Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Badgers off to a slow start

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and for Wisconsin football (2-1 overall) it took all the luck under the lights of Camp Randall Stadium to come up with a heart-stopping 16-14 win over Utah State (2-1 overall) Saturday.
Special teams sparked the Badgers’ win when an 82-yard fourth quarter punt return touchdown by sophomore wide receiver Kenzel Doe ignited a quiet Camp Randall crowd and cut Wisconsin’s deficit to four points.
The return, Doe’s first of the season and first touchdown of his collegiate career, was even more remarkable considering Doe was stepping in for All American redshirt junior punt returner Jared Abbrederis, who was out for the game because of concussion symptoms.
Saturday’s explosive play won’t be the last time that Badger fans see the shifty Doe moving down the sidelines, as the speedster was named the top punt returner on this week’s depth chart to help ease Abbrederis’ return.
“Kenzel has been intriguing to me since I first laid eyes on him during film to watch him in high school camp,” head coach Bret Bielema said at his Monday press conference. “He’s exciting, he’s got a burst, I think he’s fast. But I think he’s really fast when people are chasing him.”
An offense instability has been the theme through three games this season, as each position unit has been handicapped at some point by some unusual circumstance. With coaching turnover on the offensive line and key injuries at the tailback and wide receiver positions, quarterback became the newest source of uncertainty when redshirt junior Danny O’Brien was benched at the end of the first half against Utah State in favor of redshirt freshman Joel Stave. Although Stave did not wow the crowd with his play—completing a pedestrian two-of-six passes for 15 yards—Bielema stressed that it was the young signal caller’s ability to avoid turnovers that won him the job for the rest of the game.
“The decision to go with Joel in the second half took about five seconds when I finally was with my coaches face to face on Saturday and went with it,” Bielema said. “Now did we play well in all phases? No, but there’s definitely some indication that things were moving in the right direction from where we were a week ago to this past Saturday.”
With all the headaches that Badger fans have had to deal with this season watching the offense, it has been the defense that has kept Wisconsin in ball games. The defense enters this week fourth in the Big Ten—giving up 15 points per game—and third in run defense, surrendering just 82 yards per game. Through three games the Badgers have yet to allow a rushing touchdown.
“In the past there’s a saying that defense wins championships,” Bielema said. “I think if we can continue to play good and put our guys in a position… we’ve got a chance to be good and we have a chance to win this coming weekend.”
Let's hope they have a easier time this Saturday. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Badgers get a new offensive line coach

After each of the first two games of this season, redshirt junior center Travis Frederick said the offensive line was struggling to find its way more than he expected it to, despite working in new regular starters at three positions.
In the aftermath of Bret Bielema’s decision to fire first-year offensive line coach Mike Markuson Sunday, it appears the marching orders have been cleared up a bit: Do things the way that they were done when Bob Bostad was in charge.
Bostad oversaw the Badgers’ frontline for four seasons and was a UW assistant for six years before departing in January. He originally took a job on former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst’s staff before being hired as the offensive line coach for the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Bielema said Monday he promoted little-known graduate assistant Bart Miller to “bridge a little bit of what we had last year to where we are now.”
Tuesday, the Badgers began their preparation for Saturday’s home contest against Utah State (2-0) with their second offensive line coach in nine months. That is sure to reset the transition period, even if the transition is now to try to re-apply, rather than learn anew.
“You just have to have a plan, work the plan and plan for the unexpected,” first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada said Tuesday. “We’re going to drive forward and make the best of a difficult situation, as you would in life when a lot of things come your way.”
Usually, reporters are able to interview up to four offensive players and assistant coaches Tuesday evening, but this week the list was restricted to five players and four assistants. Redshirt senior left tackle Rick Wagner was the lone offensive lineman available and Miller was the only assistant not made available.
Miller is in his second year in the program after serving as a quality control coach a season ago. He played for Bostad at New Mexico in 2005 and graduated in 2007. Miller worked for the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks for two years before returning to college football as a graduate assistant at New Mexico State in 2010. In his weekly press conference on Monday, Bielema said he would not have made the change if Miller were not so familiar with the program. Wagner reiterated those sentiments Tuesday.
Let's hope it makes a difference.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Badger opener was a close call

A win is a win. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema and numerous Badger players echoed this cliché following Wisconsin’s (1-0 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) 26-21 victory over FCS opponent Northern Iowa (0-1 overall, 0-0 Missouri Valley Conference) Saturday afternoon in the first game of the 2012 season.
However, the Camp Randall crowd wasn’t necessarily pleased with that type of mentality. The usually raucous crowd essentially stood in disbelief when UNI pulled within five points midway through the fourth quarter. Fans appeared lifeless when the Wisconsin offense responded to UNI’s surge with a three-and-out, giving the Panthers the ball back with 5:17 left to play, still only behind by five.
The anxiety was felt in the crowd most when UNI went for a fourth-and-one on Wisconsin’s 41-yard line with just under three minutes remaining. The Panthers had converted on their two previous fourth down attempts, but redshirt junior defensive lineman Ethan Hemer deflected Northern Iowa redshirt freshman quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen’s pass across the middle, ridding the crowd of its unexpected restlessness.
“There’s a lot of credit that should go to UNI,” Bielema said. “I thought they were probably the best FCS team we’ve ever faced. I could see that before we even played them.”
Senior running back Montee Ball capped things off for Wisconsin following Hemer’s play, as he rushed for 24 yards during the last drive to run the clock out.
“I don’t care if that was UNI or Nebraska, or anyone else that’s left on our schedule,” Bielema said. “[Ball] was going to secure that win and you could tell that.”
Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Rob Havenstein felt the Wisconsin offense brought a bit more life and intensity during that drive.
“We definitely picked it up a bit,” he said of the drive. “[But] the intensity has got to be there every play, every snap, every down.”
The Badgers’ defense looked like an almost entirely different squad in the second half, as Kollmorgen completed clutch passes at will. After holding the Panthers to just three first downs and 47 yards in the first half, Wisconsin gave up 10 first downs in the second. All 13 Panthers’ first downs came off passes.
Let's hope this week isn't so close.