Sunday, September 06, 2009

Northern Illinois: Good and Bad

A wild opener for Wisconsin full of good and bad. Some fun new discoveries, and some recurring issues. How about we go through this with a compare and contrast-type lay out?

Good: 28 to 6 in the Fourth Quarter
Bad: 28 to 20 with 2 minutes left and Northern Illinois driving to tie the game

Good: Nick Toon looking like everything we hoped he'd be-- big, strong, fast, plucking the ball out of the air with his hands. Isaac Anderson finally looking like the Minnesota state sprint champion.
Bad: Isaac Anderson's generally poor run-blocking (i.e., on the bubble screen to Toon that ended up in a loss); Toon alligator-arming a high Phillips pass

Good: True freshman Travis Frederick starting at center, but no fumbled exchanges
Bad: Frederick's holding penalty killing a drive; several blown blocks or missed blitzers; (Heal up, Moffitt)

Good: Zach Brown and Clay looking like a decent one two punch; Clay's two touchdowns
Bad: Brown's inability to break tackles; no long runs (poor wide receiver blocking?)

Good: Defensing racking up lots of tackles for loss; NIU 3 of 12 on third down
Bad: Still giving up yards in big chunks at times; horribly unclutch defensive penalties (i.e., McFadden's awful face mask when he and two other defenders had a back cornered for a loss on third down; Fenelus not needing to interfere on fourth down in the red zone-- the ball was overthrown)

Good: Phillips has wheels and is great at getting past defenders in the open field; having his running threat in the backfield noticeably opened up the rushing game
Bad: Phillips throwing too high to open receivers; some near interceptions; no points on the drives when he was in at quarterback

Good: Tolzien starting 11 for 11; generally good accuracy and decision-making; great strike to Toon on crossing pattern where he got drilled right after throwing; Good deep ball to Anderson on first play (what a great way to begin your career as a starter!); cheering on Phillips from the sidelines, joking with Sherer
Bad: Two picks-- on first, somebody probably should have picked up the corner blitz, but Tolzien needs to see that guy coming and hit his hot read, the guy wasn't coming from his blind side; on second, the defender made a great play, but it looked like he was forcing the ball to Toon-- Anderson was open deep behind the coverage, was a guy open on the right sidelines; both picks occurred at really bad times-- in red zone, on first play from scrimmage after other team scores.

Good: Graham looking like All-Big Ten player both receiving and blocking
Bad: No receptions for Kendricks, failing to pick up blitzes several times

Good: JJ Watt is pretty damn good and only a redshirt sophomore; Schoenfield looks great playing the run-- refs stole a fumble from him that would have ended the game
Bad: No other plays from other D-linemen, pass rush iffy when not blitzing (really need Nzegwu healthy)

Good: Gilreath's one long kickoff return
Bad: All other kickoff returns and punt returns; Gilreath running backwards several times; generally awful blocking-- Bielema may need to fire himself

Just Bad: Welch missing two field goals (shouldn't have attempted the first), only one touchback.

Almost Just Good: Mike Taylor-- blitzing, making tackles for loss, ripping that ball out for UW's lone turnover
One bad play: reacting late to a fullback wheel route, and giving up a 20 plus yard pass play to a guy he's definitely faster than.

Sorry for the shorthand. Generally, the game was fun to watch, and UW looked (with some better run blocking and blitz recognition when Moffitt returns) like it could have a pretty exciting offense. The defense seems like it has a chip on its shoulder and has some talented, heady players. But if anything, this game emphasized that even against non-BCS conference opponents, how small UW's margin for error is. The defense can't give opponents fresh sets of downs when it has them beat. The offense needs to take care of the ball, not beat itself and at least work the clock some when it has the lead. The special teams, don't get me started. Beside Nortman, there's nowhere to go but up. The main thing for this team is whether they improve as the season progresses. The ceiling certainly seems quite high.

Anyhow, much uncertainty remains. Could be a great year. Could be rough, could be mediocre. Fresno State is up next. They won their opener 51-0. Of course, they were playing Divsion I-AA UC-Davis in Fresno. But still. After this performance, I think that game looks like a toss-up. One twelfth of the journey in the books.

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