This is the second entry in the ten part series "Nine Plus One Thoughts on the 2009 Badgers" which takes a look back at the 2009 squad and then a look at what's in store for Bucky in 2010.
The Wisconsin Badgers 2009 season was, like almost every other college football season filled with both heart pounding celebrations and gut wrenching disappointments. Some games we cheered until our lungs burned and in others we screamed in frustration until... well... our lungs burned.
Today I'm taking a look back at some of the more memorable times form the season that was, both the great and the terrible.
Check out the list after the jump...
Graham discusses the MSU defense in the Alamo Bowl...
Law Buck takes a look at what's in store for the off-season...
9. The Baddest TEs in the whole damn town
(AP Photo / Andy Manis)
Perhaps before heading into the Champs Sports Bowl, Miami should have watched tape from the Wisconsin shutout victory over Purdue. Just about the worst kept secret in the Big 10 was that Wisconsin's passing game was back this season and a big part of that was due to the strong tight end core.
Of course, most of the focus in this core was on senior tight end Garret Graham. Graham had a great season, but if the Miami coaches had watched the Purdue game, they would have seen that Graham was not the only tight end who made an offensive impact for Bucky this season.
I'm referring to junior tight end Lance Kendricks. Kendricks had a huge day during the Champs Sports Bowl, with 7 receptions for 128 yards. He played most of the season in the reception shadow of Graham, but in the game against Purdue he showed why he was also a serious offensive threat, even when used in atypical ways. Kendrick's stats for the Purdue game? Two receptions for 28 yards, and four rushing attempts for 91 yards.
Yes, that's right, the vast majority of Kendricks' yards in this game came on the ground. From his 21 yard run that opened up Bucky's first offensive series to his 58 yard rip in the 3rd quarter that set up Wisconsin's fourth TD of the game, the Purdue D seemed utterly flabbergasted at the idea that Wisconsin not only had two great TEs but one who could run as well as catch passes.
8. After you, No, after you
(AP Photo / Tom Strattman)
Everyone knows about the phenom that is John Clay - Big 10 offensive player of the year and Champs Sports Bowl sensation. But few know about Montee Ball, the freshman RB waiting in the wings.
The Badgers opened the 2009 season with a running back by committee which saw carries split between John Clay and Zach Brown. Montee Ball was nowhere near the ball for the first four games of the season - indeed after his 5 yards on 4 attempts during the Minnesota game I even referred to him as a non-entity.
Boy did he show me. Ball filled in admirably after Clay was injured during the Iowa game, but the game against Indiana was really where he shined this season. Clay rushed for 134 yards and one TD, but Ball followed right behind with two TDs and 115 yards of his own as the Badgers held on to top Indiana 31-28.
Wisconsin's ground game is going to be dangerous enough with Clay in the backfield for the next year or two, but if Ball stays healthy and continues to contribute like he did in the Indiana game, the rest of the conference better watch out.
7. The baddest TEs in the whole damn town (redux)
(AP Photo / Morry Gash)
I swooned over the under appreciated Lance Kendricks above, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention his TE battery mate, Garrett Graham. What, you thought I was only going to talk about one tight end in this list? What kind of a Wisconsin writer would I be if I did that?
Garrett Graham had a solid season, but perhaps no game better exemplifies what a red zone threat he was than the conference opener against Michigan State. The Spartan D must have been so sick of Graham by the end of this game. Graham had only five receptions in the entire game, but three of those were touchdowns. Yep... that's a scoring percentage of about 60%, which is just a smidge absurd.
Graham was Tolzien's man for both the Badger's first and last touchdowns of the game, and one in between. Every quarter that the Badgers scored a touchdown in this shoot-out affair Graham managed to find the end zone. While Lance Kendricks will be back next season, Garrett Graham will be sorely missed, and the game against Sparty shows why.
6. A run first offense? What's that?
(AP Photo / Morry Gash)
If the Big 10 has typically been known as a run-first conference, then Wisconsin has typically been the school that best exemplifies that. Home to greats like Ron Dayne, the thought of a getting bulldozed by a Badger back haunts the dreams of many a defensive lineman.
Except, this season, Wisconsin showed that it was something more than just a run first, second, and third school. This season, Wisconsin showed via Scott Tolzien that the pass was back. Tolzien, known as a career backup, anchored the non-John Clay half of Wisconsin's offense this year. Sure he wasn't always the most dependable, and he didn't possess a rocket arm, but he managed to make the types of laser accurate throws that advanced the chains on many a Badger possession. The Michigan State game was the first game of the season to really show that Brett Bielema had rediscovered the appeal of a balanced offense - it was the first game of the season where the Badgers scored more of their points in the air than they did on the ground.
I think I put it best when I said in my recap of the Spartan affair, "As for Scott Tolzien... well, the more I see this kid play, the more I love him."
Indeed, with Tolzien back at the helm next year I see bright things ahead for the Badger future.
5. The Axe
(AP Photo / Paul Battaglia)
The game between the Gophers and the Badgers is always an intense affair. Oh sure, the Badgers usually keep the axe in its rightful home, but the mere idea of watching golden clad rodents getting their grubby paws on what is undoubtedly the best rivalry trophy in the Big 10 makes my stomach turn.
Fortunately this year, John Clay showed why he would be named the Big 10 offensive player of the year behind his best game yet. Clay had 184 yards and three touchdowns and made the Gopher D look like a bunch of high-schoolers. They just could not contain him. Despite the attempted heroics of Eric Decker and Adam Weber (back when he was actually good) the Badgers outscored the Minnesota threat behind Clay's three trips to the end zone turf, thus making sure that the first Wisconsin trip to the Bank was a memorable one.
4. Badgers claw out a victory against the Bulldogs
(AP Photo / Morry Gash)
By the time the midway point of the second quarter was reached on September 12th, I felt a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Fresno State was back and they were taking revenge in spectacular fashion for the 13-10 loss they suffered a year prior to the Badgers which knocked them out of the top 25.
The Badgers were down 21-7, and Devon Wylie was making me seriously question whether the young Wisconsin D was going to be able to perform this season or whether I was going to have to endure the labor pains that many young teams seem to go through before they get used to playing together.
Then, David Gilreath made it a single possession game with a nifty end-around shortly following his own 62 yard kickoff return. Philip Welch closed out the half with an absurdly long 57 yard field goal straight down the uprights and suddenly Bucky was only down by four. The fourth quarter saw the Badgers complete their comeback with a 72 yard TD run by Mr. Clay which gave Wisconsin their first lead of the game. Chirs Maragos would intercept the Bulldog QB in the end zone during the 2nd OT and Philip Welch would make the easy chip shot to seal the Badger's second 3-pt win over the Bulldogs in as many years.
3. John Clay gets bent in half by an angry Pat Angerer
(AP Photo / Andy Manis)
I said during the intro to this piece that I'd talk about both the awesome and the terrible, and this happening was what I had in mind when I thought about the latter. During the second quarter of the Iowa game at Camp Randall, John Clay suffered an absolutely brutal hit.
On replay it looked as though he was practically bent in half. It was one of those types of hits where, even though you're just watching the game, your body seizes up as though it was you absorbing a blow from the Iowa defense. Clay walked off the field under his own power, and even returned for a short while in the second half. But all was not well.
Prior to the hit, Clay had managed to rack up 70 yards even against the stout Iowa D. After the hit? Seven yards on five carries. Seven. Sure, the O-line at the time played like they had all joined Jenny Craig during the half and shed fifty pounds a man, but... Clay just didn't look quite right.
And that's when I felt my blood turn to ice. If Clay was out for the rest of the season, or even if he played but was ineffective, Wisconsin's prospects for a bowl game did not look good. For all that talk of a balanced offense coming out of Madison this season, I knew it wouldn't be enough without Clay.
Of course, the football injury fates would exact equal punishment on Iowa fans only a short while later as Northwestern's Corey Wootton knocked Ricky Stanzi from the field for the rest of Iowa's regular season...
2. It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Chris Maragos!
(AP Photo / Terry Gilliam)
The scene: October 10th, at the 'Shoe. Wisconsin is down 7-0 after Tolzien threw his first interception-for-a-TD. Wisconsin manages to get inside the Buckeye red zone after a timely interception by Culmer St. Jean. Unfortunately, the OSU defense toughened up and the Badgers found themselves at 4th and 7 on the OSU 9, and the field goal unit came trotting onto the field.
I was watching this game in a sports bar in Milwaukee, killing time before I went to a wedding. The interception had restored some life to the sizable crowd who had been largely deflated after the first Buckeye score. And then getting stopped short of the end zone. Once again, the energy drained. I mean, a field goal wasn't so bad, but... so close... Sigh.
And then... wait... they snapped the ball and... it was a fake! Chris Maragos had it! He was running towards the left side of the end zone with the OSU D in hot pursuit... he took to the air in a leap... stretching for the end zone just as a Buckeye defender made a hit...
The bar had gone quiet.
Maragos' arm stretched out with the ball, hit the pylon as he tumbled out of bounds and... it was in! Touchdown! The complete silence had turned into a deafening cheer. The game was tied!
The play would hold up after a lengthy official review, and though the game itself would not turn out well, that play remains one of the most memorable of any Badger season I can recall.
1. And Wisconsin will take over...
"Harris... and it's in and out of the hands of Collier... he had his man, but he threw it behind him!"
What, you really thought I was going to end this list without a play from the Champs Sports Bowl on here? Ye of little faith. As good as some of the regular season games had been... as burned in to my mind as some of those moments became, nothing will top them like seeing an under pressure Jacory Harris throw away Miami's last chance in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Oh sure, Wisconsin had absolutely dominated this game for 57 minutes. But that domination all seemed to slightly unravel in the closing minutes of the 4th quarter. Five successive throws to the sideline had given Miami a touchdown to pull them within six of the Badgers. They kicked onside, and somehow recovered. Chris Maragos was injured and on the sidelines. It was all set up perfeclty for an epic comeback by the U. But not this time. This time the Badgers would play the full sixty minutes. This time they hung on. A sack and a healthy dose of QB pressure... mixed with just a little bit of Jacory Harris innacuracy. Bucky took over on downs, and that was it.
A great end to the 2009 season, and my most memorable moment.
With that I'll end this list and part 2 of the series. Check back in a few days for part 3, where I take a look at the underacheivers of the Badger season.
Til next time,