Getting the Word Out
The national spotlight is aimed directly at the Badgers, not just for this most recent Thursday night game, but also throughout the months leading up to it. The media practically swarmed head coach Bret Bielema during the Big Ten kickoff meetings in Chicago. Russell Wilson articles have appeared in national papers, including most recently the New York Times. ESPN has a production crew trailing Bielema's every move as they prepare a "behind the scenes look" at Badger football. For the Thursday night game ESPN had a large production staff on the field, with no fewer than 4 sideline camera carts. One is usual.
UW itself keeps looking for ways to further its football brand. Last year the athletic department added a huge "Wisconsin FOOTBALL" banner at field level in front of the Field House; this year it was a new "WISCONSIN FOOTBALL" banner in front of the student section. These show up well on television and reflect the UW Sports Information Department's increased emphasis on audio and visual media appeal; from "Varsity" magazine to player videos on the Camp Randall scoreboard to the new fanzone, "BadgerVille".
This expanded coverage can only be good for the fans, provided it doesn't lead to access be controlled by a few sources. Happily that concentration of media is a long way off.
Sweating It Out
On a brutally hot night on the field the Badgers seem to have demonstrated peak conditioning. Not many instances of obvious muscle cramping were noticed on the sidelines.
Sitting It Out
Greg Russo, the army veteran who attempted to walk on with the team during Spring Practice, is not listed on the 105-man roster, but was still on the sidelines for the UNLV game. Give him credit for perseverance, as he'll now be pulling tough duty with the practice squad on the 120-man roster.
Others not dressed included A.J. Fenton. His absence seems to have changed some of the kick coverage squads for the opener. Fenton was a regular contributor on these squads last year. Konrad Zagzebski also wasn't dressed for the game. His playing time has been very limited but had some strides during camp.
Left guard Travis Frederick was on the trainer's table having his left foot examined from the knee down. This was in the second half. Frederick had an ice pack on the knee and it was reported to be a ‘minor' knee injury. Super-sub Ryan Groy filled in and will do so again this upcoming week.
Bielema's substitution pattern began earlier than was the case in comparable games in 2010. Whether this was a reaction to accusations of ‘running up the score,' a concern for players' physical condition on a hot night or a reflection of the need for work, the change was noticeable. Second string QB Joe Brennan was warming up at the end of the second quarter as UW was scoring at will against UNLV.
Rob Havenstein, the Maryland Mauler, got extensive work, though Josh Oglesby started the game. This development is tinged with a bit of sadness for Badgers fans. Josh really wants to contribute, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that multiple knee surgeries have greatly limited his ability to do so.
Checking It Out
Scouts were on the sidelines from at least three NFL teams – Browns, Seahawks, Saints. I have never noticed NFL scouts in attendance this early in the season.
Handing Them Off
When watching the Badger offensive line, some of the more easily spotted signs of success include frequent pancake blocks and mobile players like Peter Konz and Ricky Wagner making downfield blocks. One more thing to watch: the ability to ‘hand off' a block to a teammate and shift focus to another player. At least three times in the first half, Frederick was able to get a quick punch block on a defensive tackle, quickly pivot to his right and double a UNLV player. O-Line coach Bob Bostad must be one of the more proficient teachers of technique in all of college football. Watch the unit's first step on a rare counter play, or low leverage while setting a pocket.
One more example? If you have a chance to watch the 2010 Purdue game, look for Montee Ball's touchdown run to the south endzone. It results from a massive zone block left with Bill Nagy in at TE cleaning up the back end. Each player on the O-Line gets a quick jump with the snap and a strong first step makes for a beautiful zone block which moves the Purdue line right out of the way. Nagy follows Wagner (the right tackle in 2010), Montee scoots right around the Badger right side, the middle of the Purdue defense having been physically relocated.
You still frequently hear the criticism that the Badgers run a boring running game. This is obviously false on the merits of Scott Tolzien's passing numbers alone, but it also represents an ignorance of just how far the technique of the Badger O-Line has developed from the back-to-back Rose Bowl teams.
Those teams did rely on the ‘belly' or inside zone block. This current unit is light years beyond that. Paul Chryst's multiple looks would not be possible without the fluid, athletic and technically proficient line. So next time you can, watch Frederick redirect one defender, turn on another and in doing so allow Konz or Wagner to head for the second level. It's the thing long runs are made of.
That's it for this week.
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