Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pulling Out of the Nose Dive, Sort Of

First off, phew. The University of Wisconsin football team avoided their first five game losing streak since the beginning of Barry Alvarez's tenure almost twenty years ago by beating the University of Illinois 27 to 17. Thank goodness. It's always nice to beat Illinois and the annoying Ron Zook, aka the Zookster. Not only because doing so reaffirms the right of all residents of the state of Wisconsin to refer to Illinois residents as FIBs, but also because it should help the Wisconsin coaching staff in their ongoing battle with Illinois for Chicagoland area recruits.

But I only feel somewhat relieved, not totally. And I think it's because, despite getting the win, Wisconsin didn't look that good today. They won the game because the offense didn't turn the ball over, Garrett Graham and David Gilreath made some big plays, Dustin Sherer played passably, and the defense only bent so much and got some big turnovers. The thing is, two of the biggest turnovers were pretty lucky-- that tipped pass that Niles Brinkley snagged, and the duck that Nick Maragos smartly grabbed and returned. And those turnovers led to the winning margin-- 10 points. But the special teams, besides Phil Welch who gets my vote for Team MVP, were poor, giving up a huge return to Benn that let Illinois get right back into the game after the Badgers had scrapped to a 7 point lead. And the offense, except for the two big pass plays to Gilreath and Graham, continued to look pedestrian. (Plus, Beckum got rolled up on by Clay, and, I'm totally guessing here, will be out for the rest of the regular season.)

To me, the game was two decent but mixed-up teams duking it out. Illinois made significantly more errors, in penalties and turnovers, so Wisconsin managed to get a win, though it was very close until the last three minutes. Don't get me wrong. Given what we've seen on the field the previous two Saturdays, today's performance is a huge improvement. But the Badgers aren't back in any way, and they don't look like a good team to me. They're just a lot less awful than they were the last two weeks. Given how this season has broken so far, that's certainly a positive development, and it's definitely way better than a loss, especially to a team as annoying as Illinois.

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