Well, though Wisconsin had quite the successful game against Oregon State, it was a much less successful weekend for me. Ricardo dominated me in the first edition of our new weekly Over-Undercard series in which we make odd (and sometimes ridiculous) prop-bets as a way to talk about the 2011 Wisconsin football season. Before we get to this week's bets, let's take a look at how last week turned out. Take it away, Ricardo...
The Badgers' front seven will record how many big plays (sacks, TFLs, turnovers)?
Wisconsin's defensive front seven owned the line of scrimmage. Despite holding the Beavers to a mere twenty-three yards rushing, the Badgers' linemen and backers recorded only six big plays. Chris Borland and Mike Taylor each took down ball carriers in the backfield, and David Gilbert and Beau Allen hit the score sheet with sacks. Jordan Kohout recovered a fourth quarter fumble that stifled Oregon State's best scoring chance. Finding only six big plays by the front seven does not do the respective units justice. Ethan Hemer, for the second game in a row, was impressive at the point of attack, recorded stops for no gain, and broke up a middle screen. The aforementioned Gilbert came up just short of sack-strip, drew a holding penalty, and did a good job of setting the edge in the run game.
Defensively, the real story of the game was the secondary, which managed to record ten passes defended. Devin Smith was strong in coverage before suffering what would turn out to be a season-ending foot injury (more on this below). His replacement, Marcus Cromartie, was similarly solid in coverage, strong in run support, and good at wrapping and preventing yards after the catch when playing zone or soft man. Shelton Johnson did his best Jay Valai impression (sans headhunting), by forcing a fumble and recording a TFL on a fourth down.
Winner: Ricardo (prediction of 8) bests Hilary (10)
Russell Wilson will complete how many passes in double coverage?
Wilson completed zero passes into double coverage, his only attempt to do so coming on a deep ball to Nick Toon in the first quarter. The transfer continued to impress, taking advantage of an Oregon State selling out against the run by cheating their safeties up. Unsurprisingly, the primary beneficiary of this was tight end Jacob Pedersen. The chemistry Wilson and Toon seem to have developed is downright amazing; the touch on Toon's touchdown reception was a thing of beauty.
Winner: Ricardo (prediction of 1) over Hilary (2)
How many total push-ups will Bucky Badger do in the first quarter? Remember, these are cumulative: for example a touchdown (seven) succeeded by a field goal (making the total ten) nets seventeen total pushups.
Oregon State was not only sold out against the run early, their defensive line more than held their own and allowed backers and safeties to flow to the ball. Despite redeeming himself in the second and third quarters, center Peter Konz was particularly bad, and the entire offensive line seemed to have bad pad level. Consequently, Wisconsin managed only one touchdown in the first quarter, that being gifted after an Oregon State punt lost four yards (giving Bucky the ball on the 14 yard line). The following drive (beginning at the UW 6 with 6:30 remaining) looked promising, but came to a crashing halt when left defensive end Rusty Hernando absolutely whipped right tackle Josh Oglesby (with what appeared to be a rip move) to the inside and dropped Wilson for a sack.
Winner: Ricardo (predicted 21) over Hilary (42)
Past the jump, Ricardo makes a Haiku about Nick Toon and we lay out our bets for the match-up against NIU...
Nick Toon has a penchant, not simply for dropping the football, but drops that elicit Ricardo to launch into profanity-laced haikus (Nick Toon Drops A Pass; It Would Have Been Good For Six; Damn It Fucking Shit!). How many haikus will Nick Toon cause this week?
This one is tough. My notes tell me Nick Toon dropped Wilson's bomb into double coverage on Wisconsin's first drive, as it appeared the football bounced off the receiver's hands. Dave Heller, part of the excellent team that covers the Badgers at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, marked that as a pass break-up. From here on out I'll defer to Heller; this week, though, I'll go with my notes and let the drop state.
Winner: Push (Ricardo 0, Hilary 2-half point each)
While Nick Mangold rules the photo-bomb, Bret Bielema trails no one when it comes to the sideline bomb. How many times will the camera catch the ex-Hawkeye defensive tackle sprinting down the sideline to get someone's (either his own players' or the officials') attention?
The camera loved itself some Bielema (or, in Urban Meyer-speak, Bulima), but failed to catch him sprinting down the sideline.
Winner: Hilary (0) over Ricardo (2).
Season Total: Ricardo 3.5, Hilary 1.5
Wisconsin at NIU:
For this week, we decided to switch up our bets a bit and include some new metrics. Unlike the game against Oregon State, both Ricardo and I expect this week's game against NIU to be a hard fought battle. Of all of the games in Wisconsin's non-con slate, this is the one that worries me the most. If any team derails the dream season of the Badgers, it's quite possible it could be the Huskies. So read on to find out our thoughts on how this epic matchup at Soldier Field will go down...
For how many quarters will the game be close (with a spread of fewer than ten points)?
Ricardo: One. Make no mistake, I think this will be Wisconsin's toughest match-up before hitting the conference slate. And I do think Northern Illinois' passing game will have some success against the Badgers. But on the strength of a +1 turnover differential in the first half, and against a Northern Illinois defense that offers less resistance than air, the Badgers should be able to open up a double digit lead before the half-something like 28-14 or 21-10.
Hilary: Two. While I wouldn't be surprised if Ricardo's scenario plays out and the double digit lead opens up before half time, I expect a bit of a nervous moment in the third or fourth quarter where the Badgers have a bit of trouble as NIU makes a slight comeback, only to regain their footing and dominate through the end of the game.
What will Russell Wilson's passer rating for the game be?
Ricardo: Let's try 160. Knowing Dave Doeren (Northern Illinois' head coach and former Wisconsin defensive coordinator) and knowing what Wisconsin does on offense, I get the feeling Russell Wilson is poised for yet another big game. The Badgers' offensive line should be able to absolutely whip a very small Northern Illinois defensive line (whose defensive ends are, on average, 82.5 pounds lighter than Wisconsin's offensive tackles). Doeren's Wisconsin defenses were predicated on the defensive line holding the point of attack and keeping a safety deep to prevent the big play. Now? If he doesn't bring the safeties down, the Badgers will duplicate their production against UNLV. If he does? Wilson will roll out and throw deep to Toon. And when the Badgers actually face a third down (more on this below)? Jacob Pedersen and Jake Byrne will eat up the defense underneath.
Hilary: I think I generally agree with Ricardo's analysis. The fact that NIU's head coach is very familiar to the Wisconsin staff is (perhaps) a great benefit to the Badgers. Then again, I can't help but think of that scene in The Princess Bride (if you don't get this reference, shame on you and get yourself to Netflix right now. Seriously. Right now. Yes, stop reading and go.) where Vizzini is going up against Westley with the poisoned cup. We think we know the type of defense that Doeren's influence will produce, but of course he knows that we know that. Does that change the type of play we'll see from the Huskies? Or does Doeren know that we know that he knows that we know... well... you get the idea.
That all being said, I think Wilson still has another good game, if not quite as impressive as his 292.5 and 203.7 performances from weeks one and two. Given that, I wouldn't be surprised if this is the week that Wilson produces his first interception of the season. I say he gets just under 200 for the game (my maths puts the exact number at 197).
Where will the Badgers rack up the most rushing yards: left, middle, or right?
Ricardo: To the right. Josh Oglesby will line up across defensive ends at least 85 pounds smaller than him. Smart money says Montee Ball and James White (who loves getting to the outside) will get behind the senior tackle and make some hay.
Hilary: To the left. To the left. All of your runs in the tackle box to the left. (Yeah, that's right, in the span of a few paragraphs I can reference a 1987 movie and a 2006 pop song. I'm just awesome like that). I feel like Ricardo is probably going to beat me here, as I'm really only picking this direction to be a contrarian. I have absolutely nothing to back it up with. If I win this it will be because of dumb luck.
Nick Toon has a penchant, not simply for dropping the football, but drops that elicit Ricardo to launch into profanity-laced haikus (Bouncing off Toon's Hands; Third down conversion denied; shitty shit shit shit). How many haikus will Nick Toon cause this week?
Ricardo: Zero. As I've detailed above, I don't see Wisconsin throwing too often, but when they do Toon knows he'll be in position to make a play. The kid's playing with an edge I haven't seen this year-put him position, I have all faith he's going to come through.
Hilary: I'm starting to believe in Toon. Really, I am. But... I'm giving myself one more week to be a downer. Just like how I'm once again picking Notre Dame to win this week, I fully expect myself to get burned on this pick. And, in some ways, nothing would make me happier than to be wrong on both Notre Dame and Nick Toon. But... I'll still go with 1 drop.
Over-Under: 0.5 drops
When these teams face 3rd-and-long (five yards or more), which offense will be more successful?
Ricardo: If we're going by the percentages, let's say Wisconsin. The reason? Dave Doeren is now DeKalb's problem. Multiple things went wrong in Wisconsin's two losses last season. In the Big Ten opener at Michigan State, the Spartan defensive line played superbly, the coaching staff showed the cahonas to eschew convention and go for it on fourth down, and the Wisconsin punt coverage team had a brain fart. In the Rose Bowl, Paul Chryst played right into TCU's 4-2-5 by going away from a power running game that was bludgeoning an undersized front (John Clay and Montee Ball each averaged over six yards per carry), and Nick Toon and Philip Welch combined to leave seven points on the board. Lost in all this? Wisconsin's terrible defense on third-and-long. In East Lansing the Spartans had five big conversions on third-and-five or longer, and in the Rose Bowl the Badgers surrendered three consecutive pass plays of 3rd-and-9 or longer. Why? In these obvious passing plays, the sublime playcalling of Dave Doeren saw Wisconsin defensive backs lining up BEHIND THE STICKS, essentially ceding the conversion unless J.J. Watt managed to get a sack. Similar playcalling nearly lost Wisconsin the Iowa game on the Hawkeyes' desperation drive.
Now? Wisconsin gets to play against this. As Mike Breese over at Red and Black Attack shows, the stench that is Dave Doeren's third down defense has followed him to the south. Should the Badgers actually face a third-and-long, Russell Wilson will kill Northern Illinois.
On the other side, the Northern Illinois offense is no slouch. Senior quarterback Chandler Harnish is a player, and will have some success against a depleted Badger secondary. Marcus Cromartie, who looked very good against Oregon State, will make his first start. Having pushed Devin Smith for the top job in camp, he should do well. The question is the drop-off, as the Badgers' nickel defense goes from having three potential starters at corner to featuring an unknown in Peniel Jean. Given that new playcaller Chris Ash has shown his willingness to blitz both Mike Taylor and Chris Borland, Jean will likely have to step up and guard the hot route. Is he up to it?
Hilary: What he said? I think I get the short end of the stick on this one, as, to make the bet I have to take NIU. Hmm. Next time I should remember to submit my picks first instead of letting Ricardo go.
In all seriousness, I agree that third down defense was a serious problem for the Badgers last year and that, as of two weeks in, it's gotten quite a bit better. Now, maybe that's due to the absence of Doeren, maybe that's due to the fact that Wisconsin has played two relatively soft teams thus far this season. But even with that, Wisconsin was actually just a little bit better in third down play than Oregon State - the Beavers were 7-for-15 while the Badgers were 8-for-15. Then again, when the Badgers played UNLV, they had stifling defense on third down, letting UNLV convert just 2 out of 12 tries.
Because I think NIU will offer more of a challenge than either UNLV or Oregon State, I think the Badgers find themselves in third down situations more often than before. And, because I think the Badgers defense continues its good play, I also think that NIU will end up in third down situations quite frequently in this game. When it all comes down to it... maybe this means the Badgers come out on top by percentages, maybe it's the Huskies. I think it could go either way, but I'm going with NIU because I'm forced to.
All right, now that we're done, it's your turn to vote. Who do you think will have the better week with the prop bets? I won the reader poll last week but dropped the actual contest. Do you put your faith in me again, or do you switch it up and go with Ricardo?