Well, except for Northwestern. But that's a story for a different post. You know, if you only look at the first half of the Ohio State game and the first half of the Iowa game, then Wisconsin is 7-0. Wait... I'm not allowed to do that?
So, maybe this glass isn't half full. The Badgers, once again, managed to play 30 minutes of great football before utterly collapsing. Except, this time the collapse came at home at Camp Randall and not on the road in a tough game in the 'Shoe. Today's game against Iowa really was a game of what ifs...
What if Tolzien hadn't thrown three more interceptions - one of which eventually resulted in 7 points for Iowa, and two which killed crucial 4th quarter drives?
What if Garrett Graham hadn't suffered a head injury in the first half?
What if John Clay hadn't also suffered an injury, which seemed to slow down his run game in the second half?
What if Nick Toon hadn't dropped a catchable pass at about the five yard line on third down?
What if Philip Welch hadn't subsequently missed a 38 yard field goal, leaving the score tied?
Finally, what if the Badger defense hadn't completely dissappeared for two quarters, allowing Iowa to put up 20, yes, 20, unanswered points?
In the end, though, the really great teams find a way to win despite all the what ifs on any given Saturday and the kinda-sorta-good teams, well, don't.
Seems like the 2009 Wisconsin Badgers are a kinda-sorta-good team, huh?
If you noticed, the top of my post is titled "Everyone is so not who I thought they were..." I'll get more into Wisconsin below, but I'd like to briefly talk about Iowa and Ohio State. As much as it kills me to write this, maybe Iowa is the best team in the Big 10. I was rather bruatlized by Iowa fans earlier this season for ranking them below OSU and Penn State. At the time, I said, "Show me more." Well, they have, and with OSU's shocking loss to Purdue today, I think I'm ready to change my mind.
Graham takes a look at the Big 10 match-up of the week...
I replay the tough loss against Ohio State in week 6...
Iowa, I've concluded, is the res ipsa loquitur team. You don't really know how it happened, but they keep on winning against good teams, and you know that usually undefeated teams are great so, like with res ipsa loquitur, you're kind of forced to conclude that they are a great team. It's odd, though. They don't have a run game. Their QB can be good, but he also has an alarming propensity to throw interceptions at crucial moments. Their defense is obviously very, very good but usually that by itself is not enough to win a conference. Really, they shouldn't be this good. But they are. And that's all that matters.
Ohio State... well, after today they look like a great team that is going to be fatally undone by the very mediocre play of the quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Their defense is amazing. The front seven completely brutalized Tolzien and the Bucky offense last week. Their linebackers find ways to intercept balls and then score touchdowns off of them. Their special teams is consistently good, and has the ability to break off the great type of plays that define a conference champion. But... they too, don't have a running game. And their QB isn't nearly as capable as Ricky Stanzi.
Where does this leave the conference, then? Iowa still has a date at the 'Shoe, which they could easily lose. But, unless they also get upset by one of Michigan State, Indiana, Northwestern, or Minnesota they are going to win the Big 10. I don't think that they will go to the BCS championship game, but that says more about the BCS voters than it does the Iowa team. So, that means they'd be ticketed for the Rose Bowl, likely against USC. If, on the other hand, they lose to OSU, get upset in one of their other four conference match-ups, AND Ohio State doesn't lose another game, the Buckeyes would head to the Rose Bowl via the tiebreak rules.
Okay... back to Wisconsin. Wisconsin is not who I thought they were. They are worse. I was very happy about the road win at Minnesota, and, while the Ohio State game was painful to watch, I understood the loss. It is true that in both of those games they looked a bit shaky... but I chalked that up to a young team playing on the road. It's starting to look more like this play is endemic to the team itself, and not just a factor of being on the road.
So, here are the takeaways from today's game:
I still love Scott Tolzien, despite his sudden rash of interceptions. He's having a lot more pressure put on him because of failures of our offensive line, and that plus a few bad decisions is causing the turnovers. It is important to note that these turnovers have come against the two best defensive units in the Big 10. If he can avoid doing that against lesser defenses, then Wisconsin can still finish this season strong.
Despite my detractors last week, I still love John Clay. He is a feature back. Starting because Zach Brown was out due to a concussion, Clay managed to rack up 70 rushing yards in the first half. He suffered a leg injury of some kind in the second quarter, and it might have been that or fatigue that made him ineffective in the second half. I also have to give credit to Montee Ball, the freshman, for stepping in admirably after that injury to Clay. He had some great carries, including a 10 yard TD run. It is my hope that Clay's injury is not serious and that he'll be ready to go for next week, because if he's out, the Wisconsin offense is in trouble.
I think that the defense is still a great unit - for the first half of the football game. I have no idea where they go after the half, and that is something that needs to be addressed. They are a young unit with great capacity for improvement over the next two years, but they need to learn to play for 60 minutes. They tend to come out strong - forcing both OSU and Iowa to 3 and outs in the start of these past two games, but then they fade. They have the ability to force turnovers - today's fumble recovery was their 17th of the season - but the secondary is weak and our cornerbacks get beat on pass plays far too often.
The special teams is merely okay. Philip Welch had a great middle of the season.. after going only 2/5 in FG attemps in the first two games he had three straight perfect weeks. Then, he missed two last week and one this week. One of the missed ones against OSU was an absurdly long 57 yarder, which is excusable, but the other was a 33 yarder. Today's missed FG was a 38 yarder. Those two misses are not okay. His job as a kicker is to come on and put up points on the board when asked. If the offense is forcing him into extremely long situations, then it's understandable that he would miss a few, but he can't be missing chip shot or routine field goals. Our kick returns today were not nearly as bad as last week, but they still weren't good. David Gilreath really doesn't look comfortable out there. I'm not sure if the special teams mediocrity is because of the players or because of Brett Bielema. Maybe after this season he should hire a full time ST coach.
Our offensive playcalling was fine for the first half... Clay was performing well and Tolzien threw the ball when he needed to. The second half? Not so much. Time after time, Iowa stacked eight players and shut down the Wisconsin run game. Time after time, we continued to run on first down. The one time that we threw on first down in the fourth quarter we threw to the running back! I'm not sure why the versatility in the Badgers' offense disappeared, but the coaches need to remember that interceptions and receiver drops aside, Tolzien is a good QB - if you give him plays to throw on.
I'm reluctant to blame the performance of the defense on the coaching. Our blitzes were getting picked up too easily in the late game, but a lot of the other defensive issues can be blamed on missed tackles, idiotic penalties, and a secondary that just gets beat. I feel like if the coaching were to blame, the defense wouldn't be good at all, not good for a half and then non-existent for the second half.
So... After the bye, Wisconsin next gets Purdue at home. Purdue is not a good team. Yes, they did just beat Ohio State, but I think we can all agree that was completely unexpected. Wisconsin needs to take a hard look at the film from the last two weeks and figure out where things have gone so wrong. The season and a good bowl bid can still be saved. Let's start now.
On to game 8, On to getting back on track, and ON WISCONSIN!!!