On the Field
Last year tight ends coach and special teams coach Joe Rudolph spent the games (except the second half of the Purdue game) upstairs with Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst. This year, Rudolph has been on the sidelines for both games. His changed game day responsibilities have yet to be reported. Possibly it is related to coordinating coverage units. This will be worth watching as Rudolph has a very interesting career ahead of him.
Depth of Field
With starters Kevin Claxton, Travis Frederick and Devin Smith missing all or part of the Oregon State game with injuries, the depth of talent on this Badger team was on full display. Ethan Armstrong filled in for Claxton and didn't miss a beat. Armstrong was solid on containment and broke up a few plays and made tackles. Armstrong looks a little lighter this year; another success story for Ben Herbert and possibly spurred by Armstrong's move from second string middle linebacker to second string outside linebacker.
Ryan Groy filled in at left guard and generally gave Russell Wilson plenty of protection to throw the ball, though Wilson's first sack came against Josh Oglesby from over the right side. Second-string offensive linemen Groy, Havenstein and Dehn would start for other Big Ten teams and promise, in time, to further the Badger tradition as O-Line U.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the reserves was the need to fill in for Devin Smith following his in-game injury. Marcus Cromartie got good reviews all summer and pushed Smith for the starting position and he lived up to those reports Saturday. In addition to replacing a starter following a serious injury, the move also forced a change in the nickel rotation. Starting safety Shelton Johnson moved to the slot when five D-backs were needed and Dez Southward took over at safety. All of these changes on defense didn't stop the Badgers from shutting down a PAC12 team.
This Badger Nation reporter has been watching Wisconsin football for 30 years and this is clearly the most talented team put on the field. It remains to be seen if all of that talent matches the high points of success produced by previous teams, but a lack of success won't be because of second-string talent.
Butts in the Seats
UW did a good job selling the tickets returned by a poor-traveling Oregon State fan base. Though it was reported that over 1,000 tickets remained unsold a week before the game, there weren't many pockets of empty seats to be seen. Even the students seem to be filling the place earlier than in previous years.
UW honored past football letter winners before the game. There was a sizable turnout of around 300 from teams all the way back to the late ‘30s. After the brief ceremony most of the returnees seemed to get a kick out of watching the video that introduces the team. Matt Schabert recorded the video of Matt Schabert tossing the game winning bomb to Lee Evans on his iPhone.
-Head Coach Bret Bielema, completely attached to his jacket, looked a bit warm leaving the field. The raccoon pattern of sunburn added to the overall impression.
- The blitzing, more aggressive style of defense promised by the practice of Defensive Coordinator Chris Ash's squad has yet to show up. But perhaps it hasn't been necessary.
-The rotation at wide receiver still seems a bit limited. Jeff Duckworth and Kenzel Doe have each caught one pass. The strength at tight end and Wilson's effortless ability to throw to tailbacks limits the looks for wideouts. Still it would be encouraging for Badgers fans to see some other alternatives come forward.
-During fall camp, Bielema mentioned several times that Jacob Pedersen had a chance to develop into one of the best tight ends UW as produced. That sets the bar very high. Yet watching Pedersen block downfield, catch three touchdown passes and block on the end, one can see what Bielema was getting at. During an on-field interview after the game, Wilson praised Pedersen's speed, which says a lot.
-Tight end Jake Byrne caught five passes in 2010. His first catch of 2011 went for a career long of 14 yards. Oregon State's best hope might have been trying to shut down the run, but if other teams use the same strategy they'll be equally disappointed.
-Oregon State's head coach Mike Riley met the traveling media close up after the game. Instead of sitting behind a table to field questions, Riley faced the questioners up close and gave forthright answers to tough questions. It was refreshing to see from a football coach, some of whom live up to the stereotype. It did seem that Riley was searching for answers on his sideline and not liking what he found. The body language told the story after a particularly poor offensive series in the second half. Riley kicked at the ground a bit and drifted off by himself for a second. He has obviously achieved big things in a difficult location. It'll be interesting to follow his team this year and see if he can pull together a coherent team.
That's it for this week.