Friday, September 14, 2007

Up, Down, All Around

It's funny how your feelings about your teams' performances relate to your expectations. For example, everyone, including the betting gurus, expected UW's football team to pound UNLV. But they played poorly and barely won, and Badger fans all over the place are upset and disappointed, and may have revised their expectations for the team from here on out. In contrast, last Sunday, the Packers barely won, but no one expected anything from them, so fans generally felt positive about the victory, and maybe their expectations for the team grew a bit. Ah, people are so easily influenced-- myself definitely included.

For example, I'm looking forward to seeing the Badgers play the Citadel this weekend in Madison, but that excitement is mixed with a heavy dose of reservation. And that's completely due to their poor showing in Las Vegas. I wonder--which game showed the real offense? The struggle against UNLV or the aerial show against Wazzu? Was Wazzu's pass defense just really terrible? If they have trouble scoring on UNLV, why wouldn't they have difficultly with, and maybe even lose to, the Citadel? The Citadel has won a bunch of games in a row, and its last loss was to Appalachian State, the depants-er of Michigan. The Citadel also runs a spread option, the same formation that UNLV used to move the ball on UW. So seriously, I'm nervous, as ridiculous as it may sound.

And Hubbard's injury at the hands of that dickhead UNLV player has me even more nervous. Hubbard's a great athlete, an excellent blocker, and a legitimate deep threat. He opened up the passing game tremendously, even if he hadn't caught a ton of balls this season. None of the reserves will be able to make up for his loss, but Xavier Harris, Marcus Randle-El, and Kyle Jefferson will try. Harris is a true sophomore who started out strong in camp last year, caught a few passes in some early games, and then didn't see much action. He runs solid routes, and has excellent hands and good size, but doesn't appear to be the athlete that Hubbard is (to be fair, few are). Randle-El is a quick, shifty redshirt junior with good hands. He lacks size and great speed since his return from an ACL tear last fall. Jefferson is a true freshman who's big and fast, but he's rail thin and obviously green. It'll be interesting to see if any of them step up tomorrow or in the weeks until Hubbard returns.

The running back situation also seems to be in flux. Several articles today stated that true freshman Zach Brown, he of the awesome grille head shot, will get the majority of the back up carries this week, ahead of Lance Smith ("Rance Smith!") and John Clay. In fact, the Capital Times actually said that Clay "looms as a redshirt candidate." Huh. It's understandable that the coaching staff would move Brown ahead of Lance because the Badgers have a bunch of key road games this year (at Penn State, Illinois and Ohio State) that Lance can't play in. It makes more sense for the team to use Brown in games like this one in order to get him acclimated. You have to feel bad for Lance though. He loses the road games, and now he's basically losing the home games as well. Although I wouldn't be surprised if the depth chart at running back remains fluid all season. If Brown is just ok on Saturday, but not great, you'd have to think the coaches would go back to Lance for tough home games like next week's match-up with Iowa. They just want to win. Regardless, it will be neat to see what Brown does on Saturday.

The John Clay thing is interesting as well. Going into last weekend, it sounded like Clay was going to get a serious look at UNLV. Unfortunately, that game turned out to be far tighter than everyone anticipated, and even Brown only saw the field for a few carries. Now, it looks like Clay may not see any action this entire season. Do you think that the reports on Clay's talents were overstated, because if he was that good he'd be playing already? Or is the playbook just that complicated, and he was late coming to camp? Or do UW coaches, seeing that Lance and PJ still have two plus years of eligibility left, just want to maximize his eligibility? Mysterious...

Come Saturday, I'm also looking to see if the offense will receive a boost from the likely return of team captain Andy Crooks, who's been milling about on the sidelines for the past two weeks. Garrett Graham's been taking his snaps, and while Graham is probably more mobile, Crooks is a little craftier, and certainly a more physical blocker. I hope the running game picks up with Crooks sealing the edge a little better.

I also am hopeful that the defense will finally dominate. The expectations for that group were very high coming into the year. The loss of Jamal Cooper hurt, it's true, but he didn't play that much last season either. The D tightened up against Wazzu in the second half, and didn't give up many points to UNLV, considering the time of possession problems, but I'd like to see them creating more havoc. The D has one true turnover this season, Shane Carter's interception against UNLV, and only three sacks, two coming on UNLV's last minute attempt at a touchdown drive, when the Badgers knew they'd be passing. Great defenses dominate physically. I think many of the guys on the Badgers' D are capable of that, so I hope they can finally put together a complete performance.

Really, I'm just looking to enjoy watching a game, hopefully a solid victory. Before, I would have expected it. Now, after the near debacle in Vegas, I'm just hoping it's not too much to ask.

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