Sunday, October 17, 2010

Is This the One?

For four and a half years the lingering question about this head coach has been, "Can he hold his own when things get tight and Tressel, or Paterno, or hell even Ferentz is on the other sideline?" I'm not sure we still have an answer, but Bielema sure took a huge step forward last night. I, as much as anyone, have been critical of this guy. From his seemingly uncanny ability to get his teams to play up or down to the level of competition, or his personal coaching of special teams, only to watch kickoff or punt return after return run back for a touchdown or huge yards against us, or most annoying to me is his smug attitude after being giftwrapped this job by Barry Alvarez.

There are two things about this win that stand out to me as positives for Bielema. One, I think it was a gutsy, and correct, call to take the ball after having won the opening toss. I know, I know, it's easy to say it was the correct call after Gilreath scampers 97 yards with the rock to paydirt, but stick with me here. It would have been very easy to defer to the second half. Camp Randall was rocking, the crowd was loud, and Bielema could very easily have decided to let that energy help with defense on the first series. He also could have thought that the Badgers had a good chance of being behind at half and they would need the ball to start the second half to get back in the game. Instead I really think he wanted to make a statement that they were not afraid to slug it out with OSU, they had a plan, and they were going to stick with it (more on that later). Now, taking the kick worked out better than he obviously ever could have hoped and the Badgers never trailed. But again, I think it was a gutsy and correct call.

Two, Bielema and his staff developed one hell of a game plan and most importantly they stuck with it. The Badgers rushed for 184 net yards and while that may not sound like a lot by Badger standards and they actually lost the time of possession (barely, it was only a 6 second difference) they dominated the first half on the ground. The Heyward kid is a bull on OSU's line, but it was obvious that if you can get a body on him and push him sideways you neutralize him and their rush defense becomes very average. Clay finally looked like he had some spring in his step and what really stood out for me was the fact he was finishing his runs. Far too many times we have all seen Clay go down with the slightest of arm tackles by a DB. Last night he kept his pads low and finished. As for White, this kid is fun to watch. That jump and cut against the grain he does is a joy to watch and reminds me in some ways of, dare I say, Barry Sanders. This kid is the perfect compliment to Clay and has a burst not seen in Madison in a few years. Tolzien only made one mistake, which thankfully did not come back to hurt us, and he made some really nice downfield throws, the most important being the 20-yard throw to Toon on third and three on the last touchdown drive. That, by the way, was a GREAT play call. Everyone in the nation expected a run there and OSU was obviously caught napping.

What impressed me most about last night, however, was the finishing kick by this team. The Badgers were dominated in the third quarter and first part of the fourth. Though it was painful to watch I was not surprised. You knew Tressel was going to make adjustments at half and OSU was going to make a run, that was a given. But this team weathered the storm, gave up all they could afford to give up, and proceeded to put their foot in the ground and drive it down the Buckeye's throat.

Is this the one? I honestly don't know. I hope so. We'll have more evidence in six days in Iowa City.

Discuss amongst yourselves.....

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