Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Taking Stock Of The Big Ten and the Nation

Well, another college football season has come and gone and all we learned was that Alabama is still really good and Notre Dame isn’t back yet. Oh, and following NCAA rules is a good idea just in case you happen to go undefeated unexpectedly some year. Failing that, at least don’t get caught if you happen to bend the rules.

As for the finale on Monday night, I was able to watch the national championship game without remorse for the carnage or taking any particular joy in it, either.

I respect the SEC for what it has done in terms of hiring coaches and recruiting and developing players rather then hate it for its success, and being born in the ’80s, I don’t have any strong emotions about Notre Dame.

I see the pros and cons of the whole Fighting Irish thing. There’s some arrogance there, yeah, but that’s true of many programs. My first really vivid memory of Notre Dame is Gary Barnett telling his Northwestern players to expect victory and not carry him off the field when the Wildcats win. That was almost 20 years ago. They haven’t really been good enough to be annoying ever since.

The degree to which some Irish teams have been overrated in the meantime probably helped the Big Ten, if anything. It helped vault John Cooper’s still fledgling OSU program onto the national scene in the mid-90s and many a Michigan season was set up for ultimately being disappointing thanks to a thrashing of the Irish in September.

Of course, Michigan and its in-state neighbors in East Lansing returned the favor this year, going down to Notre Dame in the first month of the season when the Irish were still trying to gain a spot in the national title picture. Continue reading Taking Stock Of The Big Ten and the Nation

Bye Bye Bielema, Hello Hazell

Two coaching moves in the Big Ten this week are interesting particularly from a standpoint of program ceilings.

Before this season I had already begun to think Wisconsin’s program had peaked. The 7-5 record certainly did not change my mind despite the blowout of a wishy-washy Nebraska team in the Big Ten championship game.

I never really felt Bret Bielema was a good game day coach, but he obviously did a good job of running a program overall. I think a lot of the success on the field had to do with the fact he knew what type of guys to recruit for Wisconsin and where to find them. A lot of credit for that no doubt goes to Barry Alvarez as he laid down the blueprint and left plenty of players behind to help him get off to a good start. (Bielema’s soft landing also benefitted from missing Ohio State in 2006.) Continue reading Bye Bye Bielema, Hello Hazell

My 2012 Big Ten Football Picks

You should check out the Buckeye Sports Bulletin football preview issue for my full view of the race, but here is how I see the top of each division shaking out. 

The Division That Should Be the West: 

Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska should stage an interesting battle for divisional supremacy.

MSU head coach Mark Dantonio will miss All-American defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, but the front seven is remarkably deep as several years of strong recruiting seem to be paying off on the line and at linebacker. Worthy was a fine player, but some of his success might have been a product of the overall quality of the unit. William Gholston has the makings of an even bigger star at defensive end while Max Bullough and Denicos Allen are special talents at linebacker.

There are major questions on the other side of the ball in East Lansing, but I think they can get by with a so-so scoring unit thanks to the ‘D’. Dantonio claims to have supreme confidence in sophomore Andrew Maxwell, but he is an unknown at this point. All of his targets at receiver and tight end will be new, too, but new wideouts DeAnthony Arnett and Tony Lippett along with tight end Dion Sims are considered potential playmakers.

Junior running back Le’Veon Bell is an impact running back, but the Spartans have questions on the offensive front. Continue reading My 2012 Big Ten Football Picks

Ohio State-Wisconsin final thoughts

This game came down to open-field tackling, blocking and the quarterbacks.

The Badgers’ senior quarterback should be way ahead of Ohio State’s freshman in terms of consistency, and that should open up a lot of things from a general playcalling standpoint. However, Russell Wilson committed several miscues one would not expect from a senior quarterback, and that mitigated the difference. Despite his limitations, Braxton Miller made enough plays with his feet (about six) and his arm (about three) for his team to win the game.

I counted 13 times Miller or Boom Herron left a Wisconsin tackler in a wake of rubber bits, a major key to the Buckeyes’ offensive success. There were numerous times Wisconsin’s defense should have worked on paper but Miller or Herron blew it up.

Of course both of those things were greatly influenced by the fact Ohio State’s defensive front seven is way better than Wisconsin’s, and that is where the game was really won. Neither Ohio State coordinator drew up much in the way of fancy schemes. The Buckeyes did their stuff on both sides of the ball and let the big ugglies beat up the competition.

All four starting defensive linemen for Ohio State had standout games. John Simon was nearly unblockable, and Adam Bellamy flashed some surprising playmaking. Johnathan Hankins kept chugging along at an All-Big Ten level, but the big story of the night was Garrett Goebel. The junior played by far his best college game against Wisconsin, constantly neutralizing double-teams and overpowering any interior lineman who got singled up on him.

That made life pretty good for the OSU linebackers, who all turned in nice performances. Of particular note is Etienne Sabino, who seems to be seeing things more quickly and reacting better. He also came up and stoned a blocker to set the edge on the big fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter when Ohio State was still clinging to a lead.

The secondary was hit or miss. Bradley Roby was tremendous in run support, and C.J. Barnett tackled superbly. Christian Bryant’s recklessness got him in trouble a few times, and Travis Howard had a nice hit on Nick Toon but also gave up a lot of room at times.

I think both teams have pretty good offensive lines, but Ohio State’s had the far better night. I thought Mike Adams, Andrew Norwell and Jack Mewhort were the standouts there. Tight end Jake Stoneburner also continues to have a pretty good year as a blocker, atoning for a costly dropped pass on a third down early in the game. Of course, fullback Zach Boren was exemplary again.

I look at the two punt gaffes to have canceled each other out, and truth be told, you could make the same case for the last two touchdown passes, so the fact Ohio State needed Miller’s unlikely heroics don’t really alter my view of the game. They should not have been necessary.

I guess it’s difficult to assess how much weight to give mistakes in measuring the quality of a football team. If mistakes are chronic, they certainly matter. If they are occasional or fluky, then perhaps they don’t. Perhaps this is something to examine later on…

The point I’m trying to make is there was remarkably little way to tell which team was the favorite if you just watched the way they went at each other. That bodes well for Ohio State’s future.

Despite having virtually no passing game, the Buckeyes controlled most of the game, which arguably makes their overall success that much more impressive. They made a great offense look pedestrian without needing that offense to do much in the way of stopping itself.

Random notes: 

  • Herron’s long run to open the third quarter might have had the same effect the kickoff return in Madison had last season. It really set a tone.
  • I thought Ohio State did a decent job of mixing in some option while hammering away with Herron. Wisconsin’s defensive line is not all that big, so it made sense to attack up the middle most of the night.
  • Also nice to see them mix in a short pass or two to help Miller get some completions under his belt.
  • Miller has magic feet. Multiple times Wisconsin had a sound defense against him but couldn’t get him on the ground. Sometimes a pass play can be a great running play for Ohio State because of this. However, it is hard to tell if he is reading the zone read and inverted veers incorrectly a lot of the time or the plays are predetermined in the huddle. They were leaving a guy unblocked, which would seem to indicate a read, but I’m not sure, and it didn’t occur to me to ask after the game.
  • None of Wisconsin’s offensive linemen looked good, but that had a lot to do with who they were facing. The interior guys really got beaten up and right tackle Josh Oglesby was pretty much dominated the whole night.
  • The Buckeyes actually stopped that end-around that has been a thorn in their side for about five years in a row. Tyler Moeller posted up a blocker and road it all the way to the sideline. Moeller also was a man setting the edge most of the night, and he did an admirable job of tailing the talented Toon in pass coverage.
  • Jordan Hall bounced back from his early struggles returning punts to turn in a strong punt return to set up a field goal and a kick to set up the final touchdown He also had a couple of key blocks on Miller runs.
  • Have to agree with Ross Fulton’s pregame declaration that Wisconsin’s Chris Borland looks out of position playing in the middle. He was a big playmaker on the outside before a shoulder injury, but he was nearly a nonfactor last week. I’m actually surprised at how many tackles he ended up with. He seemed frequently caught up in the wash inside. Of course, a lot of people are going to have bad nights when Boren is zeroing in on them every play. Mike Taylor was pretty much fantastic in all facets of the game, of course.
  • On Wisconsin’s first touchdown, I think I understand why Christian Bryant went for the ball. It was behind Montee Ball, so he had to feel like he could get to it, but the Wisconsin running back snagged it out of the air with both hands in a heady and difficult move. Then he made Andrew Sweat look silly in the open field to finish off the play. I think if the pass was always directed for Ball’s chest, Bryant might approach it differently. However, that does not mean Bryant had a good game. He missed a couple of other tackles, and I believe he was the guy out of place on the long touchdown pass that momentarily gave the Badgers the lead in the fourth quarter.
  • Wisconsin’s has good straight line speed on defense but is not necessarily athletic. Not so good at changing of direction.

How Do You Like Me Now?

What better than some Toby Keith to usher in November and recognize Ohio State’s return to the Big Ten championship race with a thrilling win against would-be bully Wisconsin?

What we learned last week: Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to be too young to know any better.

Wisconsin’s late rally nearly undid a full game’s worth of good work for a Buckeye team that has endured more than a season’s worth of anguish already. As I wrote in the cover story for this week’s Buckeye Sports Bulletin, there was too much familiar about watching Jared Abbrederis haul in that pass from Russell Wilson and score the go-ahead touchdown.

I was on the sideline by that time, and I knew the feelings of despair and confused anger that were being expressed all around me. I saw and felt the same thing the last two times Ohio State played a ranked team at home under the lights, the only difference from the collapses against Penn State and USC being the lead once looked much safer against the Badgers.

I hit the stadium floor just before Braxton Miller took a snap from center and ran around end for a 44-yard touchdown that seemed to lift the lid off the stadium. There were not only cheers but sighs of relief, a feeling finally one of these ones would go the way of the home team. It was just after the defense turned back yet another Wisconsin short-yardage run, and the two plays taken together made it seem like a clear picture of the night was taking shape. Ohio State had exorcised a demon in last year’s loss to the Badgers, gotten over the marquee night game hump, proved it had regained the toughness Wisconsin stripped away in 2010 and, oh yeah, there was another athletic guy with a bright future leading at the helm of the offense.

Then the ghosts returned. A quick Wisconsin touchdown drive and a predictable (and perhaps understandable) three-and-out followed by a rarely seen deep zone breakdown. Suddenly all was wrong again. Many of the old stereotypes about the Buckeyes of the past six or seven years began to re-establish themselves. No backbone. No mental toughness. Not good enough to get it done against similarly matched teams. Those stories literally were already being written by the time Jordan Hall took that kickoff back near midfield and the newest young field general trotted onto the field.

Who knows if Braxton Miller knew he was going to lead a comeback for the ages when he winked at head coach Luke Fickell to reassure him. Who knows how often those types of things go on but we don’t hear about them because they don’t make for a good story if the deep passes are intercepted.

What was Miller really thinking?

It doesn’t really matter. It might be better if it was nothing in particular. Sometimes young and carefree is the best way to be. That worked out on this night, and now the future looks bright.

As for the opponent, I still think Wisconsin is a good team, but the Buckeyes really got after them, especially on defense. Ohio State took away Wisconsin’s will to run the ball, which is no small feat, and they made Wilson look uncomfortable in the pocket all night. I think he’s a better player than he showed at the Horseshoe, and that is a credit to Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock and the game his front seven turned in. They kept Wilson in the pocket and made him hurry a lot of throws. His poise was disappointing until the end.

Ohio State’s offensive line did just what it should have against the Badgers: Dominate. That was the name of the game, and Boom Herron continued to make a case for most improved Buckeye I have ever seen.

What we can expect to learn this week: Truth be told, there may not be a team in the Big Ten that can teach us less than Indiana. The Hoosiers are pretty awful. They have questions at quarterback as they attempt to install a new hurry-up offense, and the old problems on defense are as real as ever. There are a couple of intriguing running backs, and the wide receivers aren’t bad, but new head coach Kevin Wilson has a lot of work to do.

I’d say this provides a good mental test for the still-young Buckeyes after an emotional win, but they should be able to win even with a C- effort.

I suppose a reintroduction to some principles of stopping a spread offense can’t hurt with a somewhat improved Michigan team still out there to be dealt with at the end of the month, but that might be stretching it somewhat.

Indiana can move the ball a bit, as evidenced by the way the Hoosiers gashed what we now know to be a somewhat suspect Wisconsin front seven, but there is not much to be scared of other than complacency.

Every snap this young group can get is valuable, of course, and it will be interesting to see if they try to throw the ball a little more just to get Miller more reps in that department. Sometimes these snoozers are the games in which the Ohio State offense comes closest to letting it all hang out. They used this same Hoosier program to work out some kinks in the passing game last year, so perhaps that bears watching this time around.

All-Buckeye Beater Nominees: Well the obvious choice is Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor, who notched an astounding 22 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, and broke up a pass.

I’m still debating what to do with Wilson, who looked mediocre to poor for most of the game before rallying his team to two late touchdowns, but I will definitely look back at the night Abbrederis produced (six catches, 113 yards, two touchdowns) when I sit down to pick the best of the Buckeyes’ competition this season.

That’s a surprisingly short list, to be sure, but that’s what happens when a vaunted offensive line is so thoroughly dealt with and a defense proves it is lacking playmakers. The Badgers’ second best defensive player, Chris Borland, had 13 tackles but often looked to be on the wrong end of lead blocks from his opposite No. 44, fullback Zach Boren.

DVR Directions: Now that November is upon us, I recommend you kick up a notch your studies of Michigan. I know I will. As such, set the DVR to record the Wolverines’ trip to Iowa (Noon, ESPN) because it takes place as the same time the Buckeyes will tangle with the Hoosiers.

At 3:30, check out next week’s Ohio State opponent, Purdue, as the Boilermakers head to Madison to take on Wisconsin. Then make sure you have a nice spot to watch the clash between Alabama and LSU in prime time.

Big Ten Picks: Anyone who would pick Iowa to win any time soon has to be nuts, so Michigan is the default pick in Iowa City this weekend. The Hawkeyes have some legitimate problems going on with the rebuilding process, but there is no excuse for losing at Minnesota, who will feel Michigan State’s wrath this week in East Lansing.

Northwestern has been somewhat enigmatic this year, but the Wildcats look poorly matched with resurgent Nebraska. The Cornhuskers figure to enjoy getting to look at another spread offense for a change of pace.

I’m having a bit of a hard time getting a read on Purdue as well. There seems to be some potential there at the skill positions and on defense, but Danny Hope’s squad can’t put it together. Don’t look for that to change this week in Madison. The Badgers get back on the winning track.

Record last week: 4-1. Season record: 16-6

Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll

Umm, do I have to rank them this week? So far it’s looking like everyone has decided to let the Big Ten title game sort out who is best and not bother to prove it during the regular season. OK, here goes…

  1. Nebraska
  2. Michigan State
  3. Ohio State
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Michigan
  6. Penn State
  7. Iowa
  8. Illinois
  9. Northwestern
  10. Purdue
  11. Minnesota
  12. Indiana

Ohio State-Wisconsin: First Thoughts

What a nutty night. 

It was one of those hot-and-cold mid-fall days in Ohio when the temperature drops 15-20 degrees between noon and nine and you’ve never quite sure how to dress. Consequently, there are moments you feel warm enough to work up a bit of a sweat but that only makes you feel a greater chill later.

That turned out to be appropriate for the game.

Ultimately, Wisconsin got punked, but the Badgers almost won anyway as errors trumped the Buckeyes’ earlier opportunism. Yet Ohio State fought back and finally caught a break.

The first Wisconsin scoring drive showed why I thought Ohio State would have a hard time getting stops. They had the defense off balance, and then Russell Wilson hit Montee Ball over the middle and Ball made a phenomenal play to put the ball in the end zone. Both have done that a lot this season, so that came as little surprise. But Wilson was not sharp for long stretches of the game, and the Silver Bullets rose to the occasion.

The linebackers who I thought might be a liability again played well for a second straight week, and the entire defensive line stepped up. Unsung Garrett Goebel held strong in the middle while John Simon and Johnathan Hankins continued to dominate and Adam Bellamy pulled out a spin move to notch a big sack. Safety C.J. Barnett continued to evolved into one of the best players at his position in the conference, but the rest of the defensive backfield had its ups and downs. Of course, since no one else can throw the ball in the Big Ten, they’ll have some time to get better.

I say the Badgers got punked because a year after physically dominating Ohio State and reveling in the aftermath with their head coach talking about how he expected it to happen, they showed the Buckeyes a lot of respect. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst generally does a great job, but he never found any type of rhythm. He seemed a bit too eager to be balanced, calling Wilson’s number more than Ball’s early, and that hurt them. Then I was very surprised to see them try to run outside on a fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter. Was this the big, bad Badgers who could not impose their will? Indeed.

Wilson threw three touchdown passes, but he seemed far more erratic than his stat line indicates. They Buckeyes made him uncomfortable in the pocket and he made a number of poor throws. He rarely found any room to run when things broke down, either, a key difference from the week before in East Lansing.

Zach Boren came into the post game interview room sporting two things indicative of the type of night it was: a big. blue and yellow bump under his right eye and a smile that wouldn’t go away. The win was as satisfying as you’ll ever see, the Buckeyes rising to the occasion in the rare role of underdogs. Although he is still longing for that first carry, Boren was one of the main cogs, too. He blew up Wisconsin linebackers repeatedly, clearing the way for Boom Herron to bob and weave his way for 160 yards. Herron has provided an almost unbelievable spark, firing up the front to make holes for him and creating things when they aren’t there. The offensive line was outstanding, taking advantage of a completely average Wisconsin front and creasing it time after time. That kept the down and distance manageable much of the night, helping a surprising 11 for 20 performance on third downs.

And what can you say about Braxton Miller? As his confidence grows, his football sense just seems to flow. He has an uncommon agility in the open field, and he can wing it when he gets a chance. He’s still got plenty of kinks to work out, but how amazing was his game-winning touchdown pass? He has gone from looking like he was two steps behind the defense most plays to two steps ahead in the tightest spot of his career. Not only did he escape the pocket to buy himself some time, he pointed Philly Brown to run to the corner to clear out the safety, then stopped to chuck one for classmate Devin Smith, who was open despite not knowing what the play call exactly was. He saw it and executed it, and the Buckeyes are back in the Big Ten race.

I would not have thought Ohio State could make that many mistakes and win, but the defense played at a championship level for about the middle 50 minutes of the game. And when that group blinked and the beleaguered Buckeyes looked ready to crumble again as they have too many times in similar situations in the past five years, a couple of guys too young to know what pressure is came through and produced a win for the ages.

Ohio State improved to 5-0 all time when unranked and facing a ranked Wisconsin team. All of the previous such meetings took place while Woody Hayes roamed the sidelines but before he had been talked into installing the I formation to supplement his believed Robust T offense. Hayes was 27-1 against the Badgers, who enjoyed a great decade of the 1950s but fell off the map for most of three decades that followed. Halfway through this season, I think they had started to believe they were not only again a Big Ten power but also a national player. Now they’ve blinked twice in the face of adversity, although they deserve credit for coming back in both games. Where do they go from here? Well they have to get help now to reach the Big Ten championship game because the Buckeyes hold the tiebreaker on them.

I don’t think Ohio State exposed Wisconsin. Michigan State handled that. The Buckeyes just further proved the Badgers aren’t very good on defense as long as you can withstand the blows from the offense. I don’t think Wisconsin’s rebuilt offensive line was overrated. I think Ohio State just happens to have a very good and still improving defensive line with two future first-round draft picks who are not yet even seniors. Guys good enough to make a team that thinks it hangs its hat on power offense run laterally when it needed two yards on a fourth down while trailing in the fourth quarter.

The Big Ten’s bullies switched hats again. The Buckeyes decided one year was long enough for Wisconsin to be able to lay claim to that title. Now we might be in for a fun little ride as a young group that has endured more than its share of mental anguish looks to harness the good vibes from consecutive wins over ranked teams and ride it all the way to Indianapolis, where they might get a rematch with one of the teams that beat it during its incubatory stage.