PD Sunday Sampler
The Wisconsin Badgers football team played in the Rose Bowl yesterday for only the 5th time in my lifetime. I don’t remember the first one so well as I was only 3 years old at the time, and I doubt I’ll make much effort to remember this one either. The Badgers, as everyone reading this now knows, lost to 3rd ranked Texas Christian by a score of 21-19.
Going into the game TCU head coach Gary Patterson was concerned that if his team won, the story would be that his undefeated Horned Frogs would be the beneficiaries of a bad game by the Badgers. He can at least rest assured on that count. Wisconsin certainly missed some opportunities but didn’t play particularly poorly, they just didn’t make enough winning plays on either side of the ball to come out with a victory against a very good team.
It looked promising early on as Wisconsin took the opening kickoff and drove down to the TCU 13 yard line behind the running of tailback Monte Ball. The holes that were being opened by the Badgers offensive line suggested that their battle with TCU’s defensive front might be the mismatch that Badgers fans were hoping for. Unfortunately, the drive stalled there as receiver Nick Toon dropped a pass inside the TCU 5 yard line and the Badgers had to settle for a field goal. It was a pattern that would be repeated throughout the game. The Badgers moved the ball but a penalty here, or an errant throw or dropped pass there, consistently undermined their efforts.
Some fans took issue with the play calling but, as I saw it, Wisconsin’s offensive game plan was pretty much as it had been all year; running the ball mixed in with play-action passes. It’s just that TCU adjusted to it as the game went on. By the third quarter, the holes that had appeared so large in the first had disappeared and TCU was getting regular penetration into the Badgers backfield slowing the running game. It didn’t help either that quarterback Scott Tolzien wasn’t particularly sharp on this day, completing only 12 of 21 passes for 159 yards and no scores.
Then the Badgers had to play defense. UW coach Bret Bielema was openly concerned about TCU getting behind the Badgers vulnerable secondary so he had them playing a soft zone coverage. That might’ve worked had the Badgers gotten any pressure on the passer but Wisconsin was unable to register a single sack against the Horned Frogs. In this instance, Wisconsin needed an impact game out of junior defensive end J.J. Watt and they didn’t get it. The cushion that UW gave to the TCU receivers allowed 5th year senior QB Andy Dalton to have the type of efficient performance that the Badgers usually get out of Tolzien. The combination of zero pass rush and weak coverage permitted the Horned Frogs to bleed the Badgers into a slow death.
Even with all of that, Wisconsin still had a chance to tie the game when they tried for a 2 point conversion after Ball’s 4 yard TD run with 2 minutes left in the game. Tight end Jacob Pederson was open in the end zone but Tolzien’s pass was batted down at the line by TCU linebacker Tank Carder, who had been a thorn in the Badgers’ side all game. Sure, maybe Tolzien should have lofted the ball but you have to give the defense credit for making a play when it was most needed. In the end, that’s something that eluded Wisconsin for most of the game and was ultimately their undoing.
So it’s now left to the Green Bay Packers to try and salvage a measure of redemption for this football season in Wisconsin. The Packers renew their rivalry with the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field this afternoon with a NFC Wild Card playoff spot at stake.
The weather at this time of year in these parts makes it imperative that the Packers get some kind of contribution from their running game. Last week, the Packers ran Dmitri Nance effectively early in the game but then he seemed to be the forgotten man later as they gave more carries to Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn scored two touchdowns.
Ever since starter Ryan Grant went down at the start of the season, the Packers have used a mix and match approach to their running attack. Jackson supposedly is the feature back but in essence the Packers don’t really have one. Nance was given a chance earlier in the season, but then sat down for a few weeks. James Starks helped for a couple of games but then was inactive last week and may be today as well.
All of the lineup shuffling got me to considering whether the running back by committee concept parallels the situation that the Packers experienced with their offensive line a year ago. The team continually tried different combinations along the line to little effect last season and it wasn’t until Mark Tauscher was installed at right tackle that the roster was set and they began to play more effectively.
The point is that I believe the Packers would be better served by establishing a regular rotation for their backs as they go forward. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin logically says that the coaching staff tries to put their players in position to take advantage of their strengths but there appears to be no clearly defined pattern in how the team deploys its backs. It has to be hard for any of the backs to get into any kind of rhythm when they’re in and out of the lineup. I simply wonder if the effort to get them all involved comes at a cost to the overall product.
Just some food for thought as the Packers head into the most important game of their season…………
RANDOM SAMPLINGS: An under reported aspect of the Milwaukee Brewers efforts to upgrade their starting pitching is the pressure it will take off an obviously overworked bullpen from last year. Between them, newcomers Zach Grienke and Shawn Marcum averaged almost 7 innings per start with about 65% quality starts. By comparison, the team’s top 3 starters from last season couldn’t make it into the 6th inning on average. On the other hand, I have to question the signing of reliever Takashi Saito. He may have been effective last season but the dude is 40 years old. I would have thought Doug Melvin would have learned his lesson there with what happened to LaTroy Hawkins last year………..What looked to be a promising bowl season for the Big(11)Ten conference quickly fizzled on New Year’s Day. The league’s performance in yesterday’s game will once again reduce them to a level of respect reserved for the NFC West. At least the Badgers, Penn St., and Northwestern were respectable. You couldn’t say the same for the state of Michigan, whose teams lost by a combined score of 101-21. The games should eliminate any whining on the part of Spartans fans about the Big(11)Ten’s tie-breaking procedure and will cast further doubt on the future of Wolverines’ head coach Rich Rodriguez. If that wasn’t bad enough, incoming member Nebraska managed only one TD in their Holiday Bowl loss to Washington. Looks like they’ll fit right in………..You have to wonder about the expectations for football at the University of Maryland. Coach Ralph Friedgen takes his team from 2-9 to 9-4, gets named ACC Coach of the Year, and gets fired for his trouble………..Just when it looked like the Milwaukee Bucks might be turning the corner during their recent road trip, they come back to the Midwest and drop a couple of games before last night’s win over Dallas. Earl Boykins has played well in the absence of point guard Brandon Jennings but you have to wonder whether the Bucks will be able to stabilize themselves long enough to make a serious playoff run………..The Badgers basketball team got off to a good start in conference play with a win over Minnesota, signaling that it’s still tough for a visitor to leave the Kohl Center with a win. But the game also suggested that the Badgers will have to work for everything they get this season…………I never thought I’d say this but Bret Bielema just might be the perfect football coach for Wisconsin, despite what happened yesterday. He’s good enough to keep the Badgers in contention in the Big(11)Ten, but not so good that one of college football’s powers is likely to lure him away with a big contract.
Thanks for reading. Happy New Year and GO PACK!!!!