Blog: Sideline Whispers

Wisconsin moves forward from its 34-31 double overtime victory over Fresno State to prepare for a dangerous running team in Wofford. Badger Nation takes you down to the field for whispers from Saturday's UW victory.

One Flu East, One Flu West: Phil Welch's last kick flew true and Pat Hill's Bulldogs flew home. But not before lots of strange and exciting football unfolded at Camp Randall last Saturday.

This blog intends to be a little different by taking the view from the sidelines, not the press box, the stands or the TV. Yet to start this week we have to preface things by mentioning one of the more discussed aspects of the game, the flu bug that swept the Badger team.

My guess: it was worse than was let on. Many players seemed to be experiencing flu symptoms all through the game. O'Brien Schofield is a prime example. On more than one occasion the training staff could be seen getting lots of fluids to him and checking his vitals. And I don't just mean the usual cup of Gatorade. This is offered as context if some of the following points come across as too harsh a judgment for a team that won.

On we go.

I, Barry: It's quite fun watching UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez work the sideline before the game. He plays five or six roles and manages them all well. As the 'Face of the Program (emeritus)' he can be seen glad-handing recruits (this week Jameson Wright and Manessah Garner), as AD he poses for the video board, as fundraiser he keeps the Big Donors happy. One of a very small number of long-serving, big-time football coaches that wasn't taken out feet first, Alvarez appears to enjoy receiving the well wishes of Big Ten officials, Bowl reps (already on the sideline for Week 2) and poobahs from the visiting team.

Every once in a while, the old football coach comes out. Alvarez could be seen intently staring at the FSU players as they went through their pre-game drills. It wasn't the kind of far off stare that suggests nothing more than deciding on steak or lobster for the post-game meal. More like a lion ranking the slowest gazelles.

Confusion at 2:20: There has been some understandable grumbling about UW incurring dead-ball penalties coming out of media timeouts or called timeouts. We have to add to this the general confusion which reigned over one of the most important plays of the game. The Badgers had taken the lead and got the ball back late in the fourth quarter. On the first snap of the series, a Fresno player was injured and there was 30 second media timeout. Then came an FSU timeout. During this substantial break in play the Badger players and coaches huddled on the sideline, then huddled again. It was clear to me that not everybody was on the same page. Scott Tolzien took the snap and ran a bootleg. It was instantly clear from the blocking patterns that he turned the wrong way on the play. Scott took the blame for it after the game. All the same, this should be a lesson for the coaching staff as well. Make the plan clear to the players; the sideline huddles at the 2:20 mark were not models of clarity.

Inside Out: The poor tackling by the UW defense in the open field was there for all to see. But just as alarming was the poor tackling on the interior. Not a single defensive player escaped the plague.

Outside In: Garrett Graham is getting well-deserved praise for the double pancake that sprung David Gilreath for a TD in the south endzone. Just as impressive are Graham's sealing blocks, something he does just about as well as any UW TE this decade.

Looking for Some Energy: Three times during the FSU game, Badger receivers (Graham, Toon, Gilreath) made spectacular catches on big downs. I looked into the Badger backfield expecting a few high fives or chest bumps, but there weren't any. By contrast the defense gets fired up after a big stop. Rank "emotion" where you will, it is still a part of a football team's on-field chemistry. Right now the juice of the O is walking the sidelines carrying a legal pad for Coach Bostad. The juice of the D seemed to take note: on Saturday O'Brien Schofield had the names "Moffitt/ Nagy" written on his eye black.

Cosgrove in the House!: I have noticed some fans bemoaning the soft coverage by the corners. Just to relate, both FSU Coach Pat Hill and QB Ryan Colburn said that is the way they would have defended the FSU attack. I'll take the point a step further: there are going to be big plays against this Badger D; there is a true sophomore learning the ropes at one position; UW's linebackers are faster than in years past. Put this all together and it makes sense to keep the ball in front of you. I don't believe it will make as much sense against Wofford.

Kicking True: Since this blog's purpose is to relate a few unseen aspects of the game I won't bother with yet another recap of the Special Teams. Philip Welch isn't fazed by missing a field goal or even two. That's good news.

If you want to try and decipher some classic coach-speak, get a transcript of Pat Hill's post-game press conference wherein he takes some blame for allowing Welch the chance to nail the crucial 57 yarder at the end of the first half. Something about it being second down, the clock and his mustache. Hill was a little more gracious than reports of last year's FSU/UW game would suggest, though he did object to what he perceived to be some favorable clock runs for the Badgers.

The Home Team: I don't know what to attribute it to, but the Badger crowds at the first two games have been about as good as it gets. More so considering these games are non-conference tilts. The noise level has been solid, the applause for Schofield after a minor injury was sustained and appreciative, the applause for an injured FSU player louder than normal, and hundreds of Badger fans gathered at the south tunnel after the game and congratulated FSU and Coach Hill. Even the students showed up a little earlier. But a note to Mike Leckrone; the tempo chosen for Living on a Prayer leaves the students in the dust.

Extra Points: Remember the excitement after beating a ranked FSU team in 2008? Fresno State wound up 7-6 and 83rd or so in some computer rankings ... Tolzien wasn't beaten out by Dustin Sherer in 2008, he was beaten out by Allan Evridge ... If you come across someone who can relate the QB history of the Badgers from April 2008 to August 2009 it would be worth a listen ... If I were to guess which coach on the current Badger staff had the best chance to become a head coach it would be Joe Rudolph. There is no doubting his strength as a recruiter ... Watch him in pre-game drills if you get the chance.

That's all for now.


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