The Wisconsin badger offense is as close to a sure thing as we’ll see in college football. The defense…not so much. Wisconsin was predicted to finish third in the Big Ten in large part because of their defense. The UW finished #1 in the conference in scoring offense and will return nearly all of that production. The defense suprised many and finished #4 in the conference in scoring defense. They will return seven starters on defense, holes are present however. UW will have to replace both DT’s and playmaking safety Chris Maragos.
Upfront: O’Brien Schofield is irreplaceable for this team. Schofield was a force in all phases of the game. He was a strong candidate for conference defensive player of the year. He rushed the passer, he played the run, and set the tone with his energy. Schofield has taken his game to the NFL and will be replaced by Louis Nzegwu. Nzegwu brings tremendous athleticism to the field, he starred in high school as a tailback, but has grown into a 6-4 250 lb. DE. His athleticism cannot be questioned, his experience can. He showed flashes last year, but his uneven spring performance led some to wonder if he might be supplanted by playmaking sophomore David Gilbert. There are no such questions on the other side. J.J Watt burst onto the scene and has caught the attention of NFL scouts. He has long arms, a high motor, and a quick burst off the ball. He figures to be the leader of this defense. The tackle rotation is the defenses uncertainty. There are some impressive young players in this roation including Jordan Kohout and Patrick Butrym who figure to start in September. These players fit the traditional mold of UW DL, they are powerful run stoppers who play with a high motor. Their biggest challenge will be their experience. UW has brought in some very promising DT’s in recent recruiting classes including Beau Allen and Anthony Mains.
The Backers: No player captured more attention on the UW team last year than Chris Borland. I have to admit, he is rapidly becoming this writers favorite all time Badger. Quite simply all he does is make plays, and big ones! He started out in spot duty but was pressed into a larger role as a result of injuries. He didn’t disappoint. He proved assignment sound and impacted the game in all areas. His amazing instincts and motor would seem to have poised for stardom. Several publications have him pegged for first team all conference. He is unlikely to unseat defending defensive player of the year Greg Jones as the leagues top player, but it is likely that he will hold that title at some point. Culmer St. Jean has the confidence of the coaches and seems sure with his assignments. He seems limited athletically and doesn’t make a ton of plays. Mike Taylor returns with a clean bill of health and hopes to build on a strong season cut short by injury. Should he stay healthy, he has significant ability and can really help this group. Should he get hurt again, Blake Sorenson is the groups top backup. This is not a group blessed with great depth.
Secondary: This is an area with a lot of questions. Aaron Henry was a decorated HS player who held an offer from Fla. but has struggled with injury. He has shown flashes of being a very good player, but injuries have forced him to move to safety. Some have felt this is his best position, 2010 shall show us. Jay Valai is the groups most experienced player, he is a ferocious hitter, but he is limited in coverage. The corners surpassed expectations, but the group is hampered by a lack of depth by starters Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
Overall: Wisconsin figures to be very good against the run. 2009 saw UW finish atop the league in rushing defense. There is little to suggest that they won’t be very good against the run in 2010. Their pass defense is however an area of concern, 2009 saw UW finish 10th in the conference in this area. Concern looms as their is little to suggest that the UW has improved measurably in this area, particularly with the loss of Schofield. Wisconsin was 4th in the league in forcing turnovers and returns some players who have shown ability in turning the ball over. Replacing Chris Maragos will be a significant issue in this regard. Whether or not UW can stop the pass is likely going to be the key to their season.
Here are some things you may have thought about or noticed from Saturday’s game:
- On Scott Tolzein: “I take it all on myself,” Tolzien said. “Protection was good. Just bonehead decisions.” Here is a quandary. We’ve all been fascinated by this story–cool kid (check out story about his relationship with an Appleton Youth in the JSOnline). However, he beat out Curt Phillips who is obviously more gifted physically because of his cerebral decision making. Count me as one person amongst many who now believe that Phillips should be given a chance to start. Ala Bollinger relieving Scott Kavanagh in 2001 against Michigan. It is time.
- On Bret Bielema: the decision to assert Phillips in the midst of momentum–boneheaded. His assertion that it was planned? Great call. So if you are planning not to meet a beautiful women and lo and behold the opportunity presents itself…do you turn your back on said women because it wasn’t part of the plan? No.
- On Bielema: he has now been running UW’s special teams for about a year. His performance in that regard has been putrid. UW’s kick return unit is the worst specialist unit in the conference. Their motto? “Thank god for our kick coverage unit”. Not sure if you noticed how many core players are on that kick coverage unit…try O’Brien Schofield, Chris Borland, Chris Maragos, Jay Valai, and Antonio Fenelus. This isn’t a unit consisting of reserves, these are defensive regulars, and the result: hideous. Considering his poor run as a recruiter, I am of the opinion that after 2009 it is time to move on. I also had a dream that Alvarez pulled the plug and stepped in…that was a good dream.
- On Schofield: wow. That’s about all I can say. I forgot about Tom Burke in praising him the other day. Next time I’m in Poplar, I’ll drop in to apologize for that omission. Schofield is putting himself in position to play on Sundays.
- On Chris Borland and assignments: Borland is in, doing what he does…which is make plays. He is removed in favor of the more assignment sure Blake Sorenson–next play Sorenson vacates his gap Adam Robinson scores the key touchdown. Sometimes you ignore your instincts and follow realism. The kid just makes plays, case closed. It may not make any sense to see him doing it given his height and age, but he does…so go with it. He may have to kick, as we’ve read he was quite the jack of all trades. Since Phillip Welch’s struggles, he may have to give it a go.
- On UW receivers: time to look at frosh Kraig Appleton. Maurice Moore proved that he can do a great David Gilreath impression–be a non factor and drop passes. Let’s go with the young kid see what he can do. Big, fast, and highly touted…better than small, slow, and drops.
- John Clay: was he walking to holes in the second half?
- Antonio Feneuls: the ball is that oblong shaped object with the half stripes on it…look for it.
- My thoughts on Kirk Ferentz and Norm Parker…right on.
- Remember UW football when they would pound you physically with Wisconsin kids in the trenches, beat you with superb special teams, and refuse to yield defensively? Now our special teams are the worst in the conference, they affect the outcome adversely each week, and we can’t get off the field on third downs. Pretty easy to see why we fail in games against superior opposition.
- On Wisconsin.
In honor of the 1941 Badger National Champions, Bo Ryan announced that he was turning to them for inspiration. He was not going to allow a shot for the first 41 minutes of his practice today. The team passed and closed out per this report on UWBadgers.com.
Kidding aside, the team looks poised for a strong year. The team has the veteran leadership, size, experience, and skill to be dangerous in the Big Ten.
“Take care of the ball and it will take care of you”. Bo Ryan
Vander Blue has committed to play basketball at Marquette. For many UW enthusiasts, this is similar to Brett Favre playing for the Vikings. A decision that makes sense but one you still can’t stand. Blue, initially committed to the Badgers after his sophomore year at Madison Memorial. A local kid with a great rapport with the UW coaches, his recruitment looked like that of Michael Flowers. One difference, Vander “Blue” up…sorry, he exploded onto the national scene after a historic state tournament run in which he looked like an NBA talent. He opened up his recruitment and saw the Madison papers print a vicious review of his academic standing, clearly leaked by the UW staff. Despite that article it was widely believed that Vander was headed back to Madison, where he and his mother developed a very strong relationship with asst. coach Howard Moore. Even as he heads to Milwaukee, he still talks about his rapport with the “duck”, but he talks more about his rapport with MU’s head coach–Buzz Williams. Vander also cited the Big East, style of play,his relationship with Buzz Williams and MU players (Jeronne Maymon) as key reasons for his exodus.
This commitment raises a few key questions about UW’s direction.
- Blue clearly was wooed over by Marquette…with a budget ranking dead last in the big ten for recruiting, why do the Badgers continuously get out recruited and lose out on players? They have relaxed in their recruiting and seem to fall back on kids who just want to be here…which can be a good strategy. But kids who live 1/2 mile from your court and are top 20 talents, need to be there. This is on Bo Ryan.
- With Cam Wright committing to Pitt, UW is now short one guard. After this year they will have some significant guard issues. They will likely look to go the JUCO route and find a “stop-gap” to balance their classes.
- UW has not had a “star” in several years, Vander would have been their next “go to” player.
- The real issue could be with incoming HS Sophomore JP Tokoto. A player so gifted he is potentially the top player in the country. He holds offers from Duke and North Carolina, in addition to the regioinal schools you’d expect. Vander would be forgotten if Tokoto is landed as he is a better talent. But if he is not, expect the same backlash against UW’s recruiting style. My bet is that Tokoto who also has a good relationship with UW, will be the subject of UW’s renewed recruiting strategy. I’d venture a guess that Ryan will now get more involved and that we’ll see a full court focus on JP. If not, UW’s program is in deep trouble.
- One side note: reading this article on the first day of UW’s practice, it is clear that not everyone can be Badgers under Bo Ryan. Not saying that Vander couldn’t, wish like heck he was…but rather he chose to go to a program where the coach “started crying and screaming” when told of his commitment. Pretty sure Bo Ryan wouldn’t cry and scream.
Now to conclude…I’m not one to wish anyone ill will. I hope Vander finds what he’s looking for. It is time to move on from this and focus on badger basketball. I wonder what Vander will think when Marquette polishes off their Big East season in winless fashion–which looks entirely likely. Remember when Bo won the Big Ten with Charlie Wills and Travon Davis? What does Buzz Williams do with that team and Bo Ryan with his? We’ll never know.
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.
Tis the season to crack open a bottle of Oktoberfest/Marzen beer. I am a huge fan of the style and stocked the fridge full of different Oktoberfests. Not suprisingly, Wisconsin breweries have released some fantastic brews. My top three:
3. Oktoberfest- Capital Brewery
A deep golden hue with a smooth finish. Lots of malt flavor with a hint of caramel. As a huge fan of their Amber, I was also impressed with their Oktoberfest.
2. Oktoberfest- Leinenkugel’s
Leinie’s has been brewing their traditional Marzen for many years now out of Chippewa Falls. Really a tie for 2nd between Leinie’s and Capital. Leinie’s gives a stronger finish. Can’t go wrong with either one, although the Leinie’s is probably a little more known around the state, and the nation, for that matter.
1. Staghorn Octoberfest- New Glarus Brewery
Ultimately, a huge surprise. Easily my favorite Marzen. Great color, smell, well balanced and very smooth. High grades on drinkability.
I’ll tell you what, there’s nothing quite like college football or sitting around the fire pit on a fall afternoon with an Oktoberfest in my hand to remind me why I love Wisconsin. I will be enjoying some Sunday on my way into Lambeau.
Preview coming of Saturday’s big game at the Shoe! Lots of debate going on at this point. Stay tuned.