Friday, October 31, 2008

Rodgers Resigned

Until 2014! And he wasn't even a free agent at the end of the season. He had one year left on his rookie contract, after the end of this year. I guess Ted Thompson really does have a huge man-crush on A-Rodge. I mean, he's looked excellent so far, and has done us all proud playing well through injuries, but signing him up for another six seasons? On the basis of 7 starts? All you can say is, "Whoa . . ." and hope that the Packers staff knows what they're doing.

Sparty Party

Right, back to college football. Tomorrow morning at 11 am, the University of Wisconsin men's football team travels to enticing East Lansing, Michigan to spar with the Spartans of Michigan State University. In two words, uh oh. I say this not because I think all that highly of Michigan State's team this year. (I certainly don't.) But because it appears, by all measure, that the Spartans strength-- running the football from pro formations-- matches up with what has been revealed in the past month as one of Wisconsin's glaring weaknesses-- an inability to stop a traditional power run game. Thus, it seems logical to predict that Sparty's main guy, senior running back Javon Ringer, an excellent to very good college back, should run all over the place. Then add in the facts that UW has traditionally struggled in the Eastern portion of Lansing (remember the shocking '05 beatdown?), that coach Brett Bielema has yet to win a road game against a ranked Big Ten foe (Sparty is 7-2 and currently ranked 22nd in the Coaches' Poll), and that this will be the first game an opposing team won't have to game plan to stop Travis Beckum, and this one doesn't look very good for the Badgers.

But that said, I don't know which Wisconsin team will show up. The one that limited its mistakes last week against Illinois, made several huge plays, and overcame adversity? Or the one that rolled up into a little ball so Iowa and Penn State could kick it around more easily? It should help that Wisconsin quarterback Dustin Sherer played decently against Illinois and showed some versatility by running the ball well at times. And grabbing three huge picks and giving up less than 90 yards rushing to the Illini should also seriously help the defense's confidence. But I still don't think we can know which Wisconsin team you're going to see on the field. And that's what makes college football such an adventure-- each season is a thirteen week voyage of self-discovery.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Men's Basketball Scrimmage Recap

Unsurprisingly, the most thorough and interesting recap of the University of Wisconsin Men's Basketball team's Red-White scrimmage comes not from the Madison or the Milwaukee papers, but from Phil over at Hoops Marinara. Based on that and other various reports, I can say with confidence that former Madison Memorial Spartan Keaton Nankivil went to town offensively (Hooray, another Badger that can dunk easily!), frosh Jordan Taylor looked impressive, the big four (Trevon Hughes, Joe Krabbenhoft, Marcuc Landry, and Jason Bohannon) all played solid games, Tim Jarmusz tussled with Morris Cain but was otherwise quiet, and Jon Leuer had a tough night, getting repeatedly rejected by (gulp) J.P. Gavinski. Sounds like an entertaining experience. And it looks like Nankivil will be the team's fifth starter, with Leuer, Taylor, Jarmusz, and maybe Gavinski and Kevin Gullickson coming off the bench.

We'll get a better idea this Saturday night, when the Badgers play host to Augusta College in their first exhibition game. That game will apparently be streamed on the Big Ten Network's website, for all the exceedingly devoted Badger basketball fans out there. Tip off is at 7 pm.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Curtain Rises

This evening, the University of Wisconsin Men's Basketball team is finally revealed to the public, with the Red vs. White intrasquad scrimmage. The doors to the Kohl Center open at 6:30, and tipoff happens at 7 pm. This will be our first real glimpse at the team's personnel this season, and should offer some hint at the big question mark surrounding the team-- namely, what's the deal with all the freshmen and sophomores? There'll also be other fun things to observe, like whether the upperclassmen seem to have improved, how the team interacts and competes with each other, and, of course, how much attention Bo can draw to himself even without coaching either team. Needless to say, I am very piqued about the event.

Unfortunately, as I no longer reside in Madison, I will not be in attendance. And sadly, as per this press release, it doesn't look like the scrimmage will be recorded, taped or broadcast in any manner, not on the web, not on the radio, and no highlights shown by the Big Ten Network. Bummer. Thus, I'll be in the same club as anyone else who misses the scrimmage--trying to get an idea about how the team looked by cobbling together news reports and blog posts. (Speaking of that, I encourage everyone to check the thoughtful UW basketball blog Hoops Marinara sometime tomorrow to see what its author has to say.) The event is free though and the team will be signing autographs afterwards, so if anyone in the greater Dane County area wants a first unadorned glimpse of this year's squad, head on down to Dayton Street and give the team a look.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wisconsin v. Illinois-- One Moment

The definitive play of the game, the momentum and outcome clincher in the University of Wisconsin's win over the Fightin' Fibs of the University of Illinois, was pretty obvious to me as soon as it happened. No, it's not any of the interceptions, although the first (by Chris Maragos) and the third (by Niles Brinkley) were enormous plays. (Though as I've said, they were more the result of errors by Juice Williams and his freshman receiver Fred Sykes, than great defense by the Badgers. Hey Juice, when you throw two interceptions trying to force the ball to a freshman wideout, maybe it's time to stop throwing him the ball. I still can't believe Arrelious Benn only had two catches.) And it's not any of the obvious offensive plays, like David Gilreath's explosive run and catch, Garrett Graham's big gainer on Brit Miller, or Dustin Sherer's touchdown run. Rather, it's a play that didn't score, that didn't gain a ton of yards, and wasn't by one of the team's marquee players. It was a 13-yard run by sophomore running back Zach Brown.

At the time, Wisconsin was clinging to a 3 point lead in the fourth quarter, a lead only gained as a result of two field goals coming after the previously mentioned interceptions. And the team had finally pieced together a legitimate Wisconsin style drive-- run, run, playaction pass, pass, playaction pass-- with the last pass being Graham's 45 yarder. That put Wisconsin with a first and ten at Illinois' 20 with about five minutes left. A touchdown on this possession would be huge, perhaps victory clinching. Two solid runs by Clay gave Wisconsin a 3rd and 1 at the eleven, something I was confident even this undynamic offense could convert. But wait! Reliable blocking tight end Mickey Turner got his right arm caught on the outside of his man and was flagged for holding. 3rd and 1 turns into 3rd and 10. Suddenly, the alarm bells go off as visions of an incomplete pass or a sack, a precarious field goal, and a tenuous three or six point lead flash through my head. Uh oh.

But then Zach saves the day. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst goes with a conservative play call, a draw to Zach, and he burst up the middle to the left, slams into some defenders a yard or so short of the first down, but refuses to do down until he's several yards past the marker. First and goal at the seven: the drive lives! And the Wisconsin offense, thanks to Zach's burst and tenacity, is finally able to overcome its own mistakes.

Two plays later Sherer rolls right and hits Gilreath with a poorly thrown pass that David redeems for a (questionable) touchdown. A 10 point lead with less than four minutes left, and, given the defense's increased confidence, one that looks, and turns out to be, insurmountable. A great play by an unheralded and underappreciated young man. Way to go, Zach.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Lost Senior Season of Travis Beckum

It's funny how things work out sometimes. You have big hopes and expectations, think you're playing it smart, put in all this effort to try to realize those hopes, and things just don't turn out. And it especially stinks in college sports, when your time to achieve your goals is so short. There are few do-overs. And when you're a senior, there are none.

Some news in the aftermath of the Wisconsin football team's victory over Illinois reminds us of that hard fact. Specifically, the news broke today that the University of Wisconsin's All-American tight end Travis Beckum, the most talented offensive player the state of Wisconsin has produced in recent memory, is done for the season. Trying to make a downfield block for running back John Clay, Beckum was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Clay fell onto Beckum's left foot as he was being tackled, bending it sidewise away from his lower leg. Travis hopped off the field, and was carted to the locker room-- broken ankle, season over, career over. A total shame.

We all know that Beckum thought about turning pro after last season, when he had a dazzling, record shattering year. But he decided against the path that Jack Ikegwuonu chose, coming back to school, trying to get stronger, get healthier, become a better blocker, more of a typical NFL tight end. I'm sure Travis had high hopes for this season-- put up numbers similar to last year's, maybe win the Mackey award, and lead the Badgers to a great season. Unfortunately, a nagging hamstring sidelined him for much of the first half of the season, the Badgers struggled both with and without him, he never really looked like himself mostly due to horrid quarterbacking, and now this. As we all learn eventually, the best laid plans go awry sometimes, Trav. From all Badger fans out there: thank you for a wonderful career, and best of luck to you.

Travis Beckum by the Numbers---
2005: Played linebacker, defensive end and special teams
2006: 61 catches, 903 yards, 5 touchdowns.
2007: 75 catches, 982 yards, 6 touchdowns.
2008: 23 catches, 264 yards, 0 touchdowns.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

This Is a Rough Year to Be a Football Fan in the Midwest

Unbeatens Texas and Oklahoma State are playing on ABC in most of the country this afternoon. But if you live in Big Ten country like I do, you're stuck with the Michigan State/Michigan crapfest. Two flawed, unranked teams flailing at each other in an ugly, meaningless grudge match. Ugh. Since Disney owns ABC and ESPN, why won't they put Texas-OK State on ESPN2 here? This isn't hard to figure out, Mickey.

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.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Who Will Be the Fifth?

With the University of Wisconsin football team in a frightening downslide and the Packers on vacation, it's time to discuss the happy arrival of Wisconsin men's basketball season. Bo Ryan's team already had its "Night of the Grateful Red" last week, officially marking the start of practice (although I'm totally unclear about how all of the quasi-practices, like supervised running of the hill in Elver Park aren't practice, but whatever). The first exhibition game is eight days away, on November 1, against Augustana. Plus, there's an intra-squad scrimmage on Wednesday night, which I'm disappointed that I'll have to miss.

And that's because the team is in an interesting spot. Although it only has three starters returning, that number is misleading. Really, counting Jason Bohannon, who played more than 20 minutes a game last year, the team has four starters back. The backcourt, with Trevon Hughes and Bohannon is set. As are the two forward slots, with seniors Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft at the 4 and the 3, respectively. These four guys look to receive the lion's share of the team's minutes, with Landry, Hughes and Bohannon likely to be the team's top three scorers, and Krabbenhoft the main candidate for leading rebounder. The team's fortunes this season will largely rest in the hands of this upperclassmen quartet, and if they can continue to grow and improve, as we've seen them do over the past two to three seasons, Wisconsin should have another excellent, exciting year.

But that's predictable. What's interesting to think about this year is all of the question marks behind these guys. We have three true sophomores, redshirt soph J.P. Gavinski, a walk-on senior in Kevin Gullickson, and then five true freshmen on the team. Several of those ten guys will get legit playing time, but the majority will ride the pine, and have to make their marks in practice. My guess for members of the rotation are Gullickson, frosh point guard Jordan Taylor, and the sophomores Keaton Nankivil, Jon Leuer and Tim Jarmusz.

But I still find myself wondering: of this bunch, who is the fifth guy is going to be? I don't mean the fifth starter. As Bo often says, that's kind of irrelevant. What matters is who's on the floor at crunch time-- who do you put out there in the closing seconds when the game is on the line? Some argue that it will be Leuer, based on his Dirk Nowitzki like potential and somewhat bulked up physique. Others claim it will be Nankivil, as the team will need a muscular rebounding interior presence, and the former Madison Memorial Spartan is perhaps the Badgers' best combination of brawn and athleticism.

But I'm going with the unsexy Tim Jarmusz. The steady swingman from Oshkosh played more as last season progressed, even with an outstanding three guard rotation of Hughes, Bohannon and Michael Flowers ahead of him. Plus, he's smart with the ball, plays solid defense, has a deft shooting touch, and can guard nearly every position on the court except the 5 spot. I really see Tim getting a bunch of minutes, especially late in games when big guys may have fouled out and things tend to become more guard-oriented. I'm not saying Jarmusz will start-- I bet Bo goes with a traditional big like Nankivil to fill out the starting lineup. But I pick Tim as my fifth finisher, along with the upperclassmen quartet. He's a gamer. What say ye?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When Will the Death Spiral Stop?

If you're a Wisconsin football fan like I am, the past four Saturdays have been painful. The past two Sabados have actually advanced from painful to excruciating, as the Badgers have resembled a lower echelon MAC team. Wait, that's not fair. I mean, even Toledo managed to beat Michigan.

The symptoms of this colossal sucking are myriad-- atrocious quarterbacking, poor injury-affected offensive line play, total inconsistency across the board, pathetic blocking on special teams, consistently horrible field position, a complete failure to make big plays on offense, a schizophrenic defense, poor tackling, lack of turnovers, questionable play-calling, no resiliency, I could go on. But the underlying causes-- Poor coaching? Being overrated? A defense that's too light in the pants? Lack of mental toughness and heart?-- are unknowable.

All that a fan can do is rub a rabbit's foot, write an angry letter to the athletic department, turn your Badger ball cap inside out and wear it backwards, and hope that some semblance of sanity is restored. Will we at least see a competitive game this Saturday against the University of Illinois and their Fightin' extinct indigenous peoples? I dunno. I sure hope so. I know that all offseason the players talked a lot, a lot, about the loss at Illinois last season, and saw it as a game that they could and should have won. That should get them fired up, although you should pretty much be fired up for any Big Ten game.

I do know that Illinois has its own problems. They miss Big Ten POY Rashard Mendenhall badly, and their two senior safeties even more. Hell, they lost to Minnesota at home. But they do have perhaps the best running back in the league at quarterback, a great wideout and corner, and some pretty solid talent around them. Realistically, given Wisconsin's recent utter suckability, you have to think that Illinois should win, and UW will have its first three game home losing streak in quite some time. But hell, it'd be a treat just to see Wisconsin not play terribly, to see them be in the game and maybe have a chance to win in the final minutes. Here's hoping.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Favreadict Arnold

It's finally time to discuss the whole "Favre talking the Lions through every facet of the Packers' offense" situation. Jay Glazer's defense of his article seals the deal for me. Plus, his description of how things happened sounds too much like Brett.

Anyhow, as a Packer fan and shareholder, the word that first comes to mind is PATHETIC. Although that may not be technically accurate since Favre's grade school antics fail to evoke pathos. Another word that fits is CHILDISH, then there's PETTY, and also the term LEGACY TRASHING. So Thompson didn't think you could be a Super Bowl winning quarterback anymore, huh? Well, boo friggin' hoo. You certainly haven't proven him wrong so far this season. Grow up, you colossal baby.

Maybe he's mad he's not on a better team. You know, one that didn't just lose to the most dysfunctional team in football (the Raiders). Well, if Favre hadn't been such a huge ass all summer and killed his trade value, he probably could have been dealt to a contender. Or if he had just exhibited some, wait for it, patience, he could have been dealt to legitimate contender like the Patriots. Think the undefeated Titans might have been interested, had Favre waited until after the Vince Young freakout? Or maybe Jerry Jones would have traded the Packers a second rounder right before the trade deadline last week (after Romo's injury was revealed) for Favre's rights? Had he not been acting like a the world's largest primadonna all summer, I certainly think those scenarios would have been plausible.

The point is, you screwed up and got yourself in this situation, dummy. Being a petty jackass, and trying to hide your petty jackassedry, is just making you look more and more foolish. Again, time to grow up, Peter Pan.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Packers-Dolts Notes and Thoughts

Beside the obvious-- a big win over one the marquee teams and players in the league-- yesterday's game had some other positive developments. Here are the ones I can recall, along with some other musings.

- The Packers and the fans should definitely feel good about this game. But think about all the Colts penalties. They had 12 for 110 yards! And stupid ones, like that Colts gunner gifting the Packers a first down by disco dancing around at the line of scrimmage. The game would have been significantly closer without some of those penalties.

- Grant finally broke 100 yards, and looked, at times, something like his old self. True, his yards per carry average was mediocre, but he only had a couple runs for no gain or for losses. That's the key to keeping drives alive. Here's hoping that Grant continues to improve as the year progresses, as he did last season.

- Hey, we had a Donald Lee sighting! That guy can catch some passes, in case we forgot.

- Zero sacks allowed, and Rodgers only took a few big hits, I thought.

- No major injuries. Pickett's aggravated triceps didn't tear in half (phew). And rookie Jeremy Thompson (who's been playing more and more and hasn't looked terrible, which is really encouraging) was the only guy who left the game. Turns out it was just a neck stinger. Thank goodness. Plus, Justin Harrell should be back after the bye week, though no can know what he'll be able to do on the field. Hopefully, he'll help the run defense. The undefeated Titans and their power running game are looming after the bye.

- Despite garnering zero sacks against Manning, who often held the ball a bit too long as he waited for his guys to get off of jams, the line had several tipped passes. Although they're nowhere near as emotional or exciting as a sack, or a pass break up downfield, tipped or batted passes are simply huge plays. Enormous. Great to see the defensive line contributing like that.

- Was that quick fullback run on third and short the first time this season Kuhn has carried the ball? I can't remember the Packers calling that particular play before. I liked that call a lot, but maybe it only worked because the Colts hadn't seen it from the Packers before.

- Speaking of fullbacks, it's great to have Korey Hall back. That catch, run and hurdle he did kept a drive alive, and his hustling recovery of Grant's fumble was huge.

- Brandon Chillar looked pretty good in coverage, and the lack of Poppinga on run downs didn't seem to hurt the team too much. So the personnel switch there seemed to work out, though Chillar bit hard on a playaction fake on the one long completion he gave up to Dwight Clark. When they make that switch though, I'd like to see Poppinga subbing in as a rusher in passing situations. He's a big, strong, intense guy, and I don't see how adding him to the rotation at end would hurt.

- Interesting to see that Chillar replaced Hawk in the nickle package. I wonder if that's permanent or due to Hawk being a bit limited due to his groin injury? Did anyone hear Hawk's name at all this game? It did seem like the nickle was on the field almost all of the game. (Update: Hawk played only two snaps.)

Packers-Colts: One Moment

The turning point in this one is pretty obvious. It's a moment that summed up the Packers' game plan, and showed that they were going to do their damnedest to pull it off. Specifically, going for it on Fourth and 1, 7 minutes left in the first half, on your own 44 yard line, when you're winning by three points. That play call clearly said-- "we're not letting you have the ball until you pry it out of our Cold Dead Hands . . . or, umm, until we kick it off after a score." And the Packers did their best to be predictable. Run formation, run personnel. Maybe playaction? No. Maybe a quick fullback run like earlier in the game? Negative. Instead, calling the obvious, old reliable-- fullback lead, zone right (away from Clifton and Colledge and toward Tauscher and Spitz), Grant bounces right, crashes through a small gap in the line, seven yards, first down, the drive stays alive. Seven plays later-- Grant busts his touchdown, and the beatdown is fully afoot.

Going for it on fourth down in your own half, in the second quarter, when you have the lead? That's a man's call, my friend. No retreat, no surrender!

The Greatest Game Plan Ever

Play keep away with passable running and conservative passing, rough up the opposing team's receivers as much as you can to throw off their timing routes, try to play decent run defense, don't give up a big play on special teams. That seemed to be the idea yesterday afternoon in the Packers' 34-14 win over the Indianapolis Dolts, and, boy, did it get played close to perfection. Consider:

- The Packers held the ball for 34 minutes, and it would have been more had the offense not turned especially conservative in the fourth quarter.

- 35 rushing attempts, not for a great average, but nearly all those runs kept the clock moving and helped wear out the Indy defense.

- 21 incomplete passes thrown by Manning.

- Tons and tons of dump passes by A-Rodg, with only 7 incompletions, and only one stupid throw-- the forced pass to Jennings that was almost picked when Lee was wide open for at least a five-yard gain.

- Dozens of frustrated faces made by Peyton Manning, as he pissed and moaned about his receivers being held, interfered with, and illegally contacted. It only takes one game against the Colts, with all of these shots of Manning whining to the refs (Did you see him interrupt the ref calling the penalty? No other guy in the league would do that) to understand why fans of other AFC teams dislike him so much. In the words of the immortal Sean Connery: Suck it, Trebek.

- One lucky break on the Reggie Wayne tipped pass, then great presence to make the pick and wonderful creativity by Nick Collins in running it back for six. He's finally putting it all together this year, and, at last, showing why the coaching staff thought enough of him to give him LeRoy Butler's old number. If he keeps this up, it will be an absolute crime if he doesn't make the Pro Bowl. Go here and vote immediately.

- Then, with Manning and the Dolts offense pressing hard, Aaron Rouse making a heady, clean play to swoop in front of a desperate Anthony Gonzalez (who didn't come back for the pass because he was trying to back into the end zone), and race the ball back for a "game over" interception. A few moments later, my CBS feed switched to the Jets losing to Oakland in overtime. (No commentary about Favre's alleged Benedict Arnold act until the claims have been proven up.)

Huge kudos to McCarthy and the rest of the coaching staff for coming up with a fine game plan. Congratulations for the rest of the team, especially the defensive backfield, for pulling it off. There was little pass rush, but the coverage frustrated and discombobulated the Dolts so much, it often didn't matter. Will Blackmon, Trammon Williams (despite his three penalties), Charles Woodson, Collins and Rouse are the stars of this game.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hoping for a Moral Victory?

Is anybody really expecting anything in this afternoon's Packer game? I mean, hell. The Indianapolis Dolts are coming off of a 31-3 stomping of perhaps the best defense in the league. The Packers defensive backfield has been surprisingly decent of late, given the injuries to Bigby, Rouse and Harris, but still-- the team's pass rush is not good, and the run defense has been poor. You have to expect the Dolts to move the ball pretty easily, especially to tight end Dallas Clark and third wideout Anthony Gonzalez.

You'd think the main hope for the Pack would be to run the ball right up the middle of Dolts defense, where they have an even thinner defensive tackle situation than the Packers. But our running game, both the line and Ryan Grant, has looked out of sorts. So the Pack may find themselves in a lot of third and medium situations, obvious passing downs, with our aging offensive tackles trying to repulse Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Not good.

Anyhow, I don't like our chances, even though having the game in Lambeau, and not on artificial turf, should help. So if the Packers can keep it close, say within a touchdown, and avoid any new major injuries (I'm terrified of Pickett aggravating his arm injury and tearing his triceps), I'm calling it a moral victory. Not saying that we don't have a chance to win, but just keeping it close would be a somewhat encouraging sign for the rest of the season.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

UW-Iowa: One Moment

Turning points, turning points. Although the quarterbacking and the offense continued to look anemic, a few minutes into the second half, Wisconsin had crawled back into the game. Two three and outs forced by the defense, two punts giving the Badgers good field position, two excellent field goals by Welch. A fourteen point lead had been trimmed to 5. The defense was rolling, Sherer had actually completed a couple of solid passes, although the offense still couldn't overcome its mistakes to get in the end zone. But the team had some confidence. You thought, "Maybe they made some serious halftime adjustments and can get back into this game."

After the kickoff, Iowa first down at the thirty, Iowa runs a playaction rollout, their QB throws incomplete. But a flag plops down at the end of the play. Casillas, running over from the middle and pressuring the passer, had gotten there a second too late. He made the fatal mistake of shoving Stanzie, instead of just letting his momentum bump him. Stanzie cooperated and flew over, drawing the flag. Fifteen yard penalty, first down at the 45 for Iowa. Three plays later, their running back (who had ever heard of him until this game?) busted off a 52 yard touchdown. Lead is back to double digits, and given Wisconsin's sputtering offense and neophyte QB, game over.

The sad things are that it didn't matter and that Casillas knew better. Casillas had already forced a rushed pass, that fell incomplete. UW had won the down. There was no point to the shove except to injure or intimidate Stanzi. And Casillas knows, I'm sure, that he should have pulled up. He's a veteran, he wants to win as bad as anybody. I think he did it because he's frustrated and upset, and when that happens, if you're not a quitter (and we all know Casillas is no quitter), you press too hard. You try to make too much happen at once instead of playing solid and waiting for your moments. Anyhow, that turned the game, sealing the loss once and for all. Tough nuts.

UW-Iowa: Getting Kicked When Down

Today marks the second Saturday in a row where the Badgers looked listless, clueless, and hapless. Yikes. What's maddening about this Wisconsin team is that they are nowhere near as bad as they've looked in the past few weeks. Yes, the quarterback play has been consistently wavering from passable to atrocious and the offensive line is missing its best player, but everywhere else there's still pretty solid talent. But no one looks comfortable. No one looks confident on either side of the ball. Ok, maybe Phil Welch (the kicker) looks confident.

I think the problem, ever since the blown lead at Michigan, is that they've had no resilience, no ability to overcome mistakes. So the only way to then win is to play mistake free football, which is essentially impossible at the amateur level, especially when playing quality opponents. This past game, and in the Penn State game, every time the offense got penalized, you knew the drive would stall. Every opposing drive, when the defense gave up a big play, you knew that the play broke their spirit, that the other team would go on to score. This is harsh, but they've shown no heart, either on offense or defense. Or their confidence (or ability) is just non-existent. I'm not a coach. I'm not in the locker room. I just don't know.

What ever it is, it's rippled out into every corner of the team (again, except for Welch's play). Wherever you could screw up, they've screwed up: coaching, play-calling, mental mistakes by the players, penalties (time to check the record books), getting beat physically, poor fundamentals, terrible special teams play (have you ever seen the other team's gunners getting to UW's returners more consistently?).

Comparing this team to the team that played the middle 45 minutes against Ohio State, and played tough, winning football at Fresno State, it's bizarre. It's night and day. And right now, it means last place in the Big Ten. The first 0-4 start in the league since 1996. But this time, there's no Ron Dayne on the bench to redeem the season.

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.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Something Entertaining Happened at the Penn State Game

That did not involve the Badgers looking like a high school junior varsity squad. See here. I heard that a poster to this site was a witness to this event. How about a first-hand account, U-65?

Monday, October 13, 2008

At Least We Can Laugh at the Lions

It's Official . . .

Wisconsin is now a basketball school. And thankfully, the season is fast approaching. The "Night of the Grateful Red," which marks the opening of official practice, is this Friday.

Also, let's take a brief moment to acknowledge our sponsor. Our coverage and commentary of Wisconsin's horrific performance Saturday night (which I sadly attended) has been brought to you by Chinua Achebe's classic novel of early 20th Century Africa:

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Quarterback Must Go Down

And he must go down hard. So said the formerly sane mentor of Ron Wolf, Al Davis. And that's the biggest problem with the Packers right now: the quarterback has not gone down often enough, and when he has, he's gone down easy, or run out of bounds or something like that. As feared, without Cullen Jenkins, the Packers' pass rush has gone from middling to totally pathetic.

And I repeat, this, the lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, is the team's biggest issue. Yes, it's worse than the stop and start offense, the halfhearted tackling, the pathetic punting, and the mediocre run defense. The Packers need to be able to disrupt opposing quarterbacks, even playing in a pathetically quarterbacked division. And it seems pretty apparent that they can't get that done rushing four linemen over and over again. It's clear that KGB has fallen off the map. He's getting off the line okay still, but he just can't make the turn around opposing tackles. And Kampman just hasn't been impressive. The "high effort, limited talent" moniker might be proven true this season. (And if you look at Kampman's sacks from past seasons, it's sad to say, but a lot of them came against marginal tackles or on hustle plays where the offensive play broke down and the quarterback was scrambling.) Furthermore, none of the other guys are stepping up. Montgomery's doing very little, Jolly seems to have regressed, Cole and Pickett are not pass rush threats, Hunter has been injured, and the rookie Jeremy Thompson apparently doesn't even deserve to be on the field. Without Jenkins, the Packers don't have anyone to put any heat on, as the Falcons demonstrated.

So that leads us to blitzing. The problem is, defensive coordinator Bob Sanders doesn't like blitzing, and hasn't shown an ability to teach blitzing, or effectively time or disguise them. An obvious linebacker blitz in the NFL gets eaten up by an opposing quarterback-- just throw to the area the player has vacated. Matt Ryan did that twice last Sunday when Hawk blitzed. We heard some talk about installing complicated blitz packages and all that in the offseason. Well, where is it? This defense desperately needs some effective, non-obvious blitzing. Time to put up or shut up, Sanders.

Monday, October 06, 2008


I don't need this. I can't hardly watch these recent disasters due to the fact that I live on the west coast, and people hate football here. The one game I did go out of my way to watch at a (michigan) bar, was the first of paul chryst's latest pieces chrap.

Run John Clay. What the fuck! he's the best athlete on either team and he runs for pretty much a 50 yard touchdown... at michigan... then we never see him again? I think our coaching staff is being a bit stupid. I don't even want to talk about the Ohio A & M game. I don't even care after flopping at the Pig House. Humiliating. The worst part is how bad michigan is.

Brewers. Made the playoffs. Awesome. I can drink out of my 1982 mcdonald's issued Robin Yount glass again without it tasting like Cito Gaston. Cito? Ceetoe? Sea toes? I hated the blue jays. but i hate the cubs more.

Its hard for me to enjoy the cubs collapse so much. I don't want to have to need them. But I do. 3 things in life are guaranteed. Death, Taxes, and the cubs are terrible chokes. Too the two nerd 17 year olds with the matching Rygne Sandberg shirts that we had kicked out of the front row of the Ben Sheetz shelling at the hands of the cubs in late july; eat it nerds. Check your ticket stubs again before you start getting loud. A 100 years of tradition just got permanent. (goat sound).

The Packers are weak. We'll see if they can get healthy on D, but the O-line is 9 of the the same guy. Not fast enough to run block, not strong enough to pass protect meat heads. TT needs to find a scout that can spot learning disabilities.

last week we had 7 penalties for 70 yards and this week we had 9 for 100.

We should not have traded Corey Williams. But since we did, try to enjoy the beautiful pocket that other teams can form around their quarterback. It's textbook. like a jelly fish swimming on the tundra, using it's third string tight end to sting its prey. Justin Peelle... Deadly poison.

AA-RON RODG-ERS clap clap clap clap clap.

Seriously RUN JOHN CLAY.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What We've Learned So Far...

Two Big Ten games against traditional powerhouses, two close losses. Bummer. As there was no 19-point lead blown, and Ohio State is a far better team than Michigan, and since the bloom is already off the rose, I'm not as upset as last weekend. But I feel like we've learned a couple things about this Wisconsin team in the past two games, and, unfortunately, they're not good. They are that:

- The defense, despite being about half seniors, is still making serious mental errors. The last minute touchdown scramble to Pryor serves as the most obvious example. I know they wanted to conserve the last timeout for the offense, but just call it already. One of th linebackers needs to step up and make that decision. And the two wide open passes on that drive where the defensive backfield was misaligned, also serve as an example of unclutch mental mistakes. The defense has a lot of talent, as it displays pretty often. But the Badger defenders just doesn't have it all together, at least not right now. This is the problem with starting the conference season with such tough games-- you don't have any time to get your act together.

- Despite all our hopes, Evridge has not been an improvement over Donovan. Donovan had serious vision issues, held the ball too long, was tiny, and had modest accuracy and arm strength. But he was a fluid, natural runner, and a seriously tough nut. While Allan looks more like the part, so far this season he's basically been Donovan without the running ability. He holds the ball forever, doesn't seem to see the whole field, and isn't particularly accurate. His tendency to drop back and hold onto the ball for too long may be due to a lack of experience-- he takes too long to go through his reads, he doesn't have a clock in his head, he lacks a feel for the pass rush. I guess this is what happens when you start a fifth-year senior who has only played a handful of games. Experience, particularly game experience, is likely the best tutor for a quarterback. The more game reps, the more confident a QB becomes, and the faster he can make decisions. Thankfully, while the Badgers' Big Ten title hopes may be over (although I could definitely see Illinois, PSU and OSU losing twice each), the season is not. There's a lot of time for Allan to learn, grow, and start making better decisions.

It's true, the Badgers were very, very close to being 5-0. Evridge holds onto one more fumble at Michigan, or his pick-six gets knocked to the ground, or the Badgers convert one more of those first half turnovers into a touchdown, they win that game. Someone dives on that Hartline fumble on Ohio A&M's last drive, the Badgers can probably squeak out a win. Wisconsin is still a good team, despite the fact that they won't be ranked come tomorrow evening. And there's still lots to play for. I think they can take PSU next week. But Evridge needs to improve quickly (especially with PSU's excellent pass rush), and the defense needs to batten down the hatches.

p.s. I encourage Randy to craft a post entitled "Circling the Wagons."

Band Suspended? Perfect . . .

It's been a rough week for fans of Wisconsin sports. The Packers falling at Tampon Bay and losing player after player to injury, including the team's best d-lineman, and the starting QB. The Brewers making the playoffs for the first time in 26 years, only to get schooled by a dominant Hole Camels in the first game, and see their their rent-an-ace CC Sabathia run out of gas in the second. Plus, team ace Ben Sheets has returned to his eggshell plaintiff tendencies and isn't even on the playoff roster. The Brew Crew are now in a 2-0 hole. Has any NLDS team ever recovered from that deficit? Probably not with Dave Bush starting the third game. Plus, I live in Chicago, so the city is reeling from the embarrassment of the Cubs and the White Sox about to be swept.

And this doesn't include the Badger football horror show that was the second half of last weekend's game in Ann Arbor. With the Ohio A&M College coming into Madison tonight, the team needs to rally quickly. But one of the team's best receiving threats, tight end Garrett Graham, will miss the game. (Graham also missed the Michigan game, and look how awesome the passing game looked there.) In contrast, Ohio A&M is looking improved since their butt-kicking by USC, though not dominant. But we haven't seen them with star RB Beanie Wells back at full strength, which he apparently is. And even without Wells they still have more overall talent than Wisconsin. Also, they're starting last year's national #1 recruit, at QB-- the frighteningly talented Terrell Pryor. So tonight's game is a tough draw, to begin with. The Badgers are coming off one of their worst losses ever, are missing a key offensive playmaker, and are playing a talented team with a chip on its shoulder.

Now comes word that the UW band will not be at the game. At all. Completely gone. Suspended for another outbreak of the various shenanigans that we've heard about in previous school years. This directly affects the one advantage that UW had over Ohio State--- home atmosphere. The Band helps pump up the players, get the crowd and the students excited, in addition to being the best group of fans in the stadium. It's hard for me to imagine a UW football game without the Band being there. What the hell will they do at halftime? Really, it'll just be eerily bizarre. Not to mention it'll be a huge black eye for the university, during a nationally televised game, no less. Two huge embarrassments two weeks in a row-- the first on the field at Michigan, then this public flagellation of the school's beloved marching band. Think of how that'll play on television. Or how it'll play for the recruits visting for this game, and trying to decide between Ohio State and Wisconsin. Yeesh. It may sound bizarre, but I think this hurts UW's chances even further. I'm not optimistic about tonight.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Excellent Advice . . .

. . . for Ohio State fans visiting Madison tomorrow evening, from contributor Randy Moss--- "Keep your head on a swivel."

Baseball Thoughts

- Poor Brewers. Dave Bush is all that stands between them and a first round sweeping. Has any team come back from a 2-0 deficit in the NLDS?

- How many times has Ben Sheets and his fragility let down the people of the State of Wisconsin? To quote Flight of the Conchords--- "Too many to count, Mutha uckas."

- The Cubs may have the most two-faced, self-entitled fans in the country. I can understand being furious after the second inning, where two infield errors led to four unearned runs. But relentless and constant booing for the rest of the entire game? Pathetic. And not only pathetic, it hurts your own team-- the players obviously needed encouragement at that point and the crowd pissed on them. I think Cubs fans believe that after so many years of junk, they're entitled to success. That's just stupid. No one's entitled to anything in this world, folks. Good things happen to total jerks (how else can you explain Michigan's win last weekend?), and bad things happen to people who don't deserve it. Your team's past history doesn't entitle you to anything, Cub fans, so quit whining and root for your team like real fans.

- Manny Ramirez has only been in LA for a couple months, right? How'd he get his batting helmet so beat-up looking already?

- The networks have to be crying. The Cubs in the playoffs are a guarantee of big ad revenue. A Cubs-Red Sox or Cubs-White Sox series would have brought in a ton of dough. Tampa Bay-Phillies doesn't really do it for anyone, except Philly fans. (Until someone can prove that Devil Ray fans actually exist, I will treat them like the Yeti-- mere mythology.)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Is It Wrong To Already Be Looking Ahead To Badger Basketball Season?

I think it probably is. But after the disaster that was last weekend, I can't help it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Oh Crap

Cullen Jenkins is done for the year. He tore his pec. Say goodbye to the McCarthy fantasy of the Packers being led this season by a top-notch defense.

Why do I say this? Is it just the parade of injuries to Bigby, Hawk, Harris, Rouse, Harrell and now Jenkins? Well, yes. The idea that the Packers would have a top-tier defense this season, with this personnel, was a bit of a stretch unless certain guys took a major step forward and everyone else's level of play stayed the same.

Sadly, certain guys have dropped off. Kampman seems less effective. KGB has done almost nothing, his best moment wiped out by a bad offsides call. Jolly isn't as dynamic as last season. The chip on Barnett's shoulder has apparently fallen off.

Now, it's true that Woodson has been fantastic, despite the penalties. Nick Collins has taken some major steps forward. And Jenkins, as his agent said, had been the team's best d-lineman through the first four games. But that hasn't been enough. And now Jenkins is gone. The defense is going to be iffy for the foreseeable future.

Unless the o-line finally relearns how to run-block, Clifton and Taushcer rediscover their form, Jones heals properly, and Rodgers stays healthy and develops more quickly, the offense doesn't look capable of carrying the team. So what does that leave us with? A team with a questionable defense and a sputtering offense. At least the kicking game is good. Oh wait, Derrick Frost has been terrible. Ok, at least Mason Crosby and Will Blackmon are excellent. I'm being ironic. Things look very dicey. Lots of things can happen, but this is shaping up to be a tough season.