Blog: Sideline Whispers

Wisconsin moves forward from its 38-30 victory over Michigan State to move to 4-0 on the 2009 season. Now, UW heads on its first road trip of the season to face an angry Minnesota team that UW has dominated in recent memory. Badger Nation takes you down to the field for whispers from Saturday's UW victory.

MADISON - At the end of last week's blog post I hoped for a happy result from this game. The Badgers delivered, to me, the most surprising victory since … the bowl victory over Auburn. On we go with our notes From the Field.

Lining Up!: Last week's prediction about a line of Carimi/Moffitt/Konz/Nagy/Oglesby almost came true. Kevin Zeitler worked in ahead of a still-injured Bill Nagy. The line had its best all-around effort to date. Good pass protection and decent run blocking. Technique was sound except for Carimi's unnecessary hold and Moffitt shaking off the rust. It is also necessary to point out Josh Oglesby's strong game. I had written that the Badger's could use some more energy from Josh, and I think they got it against MSU.

It looks to me as if Oglesby has adjusted his stance, getting lower to the ground pre-snap. It helped with his leverage and is something to watch for the rest of the season.

Rotations: This is a frequent topic for this blog. Last season the D-Line was all too frequently running on empty as the fourth quarter approached. This year couldn't be more different. Who played on the D-Line? Who didn't! Even linebacker Chris Borland lined up on the edge for passing downs. Instead of hearing about Louis Nzegwu's potential we caught a glimpse of it. Instead of hoping for a big stick from Patrick Butrym, we saw it.

If I were given the chance to explore one thing about the 2009 Badger team it wouldn't be Scott Tolzien's play, as good as he has been. I am much more curious about development – and confidence in – the depth at each position on the defensive side of the ball. Which coach (or coaches) designed the specialized schemes to match the personnel rotations? Is this mostly a function of going to the 3-3-5? At no point in 2008 did the Badger brain trust feel confident in reaching down the depth chart to find a Kevin Claxton or a Jordan Hein. The combination of a pass rush and sure hands of the back 7 (or 8) kept MSU down for most of the game as the 4 picks negated MSU's advantage in passing yards, 396 to 243. Thank the rotation.

A note about stats: J.J. Watt was not credited with a single QB hurry and O'Brien Schofield was not credited with a single tackle. But their play in disrupting the MSU QB's rhythm and passing space was telling. When Chris Maragos intercepted MSU's Nichol it was because Watt's rush had pushed him up in the pocket as Hein collapsed it. J.J.'s effort wasn't recorded on the stat sheet but it will show up on the game film every time. Plus, MSU's Mark Dantonio singled out the UW D-Line in his post game press conference.

#1?: There certainly was a lot of chatter about John Clay and the tailback position after the Wofford game. There should be more chatter about tailbacks after the MSU game – but will it be as critical of Zach Brown as it had been of Clay? Brown's production has actually been declining as the season has progressed and his drop of the toss was disconcerting. By contrast Clay was using the two-handed approach to ball security when running inside, even when running over MSU's Trenton Robinson.

A further thought on the running game: Some fans on the Internet were critiquing the play calls including the toss on running plays. In the very next sentence they would salute the play-action passes. The simple truth is that you can't have a good play-action passing attack without establishing the run out of multiple sets. No, you most likely won't fake a toss and then throw it. But watch the defenders jump out of their shoes trying to get a better line on tackling the 255-pound Clay. Look where the defensive end sets up on the play that immediately follows a toss. For years, many Badger fans hoped we might learn to run the ball from something other than the zone block/belly play. It's here, enjoy it.

Brush it Off: I am not sure if the television broadcast showed the play, but the illegal block in the back called against Isaac Anderson was a poor call. The players are taught that a block on the shoulder is clean, and that is where Anderson caught his man.

Dead Green Walking: The MSU bench was surprisingly quiet for most of the game. An example: most benches will erupt with call of "TIP!" when a ball is tipped at the line, hoping to let the 11 on the field know they have a chance for a clean shot at the ball or a heavy smack against a (usually protected) QB or WR. But one tipped UW pass was met with silence from Sparta.

If any of you Sam Spades have figured out the roller coaster that is MSU football I have your next assignment: deciphering UW QB depth chart of the last two years.

In and Out: Last week, I had intended to mention Tony Megna's appearance on the field but forgot. He wasn't dressed for the MSU game. It's been a tough go for Tony of late, hope to see him back soon.

Noise Matters: For those wondering how an empty student section affects recruits, I can say unequivocally that it does have an effect. How much might be open for debate, but the atmosphere was appreciated by the nationally-ranked recruits that I spoke to before the NIU game. The empty student section before the MSU game; not so much.

Huddle Up: If you can, make a point to watch a UW huddle led by Tolzien. It isn't unusual for football players to fiddle with their pads, check out the scoreboard or look to the sidelines as the QB signals the play. Against MSU the 10 were remarkably focused on Scott.

Not So New: For those expecting Minnesota to be geeked for their first game at the Check Cashing Carousel, I have a question: Just how many "first games" before the hype wears off? I don't believe the novelty of a new stadium stays with a team for four weeks, yet we are asked to believe it might make a difference on Saturday.

That's all for this week. I expect a convincing victory over Minnesota, with John Clay running strong. Something tells me that Paul Chryst will have a new look to unveil in the second quarter. Having a heavy running back, an all-conference tight end and genuine play makers at wide out opens up big stretches of the field. It will be fun to see how the Badger OC intends to attack the spaces.


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