Take a Breath: Badger fans should be happy about the development of young linebackers. Talented linebackers can be very fun to watch, but I would advise against great expectations in the early games. By my count, there were five instances of blown pass coverage by the young linebackers in the game against Northern Illinois. I imagine the TV broadcast did a good job of showing Michael Taylor getting lost on the wheel route that resulted in a big gain for NIU's fullback. Taylor also was caught in space a bit on a screen pass on the east sidelines. Had he not been flat-footed I believe the play could have been held to about half the yardage.
On a coverage assignment, Blake Sorensen seemed to be in the same area as another linebacker. I also made note of two plays where the LBs were lost in the scrum at the line and their man was free, but the play did not develop in that direction. Fresno State's Ryan Colburn will be making his second career start at QB so this might not be a huge worry against the Bulldogs (though FSU's Ryan Matthews is no stranger to catching passes out of the backfield) and Wofford is Wofford. But if I saw it I bet the coaching staff at Michigan State saw it too.
My point isn't to reject the enthusiasm shown for the young linebackers, but perhaps to temper it a bit. Smart enough to read the play, fast enough to get there and big enough to make the tackle; Badger fans have glimpsed the promised land of good linebacker play the last few years, but, like Moses, haven't been allowed to enter. It is time to stop wandering that desert.
Tolzien's First INT: I have read several accounts exculpating (to some degree or other) Scott Tolzien from accountability on his first interception in the NIU game. My view is a little different. NIU's #33 came from Oglesby's side (no TE help), John Clay ran a delayed route up the middle and #33 got to Tolzien, forcing the poor throw and the pick. I have no idea who had responsibility for #33. Perhaps a WR should have chucked him, Clay should have stayed in and blocked, Oglesby should have slid over and left his man – however none of these are very good in design. The best result would have been for Scott to note the position of the NIU cornerback on the weak side in a pre-snap read, pick up the delayed blitz (from his "clean side") and make the necessary adjustment. The intent in mentioning this isn't to demand perfect play from the QB, just noting that of the several breakdowns that allowed for the INT the most important lie with the QB.
Lining Up: Many have noted the expanded rotation on the defensive line. I don't have much to add except that Dan Cascone took four or five snaps in the middle of the field. I am very happy for the fifth-year senior, but Dan's strengths lie in short yardage near the goal lines. When the field is stretched vertically and horizontally from midfield, Cascone isn't used to his best advantage.
To be plain about Josh Oglesby; the O-Line needs more energy from him. I will stop short of saying more effort is needed, but having watched him in drills with the sleds and dummies over the last few years, it is clear to me that Oglesby could get more out of his game.
A Little Bit Country: There are valuable distinctions to be made between NIU's Coach Jerry Kill, his predecessor in that position, Joe Novak, and the man who will follow him on the visitors' sideline at Camp Randall, Pat Hill. Jerry Kill might seem a bit unsophisticated at first but if you listen to him speak for a while, a different impression is formed. No bluster, no coach's bravado, no dissembling. It was a pleasure to hear his thoughts about NIU's effort in his press conference after the game. It was a very small sample, but NIU seems to have hired the right man. His team was definitely prepared for the game.
Hidden Yardage: Prepare for the four-year debate on Special Teams to continue. A few facts: the last UW punt return for a TD: Brandon Williams vs Indiana in 2005. The last time a punt was returned for a TD against the Badgers was Tredale Tolver for Cal Poly in 2008. The last time a Badger returned a kickoff for a TD was Lee Evans against Indiana in 2000. Against the Badgers: Michael Waddell for North Carolina in 2003.
William Hartmann was named as outstanding Special Teams player of the week by Badgers Coach Brett Bielema. And it was well earned. Hartmann was in on multiple tackles in both kick and punt coverage. His success underscores the nature of solid Special Teams play: it is about repetition and fundamentals. Or put another way, coaching has more to do with this unit than other units. The fire drills that preceded the NIU on-side kick and possible on-side kick indicate more coaching is needed.
Pick a Lane: A UW player was given a brisk talking to on the sidelines after briefly participating in the Jump Around tradition that takes place between the third and fourth quarters of games at Camp Randall. This seems to be a different policy than in past years and probably has something to do with the NCAA's new emphasis on sportsmanship.
That's all for this week.You can contact the blog at: firstname.lastname@example.org