Friday, January 23, 2009

Big Ten grades

Mark Hasty over at (The) Fanhouse has posted a two part piece grading the Big Televen football teams.

His take on Wisconsin:

"WISCONSIN: F


"Bumbling" is a harsh word, but somehow it seems to sum up the Badgers' 2008 season. It started with a terrible decision to get rid of defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who was unemployed for about the length of a commercial break. (See Northwestern above.) It continued with a thoroughly inexplicable preseason ranking of No, 13. Toss in Bret Bielema's misplaced loyalty to quarterback Allan Evridge, woeful special teams play, and a defense no better than mediocre, and you've got a formula for disappointment.

The Badgers got flogged by Penn State, 48-7, and by Iowa, 38-16, in the midst of a 1-5 stretch. Those were good teams, however. The Badgers also lost to Michigan in there, and would have lost to Cal Poly if not for the Mustangs having special teams problems of their own. Then in the Champs Sports Bowl they got cratered by what was probably the weakest Florida State team since the 1970s. It wasn't the Badgers' fault they were overrated in the preseason, but this team didn't get better as the season went on.

2009 outlook: Gut check. Bret Bielema will be on the hot seat at the start of the season. Bank on it. Since his first season the Badgers have lost more and more games every year. The Badgers will be shockingly young next year, which isn't a good sign for them. The only thing the Badgers can be sure of is that in 2009, they won't have to overcome a too-high preseason ranking."

Yeah, pretty spot on, I'd say. While next year will be a "gut check" for the Badgers, and Bielema will most definitely be on the hot seat, the homer in me still sees the future with rose-colored glasses. Seriously, it'd take a losing record two or three games into conference play with no signs of improvement to start getting pessimistic. With Evridge gone, Bielema's hand forced to utilize John Clay more and a defense that (knock wood) won't get worse, the ship could (and should) get righted....

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Since You've (I've) Been Gone

December 10th? Wow. Obviously, in the five weeks since I posted here at LTW a lot's happened. The Packers' season limped to an end. And thank goodness they didn't drop their last game against Detroit; to be an answer to a trivia question for all time would have been no way to go out.

In the wake of that game, defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and a handful of defensive assistants were given the bum's rush outta Green Bay. Amid speculation that Mike Nolan and then Gregg Williams would be named the new Packers D-coordinator, Mike Nolan and then Gregg Williams took other jobs. Ultimately, the situation has resolved itself with the naming of Dom Capers. Begin the 3-4 (well, multiple scheme, I guess) era in Green Bay! I'm actually really interested, now, in the off season transactions and upcoming draft.

Wisconsin had a fitting end to their season getting waxed by Florida State in their bowl game. Then, P.J. Hill declared for the draft. I gotta admit, I was initially against it before I was for it. At first, I doubted Hill's pro prospects. Ron Dayne was bigger, faster, and stronger than Hill. He stayed for four years, won a Heisman, and we all saw how his career panned out. But then I stopped to consider things from Hill's perspective. Another year in Madison was unlikely to help his draft position; more wear and tear on a body that's already shown itself prone to injury is good for nobody. And then, too, after a season in which redshirt John Clay seemed to be a stronger runner and better future prospect, it's hard to imagine that Hill was going to see any more touches in 2009 than 2008. In fact, it's likely that he'd see considerably fewer. (Maybe it's just me, but after Hill's first year, while he mightn't have had the sort of Dayne-ish runs exploding through the line, then running over the second and third levels of defense on his way to 50, 60, or 70 yard runs, Hill showed flashes of that potential. This past year, though, his running seemed even less specatcular than the "pedestrian" 4.1 yards per carry, or whatever he averaged.)

Being a stereotypical homer, I still like the '09 squad's chances. Both sides of the ball are losing starters, but honestly I don't see that as a huge problem. The 2008 team had a ton of starters back and we all saw how that panned out. Recruiting is such an inexact science that it's hardly worth breaking down Bielema's 2009 class. (On that note, though, the comments to the article are picture perfect demonstrations of the law of the internet: those with the least credibility to speak speak loudest. It seemed everywhere I looked during the season, commenters were on Bielema's ass about his unhealthy devotion to "measurables" over talent and yet here are a bunch of assholes going on and on about recruiting undersized players. It's almost as though none of these dipshits have ever considered the fact that these players may actually spend a redshirt year *gasp* working with the staff's trainers. I wonder if any of those people realize that a 6' 213 lb linebacker may well be 235 by the time he sees the field?)

Still, in his fourth year, Bielema's first recruiting class will be true juniors or redshirt sophomores and should, in theory, be the prime contributers to the team. Add to that the fact that you can easily point to multiple instances that coaching either failed to put the team in position to win or actively put the team in position to lose, and you can see how 2009 could well be a make or break year for BB in Madison.

And on that note, I wonder if, put in a position to fire Bielema, Barry Alvarez would search for another head coach or reinstate himself until the team was on the right track? Needless pondering. I hope.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Michael David Smith's Every Play Counts

I've quite enjoyed MDS's Every Play Counts feature this year (if it existed before, I was unaware...).

This week's is as informative and interesting as all of the rest, but for obvious reasons, it's a little hard to read.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Well, that should at least end the Packers playoff scenario talk...

I was at the Roller Derby, so the only thing I know about the Packers/Texans game was that Houston won on a last second(ish) field goal. My kneejerk reaction is that the defense couldn't close. Kind of exactly like last week.

UPDATE: I've just read, briefly, about the game. I still have no idea how the offense (or new punter) did, but the defense gave up 549 yards. To the Texans. At Lambeau. These last three games should function as a late season preseason for the off-season (phew). Forget about winning, get guys in situations to see who can play, who stays, who goes, and prepare for some major overhauling in the coming months. It's do or die time, TT.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I'm not gonna lie....

This blog has basically fallen off my radar. While the neglect is due in part to my focus on Action Football! (and "focus" is used pretty loosely), I'll admit that it's mostly due to the super disappointing season Wisconsin treated us to, and the slightly less disappointing we're in the midst of with the Packers. First to the former, then the latter.

Since my last post, Wisconsin very nearly dropped a game against what should have been a cupcake opponent, Cal-Poly. (Spare me the "#3 in FCS" baloney; a program that should be in the top tier of a BCS conference should never be beaten by an FCS team on their home field.) To be frank, I can't even remember how the game got so far off the rails; I suspect I've just blocked it out of my mind. While the offense mustn't have played too inspired (I guess until late in the game, although were it not for all the extrapoints CPSLO's kicker missed, they'da come up short anyway), but the defense.... I can't begin to figure out why the Badgers' defense was so woeful this season. Injuries factored, sure, but every team has injuries.

So where does Wisconsin go from here? Well, immediately, to a bowl game somewhere. A few projections over at the Journal-Sentinel's Badgers blog has possible opponents of Missouri, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Clemson, and Kansas. (I also read Miami somewhere else....) Frankly, after this year, I'm not too confident with any of these games, but especially not Missouri or Kansas. Seriously, either of those teams would put about 80 points on Wisconsin's defense. While the Tigers and Jayhawks don't have defenses to write home about, there's no way Wisconsin's offense could keep pace, and when you're dealing with teams that can air it out, the time of possession battle is completely negated.

The offense and the defense, and, hell the special teams, too, underperformed this season. I guess Chryst gets a pass because he had to break in an inexperienced quarterback and Beckum - their most explosive playmaker from last season - missed, essentially the whole year with various injuries. As the season wore on Sherer looked better. In fact, he may have actually benefitted from Beckum going down for the year because he was forced to look to other receivers. And as a result, those young receivers - Gilreath, Anderson, Toon - seemed to mature which bodes well for next year. (Spring ball will be provide a really interesting quarterback battle: Sherer or redshirt freshman Curt Phillips. On the one hand you'd have a starter with game experience, on the other, although you'd like to avoid a second consecutive season dealing with a quarterback's growing pains, the prospect of having a potential four year starter is pretty seductive. Especially since Phillips is supposedly more mobile than Sherer, a bonus considering the inexperienced offensive line that will be fielded next year.)

Dave Doeren probably also gets the benefit of the doubt on the other side of the ball. You've got to give a new coordinator a season or two to get up to speed; even if Doeren's a promoted coach and not a new guy outright, so, in theory there wasn't a huge system overhaul....

And it seems high time that Bielema gives up coaching the special teams. Period.

It's not even worth looking ahead to next year's team. And forget looking at the "returning starters" as any sort of indiator; the bold majority of the '07 squad was back and that helped shit-all.

And now to the Packers. Green Bay followed the drubbing of the Bears in Lambeau by taking a world-class beating in New Orleans. It was basically the substandard play of the safeties and now released punter Derrick Frost that did them in. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Last weekend Green Bay hosted Carolina. You've heard the story: down early, second half comeback, suspect playcalling, poor special teams play, and abyssmal pass coverage late to seal the deal. Technically only two games out of first in the division, the Packers' season is done for all intents and purposes. Sure, there's going to be a lot of morons saying that Green Bay made a huge mistake not bowing to Favre's whims, but that's all poppycock.

Aaron Rodgers played as well or better than I'd hoped, and I had pretty high expectations for him. It was ultimately the defense and special teams that have hurt Green Bay and, last time I checked, Rodgers doesn't play on either of those units.

It'll be interesting to see how things develop in terms of player and coaching personnel. Ted Thompson has demonstrated an extreme reluctance to admit mistakes (otherwise, Frost would have been released weeks before) and seems to have a very overinflated opinion of his drafting prowess. With four games left (let's eliminate all hopes of a playoff spot, that way if the stars align and Green Bay does win the division, a first round loss won't stick in our craws), it's silly to start considering free agency and the draft. So I won't.

Friday, November 21, 2008

That was one rambling-ass last post.

So, unfortunately for the Big Foot Chiefs, the dream season ended last night with a 20-0 loss to Wautoma/Faith Christian. The score kind of betrays how close the game really was. Both defenses were lights out, but WFC had the benefit of some suh-weet field position because of Big Foot's inability to get anything going on defense. Admittedly, Big Foot's ability to force turnovers gave them some pretty good field position, too, but they couldn't get anything going. I think Big Foot may have been a little shell-shocked; a team that probably averaged around 200 yards rushing from the first game of the year through the playoffs was completely stuffed.

The passing game couldn't get going (until the final drive, when Wautoma was playing off and keeping everything underneath) mostly because it seemed like as soon as the ball was snapped two to four defenders were in the backfield. On two occassions, Steve Dowden (Big Foot's quarterback) lost a ton of yardage on sacks, backpedalling with defenders right in his grill.

Speaking of that last drive, with just a few minutes left in the game, FSN Wisconsin put up a graphic showing that Big Foot had only gained, like, 37 total yards. The record for least yardage in a D4 game was 75. Thankfully, with Wautoma playing off, Big Foot was able to gain enough yardage to get up over that mark; I would have been pretty disappointed to see the Chiefs finally fight their way into a Championship game with only an answer to a trivia question to show for it. Now, Beloit Turner can hold on to that dubious distinction.

It's easy to play the "what if" game (and frankly, given the lack of success Big Foot could muster offensively no matter what they tried and where the ball was, it's probably a waste of time, but still...) but I look at two plays that could feasibly have changed the complexion of the game. Early in the second quarter, with the score tied 0-0 after a few short possessions and punts by both teams, Big Foot running back T.J. Schaid took the ball off tackle to the right. He had pretty good seal blocks and, after a gain of about five yards, looked like he was going to turn the corner and have a safety to beat for six. Before he got the chance, a Wautoma linebacker laid out and got him by the fackemask, twisting him off balance and tripping him up. Without that facemask, there's a good chance Schaid, with his speed and burst, is gone giving Big Foot the first points on the board. Maybe striking first gives a boost in confidence, maybe not....

The second play came shortly thereafter. Wautoma had a first and ten at the Big Foot 44 after a good scramble by quarterback Jacob Abbrederis. They lost five on a run attempt, then Abbrederis fumbled on a fake hand off, picked it up and was tackled bringing up a third and 18. A false start turned that into a third and 23 at Wautoma's 43. On the third down play, Abbrederis was getting a lot of pressure from his left; he was able to escape the pocket to his right and, while being dragged down, get off a dart to a receiver for a gain of 19. A punt on a fourth and four was downed at Big Foot's three yard line. A first down run was knocked back to the one, and a second down pass was picked at around the 20 setting up Wautoma's - and the game's - first score.

Now the rub is that a replay showed that Abbrederis's knee hit before he threw the ball. If Wautoma's punting from their own 35 instead of Big Foot's 48, there's little to no chance that ball is downed at the three. (Factor in that Wautoma's last punt was a fourteen yard shank, and there's no telling what Big Foot's field position is.) So in an alternate reality, either T.J. Schaid scores early in the second, or at the very least, Big Foot isn't forced to play with their backs on their own goalline, gifting Wautoma with the sort of field position that turns into points.

Of course, those two plays alone wouldn't change the fact that, in the second half, Big Foot was completely unable to move the ball, or that it seemed like the Chiefs' defense wore down and Wautoma's offense was able to gain some yards, but a two score swing turns a 20-0 game to a 13-7 game....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Maybe I'll start actually writing here again...

I'm at least a day ahead of my recent trend of spotty posting here.

Let's start with the Wisconsin game. For the second week in a row, halftime adjustments seemed to make all the difference in the world. This time, though, it was less about taking a lead and getting their shit together than it was about reclaiming a game and finishing. While I'd prefer the Badgers play full games the way they have the second halves against Indiana and Minnesota, I'll still take shaky first halves, strong seconds instead of games like the Michigan or Michigan State game without hesitation.

I was pretty frustrated with the sloppy play of the first half, and I'll admit to feeling guilty, after the fact, of my "Are you fucking kidding me?" reaction to Kyle Jefferson's fumble. I mean, if I'd known he was concussed, I certainly wouldn't have been as critical.... Again, though, the fact that Wisconsin came out of the half and played capital eff football was good to see. (And while there will never, ever, ever be a play in a Paul Bunyan's Axe game that surpasses The Blocked Punt, the Pontiac Game Changing safety comes as close as any play I can imagine will.)

And now on to Green Bay's dismantling of Chicago; a pure, grade A, USDA prime beat down. One of my oldest, dearest friends is a Bears fan and it took every fiber of my being to not cockily shoot him text messages every, say, ten minutes after the game started. That's right, I took the high road. Like I've mentioned before, without NFL Sunday Ticket or the desire to drop $40 at a sports bar, I'm relegated to following the Packers on most Sundays by the internet and scoring game breaks. By this method, close games really try my patience. (And cardiovascular health.) Thankfully, the outcome of this game was never in question.

So, recapping, first and foremost, thank Christ Green Bay beat Chicago. Raised in a fiercely Packers supporting home, I still cling to the stance that a 2-14 record is fine as long as those two wins were against the Bears. Lovely Smith's tenure as Bears coach has been a killer, let me tell you. (Although I love the guy for two reasons: first, he's been rightfully cited by GQ as one of the most dapper dudes in the NFL, and second, he said at his first fucking press conference that beating the Green Bay Packers was his number one goal; Respect. The. Rivalry.)

Mostly, I'm glad that Ryan Grant played worth a shit in this football game. I can't imagine I'm the only Packers fan that was pissed that he and his dipshit agent had him sit out camp. Accordingly, I'm sure I'm not the only football fan whose reaction to the ESPN NFL Gameday commercial about global warming ("It's hot," "Like the NFC North's run game," "In a pass happy league, with Adrian Peterson and Ryan Grant, why not" or whatever; seriously, Ryan Grant's been a chump-ass chump this year! Consider cutting two or three versions of your dumb commercials so you don't look like assholes! And along that line, consider stopping the Antiques Roadshow-like ad after Keyshawn says "It looks like a cat." That shit's hilarious. Going on to say "Or a Panther," "And speaking of the Panthers, who do you like in the NFC South this year?" Because having Mort say "Well, historically, the team that finishes last one year, finishes first the next," doesn't hold water when you're talking about a division that's existed for six fucking years. What's historic about that? Get back to me when the trend continues for a decade, dick bird.)

Anyway, the reason I'm really writing today is that I had one helluva Saturday watching/listening to football. First, of course, was the second half comeback by the University of Wisconsin. Second, though, was the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (of Wisconsin, if the url is to be any indicator...) level four victory* by The Big Foot Chiefs which puts them in the state final. Is it hypocritical to be a big "booster" from 1000 miles away especially because I not only didn't play, but made fun of the football players when I was in school? Well, perhaps, but I'd contend that there wasn't a culture of supporting the football team when I was in school and the two years of pine-riding basketball that comprised my high school athletic career serve to indicate that my "suiting up" wouldn't have done much to improve the on-field performance. No, if there's anything that leads me to believe that "now" is different from "then" it's that there's currently a middle school tackle football program that didn't exist when I was a kid. My only introduction to tackle football was the two weeks after the flag football season that the A-team (which *fingernail polishing on the shirt* I was on in seventh and eighth grades**) engaged in. I learned two things from that: first, I couldn't run through the gauntlet, and second, that I'd definitely pay the price by trying to tackle Jake Ries at the two yardline after, as a d-lineman, I'd run the entire field - bypassing him juking the other linemen, linebackers, and secondary).

Anyway, last year's level two win was a school's best, and this year's level four win blows that one out of the water. As a Directv "Sports Pack" subscriber, I'm almost positive I get the upcoming title game televised, which is about a million times weirder than hearing my high school's football games streamed on the internet. Assuming the game is on tv, I'll be watching. And at the very least (and even if it is televised) I'll see about streaming it online (in case the tv feed cops out too early).

Much like the way I've been a bigger Badgers fan since moving away (separation making the heart grow fonder, and all that), I've grown an bigger Chiefs fan (at least football-wise, thanks Friday Night Lights*****). Since I'm afforded the opportunity to head back to Walworth at least once a year (Merry Christmas!) and the fact that, since Big Foot's athletic teams have gotten better and they've started printing them, I was able to pick up a white on red "Big Foot" t-shirt. Of course, I'm summarily forced to explain to all onlookers that "Big Foot" refers to Chief Big Foot and not the monster on an almost weekly basis....

* I think Entourage is a horrible, horrible show. Like, Sex and the City for douchebags. But worse. But still, I saw Kevin Dillon on Conan once and they talked about how his character, *shudder* Johnny Drama played a Viking whose catch phrase was "Victoryyyy!" and it cracked me up.

** The seventh grade ending in a one-tied-game tie for first place, the eighth an undefeated season and sole possesion of first place - which culminated in a school year ending presentation of an autographed football to our coach*** and a tearful speech, following.

*** Who, actually, is the father of one of the stars of Big Foot's squad, and whose presence in this post is both a testament to my unusually thourough memory as well as the fact that youth athleics coaches (and, in his case, history teachers) make impacts on young minds. (I'm not even going to get into the fact that the kid was born when I was his student or that his wife was also my high school PE teacher.... Well, not much, anyway.)

**** Although I will cop to going to a BFHS hoops game, when I was in college, with my old man and my granddad (RIP); the varsity squad was on the cusp of the state playoffs which didn't happen in my entire time in high school.