Centering the Ball with Derek Engler

There are times when you have to be tough on a team as a journalist. But, as Derek Engler says in 'Centering the Ball', you have to win the close games to be a great team.

1) You have to win the close ones to be a great team. Did you expect this on Saturday?

Joe Thomas, John Stocco, Joe Stellmacher, Mark Zalewski and Joe Monty. These 5 individuals are the reason the Badgers overcame adversity as a team on Saturday and came out with a victory. You need Senior leadership like these five players if you are going to have success and rally from deficits in a game. It was no easy task coming from 18 points down in the second quarter and 14 at the half. What these five leaders did is take their respective units aside and let them know that the outcome of the game has not changed and they were going to win that ball game. Then they go out on the field and let their actions speak louder then their words. Mark Zalewski picks off a Juice Williams pass at the start of the 3rd quarter. Matt Shaughnessy and Johnathan Casillas both pointed out how significant that play was in post game interviews saying that single play got the momentum back in their favor. Joe Stellmacher and Joe Monty constantly were in the right position in the second half.

Monty had 4 total tackles which was second to Shaughnessy's 8 in the defensive line. He nearly had a safety putting constant pressure on Williams in the second half. Joe Thomas completely cleared out guys in the Illini defensive front. There was one play that stood out in my mind in particular and that was an outside run where Joe pulled out and punched one defender in the chest which lifted him out of his cleats and as he stayed on his feet running like a freight train downhill he caught a second Illini defender under the chin and punched him in the mouth, picked him up and pancaked him with all 320 pounds coming down with a violent force on top of the crushed linebacker. That one play was a clinic for all offensive lineman in the country. It was speed, athletic, violent and merciless. I hope the the rest of our offensive line is taking notes from their leader because they all need to have that nasty mean streak in them where they finish every block until they hear an echo of a whistle.

John Stocco continues to be the ultimate game manager and does not give opposing defenses any freebies. He comes up with the clutch completions in critical situations such as 4th and 2 to Travis Beckum for a 17 yd gain and 4th and 8 to Luke Swan for a 16 yard gain. He is proving to be unflappable week in and week out. He is silencing the critics that say that he at best is a game manager at the QB position. What is that anyway?? To me it says "winner". He is second all time at the quarterback position at UW for total victories and has a chance at eclipsing Brooks Bollinger who won 30 games from '99-2002. Tom Brady was called nothing more than a game manager at one point in his career.

2) The offensive line seemed to play a very below average game. What was Illinois doing to disrupt the blocking schemes?

I talked about the Fighting Illini defense on my radio show on Fox Sports Radio 100.5 FM with my co-host, Tarek Saleh. We both knew that this was a much improved defense from a year ago and could give the Badgers offense some problems. They are giving up less than half of the total yards they gave up a year ago and they are particularly strong against the run. They proved that against the top rushing attack in the Big Ten on Saturday, holding them under 100 yards. J. Leman was all over the field along with Kevin Mitchell recording 13 and 10 total tackles respectively. If anybody was unsure that the Illini defense came ready to hit on Saturday they made it apparent early on in the game. Anthony Pilcher first laid out P.J. Hill and then hard hitting strong safety, Justin Harrison, hit P.J. with a shoulder harder than anybody I have seen this year. P.J. may have had his legs tied up but you know when a player gets his bell rung by the way his neck snapped back at the point of impact. If anybody was mistaken about that defense coming ready to play on Saturday, just ask P.J. how he felt on Sunday. Keep in mind P.J. is not a little back and the wood was coming all day long to #39. Welcome to an average day and life in the Big 10 rook.

Leman and Brit Miller were very active in the second level for the Illini screaming downhill all day making it very difficult for the Badger offensive line to get off double teams and scrape up on the backers. They did a lot of stunts and slants to tie up the offensive line and enable the linebackers to hit their respective holes fast and hard. The Badger offensive line, like after the Michigan game, will regroup this week and have a little piss and vinegar running through their veins in practice and prepare hard for the Nittany Lions whose defense embarrassed the Badger O last year in Happy Valley.

3) Juice Williams - is he better than what the Badgers expected (in the first half)?

I think that Juice Williams was exactly who the Badgers defense thought he was and that was a good, inexperienced, young, mobile quarterback. He can make things happen with his legs and he did that in the first half against the Badgers. He is a great athlete and at times made Badger defenders look silly trying to tackle him in the first half. They also knew he was young and would make mistakes which ultimately cost the Illini the game. Mark Zalewski whiffed on Williams 20 yd scamper late in the 2nd qtr and was still pissed off about it so he promptly returned the favor and intercepted an errant Williams pass early in the 3rd qtr. That was a huge play and as I mentioned, a turning point in the game for the Badgers.

Zalewski's leadership on the field took over and swung the pendulum back in the Badger favor right off the bat coming out for the 2nd half. The second key play was a flat out bad pass to a wide open E.B. Halsey who would have scored and made it a 30-14 ball game. He made a great play fake that sucked up the Badger defense but just did not execute a simple throw. That is where his inexperience and youth played to the Badgers favor. The Juice was no longer loose in the second half with our defensive ends staying home and not giving up contain. Both Monty and Shaugnessy remained well disciplined and did not lose contain in the second half. Shaugnessy in particular had his best game of the season recording 8 tackles, two sacks and a TFL. One play in particular that stood out in my mind when Shaugnessy did not get fooled on a reverse and stayed home to make the play in the backfield. He in my opinion will be one of the best to ever play the position when he leaves the U. of Wisconsin and that is saying quite a bit considering some of the former players that lined up at defensive end.

4) With eight wins, you have to feel Wisconsin is all but guaranteed a trip to a Florida bowl again.

I still will take a coaches and players perspective on this question. I really do not think that anybody benefits from this type of speculation accept the media. If coaches, players and fans alike fall into the trap of speculating on games down the road I truly believe you can set yourself up for false expectations. The media are the only people that have anything to gain on speculating about future records, games and bowl trips. If the Badgers did not take Coach Bielema's "1-0" philosophy to heart there is no telling what their current record may be at this point. For the fans it is fun to think what the end result could be but I think that Badger fans are very intelligent and they also know that is more important to focus on the task at hand and that is defeating the Nittany Lions on Saturday. That being said, I did predict that the Badgers would win out after the loss to the Wolverines. . .I guess the force of the "dark side" of the media has sucked me in and I cannot escape it.

5) What can the average fan expect from a JoePa coached football team?

Since Badger fans are not the average fan like the typical unevolved Hawkeye fan, they know exactly what to expect from a typical JoePa team. They already know that they will see a high effort, hard hitting, disciplined, well coached Penn State football team. The Badger defense needs to stop Tony hunt in his tracks and Anthony Morelli is 4th in the Big 10 in passing yards behind Painter, Smith and Stocco. He has not connected for many touchdowns but he has a receiving core that will once again test our good young corners. Defensively their leader is Paul Posluszny and our offensive line will need to play much better against "Linebacker U" than they did against the Fighting Illini line backing unit. Stocco will need to do what he has been doing all year and that is to secure the football first and do give the defense anything. He will need to continue to come up with big plays during critical moments that keep the chains moving and our defense on the sidelines. That is when a defense is at their best.

Former Badger offensive lineman/center Derek Engler joins us each week for "Centering the Ball" . He will give us a look at the previous week's game from the field. Currently, Engler works for Morgan Stanley as a financial advisor. If you have any questions regarding investments, reach him by email . Or reach him by phone (800) 776-7797.

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