Making the Grade: UW vs. WIU

BN publisher Jason Miller puts his teacher hat on again this week in "Making the Grade". Read on to find out what the professor sees as an acceptable grade for the Badger defensive and special teams performance during Saturday's victory against Western Illinois.

Before the season began the consensus opinion of the BadgerNation was that the defense would be one of the best in the Big Ten. If Saturday's performance was any indication of how Wisconsin will do all season, things are on the up and up.

D-LINE

The only glaring thing I see wrong with the defensive line was the fact that they did not sack Leatherneck signal caller Steve Lafalce one time. Arguably, the home team has more talent and size on the front four than the Division 1-AA Western Illinois club has on the offensive line. However, the undersized WIU 'hogs' held the pass rush at bay - only allowing four quarterback hurries and three hits after LaFalce released the ball. They did force him out of the pocket on nine of his 41 pass attempts. Western ran the ball 22 times for 81 net yards or 3.7 yards per carry. In contrast, the Badgers only averaged 3.4 yards per carry when they were on offense. Basically, things need to improve a little more this week. GRADE - C+ (78)

LINEBACKER

When you hold a team to just 3.7 yards per carry, the linebackers are doing a pretty descent job at filling the gaps and getting to the edges on slant, sweep, and zone runs. Mark Zalewski was all over the field on Saturday. He may have collected only three tackles, but his positioning in zone coverage was outstanding. Zew only allowed one completion in four chances when he was in man coverage on a RB or TE. Jonathon Casillas made a tremendous play on a screen pass. He was the last line of Badger defense but blew up two blockers to stop WIU running back Herb Donaldson behind the line of scrimmage. Had he missed Donaldson may still be running. Elijah Hodge came in later in the game, but still made his presence felt. The way he rolls to the ball reminds a lot of his older brother (Abdul, now with the Packers formerly an All-Big 10'er at Iowa) and that is a great thing. GRADE - B+ (88)

D-BACKS

Joe Stellmacher had an interception in the red zone to stop a drive that could have brought the Leathernecks within a touchdown. Roderick Rogers showed his speed of the edge when given the chance to blitz the QB. He forced two hurries by LaFalce and broke up a pass on a third down in the second quarter which would have given WIU first and ten on the Badger 20 and a chance to tie the game. A name to remember: Jay Valai. His ability to close on the ball and long reach are going to something that Badger fans become very happy with in the near future. The freshman was only in the game towards the end, but he, along with Hodge, are going to be full-timers very soon...and for a number of seasons. There was one glaring problem: third down coverage. The Leathernecks converted seven of 12 third down pass attempts for the game. That is bad news..bad bad news. Needs to improve. GRADE - B (85)

SPECIAL TEAMS

Coach Bielema praised the special teams in his post game press-conference. Specifically, he talked about how proud and confident he is in kicker Taylor Mehlhaff. After not having any field goal attempts in week one, TM went 2-for-2 on Saturday. His 46-yard FG to end the first half had another 10+ yards of distance on it. He also had at least four touchbacks on my count. THAT is good news. Punter Ken DeBauche averaged just over 42 yards on four punts. He had one punt plus 50 yards, which came after a phantom whistle cost the Badgers possession of the ball on a botched punt return by WIU. Unfortunately, the Leathernecks averaged 11 yards on two returns. You might think that has nothing to do with a punter, but it does. If you are allowing that much on punt returns it means you are punting a ball that is return-able rather than angling it for the coverage team. However, I give KB a freebie this week. GRADE - A-(92)

TOTAL

The team only allowed 247 total yards. They forced Western into long yardage situations many times. But, they Leathernecks converted on eight of 16 third down chances - and had an average play of 12.3 yards on those eight conversions. Western Illinois was held on fourth down in both of its attempts. The longest play from scrimmage, that I can remember, was a 22 yard pass play. Honestly, that is a pretty good day. If the Badgers can shore up their 3rd down coverage and get more pressure from interior linemen this week against San Diego State - I think an A- might be in the making. OVERALL GRADE - 85.75...rounded up to 86 (B)


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