Friday, October 17, 2008

Penn State v. UW-- One Moment

There hasn't been much commentary here about either the Badgers' baffling home butt-kicking by PSU or the Packers' decent victory over a quarterback-less Seahawks team. For that, I apologize. It's been a hectic work week, and, frankly, the PSU loss was so awful that I didn't even want to think about the game, much less write anything about it. Hell, I've been avoiding most Wisconsin football news all week.

After the OSU and Michigan losses, I thought I had readjusted my expecations for the season. I always tend to forget what a high wire act a great season is in college football. Even if you play in a power conference, you can't afford more than one or two losses if you want to make it to the promised land of a BCS bowl. The margin for error is just terribly thin. So I had resigned myself a bit already. But I still thought Wisconsin could make some noise in the Big Ten, and at least give Penn State a tough game. I thought they'd be motivated by last year's butt-kicking in Happy Valley, and be excited to shake up the Big Ten race. But instead, they recreated last year's performance. Dogged by a previous close loss, coming out flat, playing remarkably poorly on special teams and pathetically on offense, it was eerily similar to last year.

But there was a brief moment, even after the initial onslaught had begun, where it looked like the Badgers could make it a game. The Badgers had just had an atrocious series of plays-- a three and out with three incomplete passes and a declined holding call, capped off by the indignity of Derrick Williams returning a kick for a touchdown to make it 17-0. Then, on the ensuing possession, UW finally remembered that they had two great tight ends, and that throwing short crossing routes is the best way to help a struggling quarterback's confidence. To wit, Evridge hit Beckum on a short crossing route for 42 yards. Then, after some plugging by John Clay, Evridge actually ran the ball well-- busting 19 yards down the left sideline. And though another unclutch offensive penalty put them in a whole, Evridge ran again to the left, this time diving for a touchdown.

And on the ensuing possession, the Badgers actually forced a PSU punt with about two minutes left. We were stirring in the crowd. Maybe the Badgers could make it a one score game going into halftime! This was the moment. But then it unraveled. Holding was called on the punt return, putting the team (for the umpteenth time) in terrible field position. Evridge, perhaps flushed with his rediscovered ability to run the ball, dropped back, then sprinted up the center of the field. The line couldn't hold their blocks, and PSU's # 59 Aaron Maybin, who terrorized Evridge all game, shook off his man, and hit Evridge from behind, just as he crossed the line of scrimmage. Maybin got both arms around Evridge at about waist height, and the ball, loosely tucked in Allan's left arm, came flying out.PSU recovered at the 16, and two plays later (after another penalty on UW) it was 24-7. The route was back on. Hope again extinguished.

That moment essentially ended the game, and perhaps ended Evridge's career as a starter at Wisconsin. Well shall see. But it's instructive in how big plays can change the course of games so suddenly.

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