Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Swiss Cheese Defense or Solid Wisconsin Cheddar

Two years ago, Wisconsin went 11-1 and missed out on the BCS because Ohio State and Michigan were both heading to the BCS already. With a decent amount of starters returning, hopes were high around the Badgers that another good record and possible BCS berth were possible in 2007. But looking at a few factors, I predicted that last year wasn't the Badgers year...but 2008 would be. They had numerous sophomore starters on both sides of the ball back in 2006, and two years worth of experience, coupled with a favorable schedule and attrition across most other Big Ten teams rosters, I figured 2008 would be the Badgers year. Well guess what folks, it just may be.

Now, not everything went according to my plan. All of Ohio States proven stars stayed in school. Jack Ikegwuonu turned pro. Most of the defensive line got hurt in the offseason. Lance Smith stole his girlfriends stillettos and got himself booted from the First Offender's Program and football team. And Virginia Tech was, albeit smartly, removed from the 2008 schedule.

They may not have the fast track to a Big Ten title, but don't think the Badgers won't make a run for it. Behind an experienced and talented offensive line, P.J. Hill, Zach Brown, and John Clay will pound the football enough to make any old-school football fan proud. And just when that 8th or 9th defender moves into the box, play action all day. Whether it's Travis Beckum slipping behind the linebackers or David Gilreath (my boy 85!) and Kyle Jefferson getting over the top of defensive backs, new QB Allan Evridge should have some wide open targets to hit.

But as WildHawk might say, that's where Bucky's problems start. As with Jake Christensen at Iowa, Wisconsin will be trusting its offense to left handed quarterback Allan Evridge, which is pretty much comparable to letting Will Ferrell's character in Old School guard your beer at a party. (It's so good! Once it hits your lips...)

But the question marks don't end there for Wisconsin. After fielding a stellar defense in 2006, UW's defense turned into swiss cheese in 2007. Holes. All. Over. The defensive line couldn't get pressure...a freshman cornerback led in sacks for most of the year. The linebackers were consistently out of position and over-running plays. The secondary couldn't communicate to each other, let alone tackle. Worst of all, they had no leadership...proven by the fact that a certain SS continued talking smack after big hits that happened 40 yards downfield. Can the defense which returns 9 starters turn it around?

Recently promoted Defensive Coordinator Dave Doeren hopes so. The DL should be much improved after some young players got valuable reps in bowl practices/spring practices and Mike Newkirk moves back to his natural position at Tackle. The outside linebackers, Casillas and Levy, should be strong with 2 years of experience under their belts. Casillas is hurt currently with a sprained knee, but should be back soon. Worst case, he'll be a step slow and won't over-pursue 15 plays a game. The middle linebacker spot should benefit from an upgrade in the athleticism department as Jaevery McFadden steps in for returning starter Elijah Hodge. McFadden isn't a natural MLB, but his speed and aggressiveness should help against the 8 spread teams the Badgers face this year. Finally, and certainly not least, the secondary will be better for the sole reason that it couldn't be worse. Returning SS Aubrey Pleasant? Sit down and stop talking crap 40 yards downfield after every play. Jay Valai, welcome to the starting Strong Safety spot. Shane Carter, he who led the Big Televen in INT's last year, returns as the ball-hawking Free Safety. And while the corners are young and/or coming off injuries, all signs in the spring game pointed to a talented group.

So, can the Badgers give Ohio State a run for their money? Not unless the Buckeyes pull a move like Michigan last year. The Badgers have a brutal schedule, even with lowly Cal-Poly replacing Va Tech. A tough road game at Fresno State, and then opening the Big Ten with: @Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, @Iowa, Illinois, @Michigan State. First of all, it's been a while since any Big Ten team beat OSU and Mich in back to back weeks. After that, the Penn State- Iowa- Illinois-MSU gauntlet provides 4 physical weeks of football. The Badgers simply aren't deep enough to survive that stretch unscathed. I expect the injuries to mount and the pounding to take its toll, and they will lose at least once if not twice in those four. And even if they do survive that schedule, the Badgers will probably not get much national respect. Think about it, they're going to be ramming the ball down opponents throats once they have the lead in the second half. That will lead to some boring 4th quarter football in Madison. Thankfully, that glorious 5th quarter awaits the faithful. And look for the UW Marching Band to be playing the 5th quarter in Florida in January...again.

1 comment:

  1. I will boycott reading this blog if the unfair slander of white, left-handed quarterbacks does not end. Kenny "the Snake" Stabler and Boomer Esiason are pretty pissed off.