at home will solve some of UW’s woes. If Josh Ogelsby does another turn-style impression UW will have no chance and Scott Tolzein will watching from the hospital on Regent St. As good as the Iowa defense is…they had a streak end Saturday in which they hadn’t allowed a rushing TD in 33 quarters. Yeah, that’s good.
They can be thrown on as their secondary is not the equal of their front seven. Tolzein, Toon, and Graham can have some success if they are given a chance. Kirk Ferentz the other half of this equation. I have admired him from afar and have felt that since Barry Alvarez left he has had a firm grip on the Big Ten’s best coach. He doesn’t have 1/2 the personnel and recruiting advantages that sweater vest has and is right there in results. I’m surprised the NFL hasn’t wised up on him yet. Iowa never beats themselves, they have spectacular special teams, and they play great defense. Sounds like a familiar equation for us Badgers.
How I see it? I see UW having difficulty moving the ball. I see UW’s defense which has really emerged in 09′ causing troubles for Iowa. In the end I think the game is decided by three simple factors as the matchups are really pushes across the board.
1. UW coverage units v. Iowa return units. Iowa’s returner has been lost to an ACL injury, so they’ll be breaking in a new man. Wisconsin’s coverage units have been abysmal. (that may be a compliment). If UW can dictate some field position and Nortmann has a solid day, they are in good shape. I wouldn’t expect UW’s special teams to do anything. Not sure if you noticed but it has been announced that David Gilreath will lose reps to little known Maurice Moore on returns. We just went from bad to worse in the return game. Can our man Chris Borland return kicks!
2. Crowd: can they get there by lunchtime? Doubt it. Iowa will probably get 4 possessions facing a 1/2 empty student section. Big difference. Shame on the no-shows. Send your tickets to ROTQ, we’ll see they end up in the hands of someone who gets there on time.
3. UW’s OL. John Moffitt and Josh Ogelsby have been atrocious. If they play like they did last week Wisconsin will lose this game by 3 touchdowns. If they play as they can, UW will hang in there and provided they win the turnover battle they’ll win the game.
1. Will Montee Ball start now that Fumble Brown has a concussion? Will UW go empty on the first play just to tell John Clay he isn’t starting. Ball looks like he has a shot to be a player.
2. Garrett Graham. Big bounce back week. I expect him to play very well.
3. Borland. First week he didn’t make a huge play. Anyone betting against him starting a new streak?
4. Isaac Anderson…I dropped my thought, I can’t remember what I was typing.
5. O’Brien Schofield is quietly putting together an All-American season. He has been UW’s best defensive end such Tarek Saleh. Saleh was more consistent than Jonathon Welsh and Erasmus James.
Prediction: last week I predicted in this space that UW would lose. I am going to reverse field. UW beats an Iowa team that is frankly better than OSU. UW won’t turn it over, Iowa will and in-spite of the lame student section, UW wins 20-17.
What can be said? Take away 4 plays and maybe 25 seconds and Wisconsin beat OSU. Unfortunately they play full games and you can’t take away 25 seconds.
1. UW’s defense was physical and assignment sure. They turned the Buckeye’s over and deserved a better fate. You won’t bottle Pryor up for an entire game, he hurt them at inopportune times.
2. John Clay. Numbers weren’t there. He was a load and made something out of very little on nearly every carry.
- Isaac Anderson. I’m Bret Bielema, Anderson is now my 6th receiver. Two monumental drops.
- Josh Ogelsby. Only a die-hard fan will remember that when he committed, he promised a national championship. Proves yet again that recruiting is a complete crap shoot. #1 tackle in America and is on the verge of losing his position to a lightly recruited walk-on.
- Is Bret Bielema the worst special teams coach currently working at any NCAA school? The only thing they can do with regularity is get a snap back to the punter. Kicks are an adventure, kick coverage is poor all the time, worst return game in Big Ten.
- Scott Tolzein trying to throw under duress. Not pretty. Not sure it mattered if it was Tim Tebow or Scott Tolzein, the line was humiliated.
I distinctly remember watching two of the great OSU-UW games in recent history.
The first was in Mazamonie (hometown of Mike Wilkinson). I recall watching OSU jump out to a 17-0 lead, only to see the Badgers roar back behind Ron Dayne and pummel the Buckeyes at the shoe with 42 unanswered points.
The second was as a spectator at the Camp in 1993. I recall a fiercely contested game that a blown coverage by Donny Brady led to a late OSU touchdown. I recall about 92 tackles by Alonzo Styles. I recall a block by an OSU DB named Marlon Kerner of a late UW FG to seal a tie. In the wake of the infamous Michigan trampling game, this was a huge game. UW went on to win the Rose Bowl over UCLA that year. That remains the greatest game I ever saw live.
In short, OSU and Wisconsin is a special rivalry. We all get annoyed by the “The Ohio State” nonsense. We get annoyed by their BCS shortcomings. But the bottom line is this is a hardnosed defensive orientated football program with whom Wisconsin has had epic battles. I expect Saturday to be no different.
My five keys to this game:
1. UW has been tremendous in having offensive balance in 2009. This must continue on Saturday. I feel like Paul Chryst will invert his offensive approach by opening throwing to set up the run. If Scott Tolzein is successful in doing this, UW has a chance to be very successful. Scott can expect the best front seven and an aggressive athletic defensive backfield awaiting him.
2. Tight Ends: It is no secret that UW has arguably the best program for developing and using this position in the conference. They are masterful at isolating their skilled TE’s in advantageous positions. UW will see that this OSU backfield is much better than any than they have seen. Should Kendricks, Graham, and Turner find success on third downs, UW has a chance to stick around all afternoon.
3. Clay: despite the strange insistence on not starting him (Zach Brown is starting despite his fumble woes), John Clay is a unique player OSU has acknowledged concern about. Reading Jim Tressel talk about John Clay, you’d think it were 2000 and he were talking about Ron Dayne, a developing force as a big back. Clay has a unique ability to drag tacklers, he has embraced his role as a punishing back rather than trying to run away from defenders. Should he be able to find seams against this OSU defense as a result of Tolzein’s efforts, UW can win this game. OSU’s defense has been stout as they have allowed only 1 100 yard rusher all year; Joe McKnight of USC.
4. Bielema: Bret has grown up this year. He seems to be relying more on gifted coaches. There have been almost no gaffes on his part. He seems in control. The staff has seemingly built a team that is better than its individual parts (see secondary!). If Bret can harness these learned lessons Saturday, UW will be the better for it.
5. Pryor experience: the kid is a stud. UW fared very well last year until the last 5 minutes. If they can capitalize on that experience and keep him in the pocket where his throwing has not been as proficient, UW will win. His targets and run game from last year are gone, the offense at OSU is evolving. If he is able to create and run freely using his impressive improvisational and athletic abilities UW will lose. This is obviously a big if.
How I see it?
UW will play valiantly. I unfortunately feel that Tolzein as good as he has been will make an error or two. The UW secondary which has been a revolving door, will emerge vulnerable to OSU’s developing receivers. The special teams at OSU, always a strength will once again contribute to the Buckeyes contolling field position. UW’s shortcomings in the return game and coverage game will be an achilles heel.
OSU 24 UW 20
UW wins respect on a national scale for battling this talented team, but in the end falls short.
Preview coming of Saturday’s big game at the Shoe! Lots of debate going on at this point. Stay tuned.