Sunday, September 17, 2006

Wisconsin 14, San Diego State 0

The defense pitched a shutout yesterday as the San Diego State Aztechs couldn't handle a road trip to Camp Randall. Although the Badgers didn't dish out the full Cortez treatment, spreading typhus and misery wherever they roamed, they still managed to secure a sure unimpressive victory.

The 2006 season seems to be going into Whack-a-Mole mode. Certain units stand out as inexplicably bad one game but by the time the next game rolls around, they're fine. Then another unit -- usually one that was okay the last time out -- pops up, gaining the attention of Coach Bielema and his brain trust.

This week, the defense responded to the well-deserved criticism that was leveled on them after playing soft against Western Illinois. They yielded a total of 115 yards. They recorded 5 sacks. After initial drives of 11 and 7 plays, San Diego State couldn't sustain a drive for longer than four plays. The only play of any consequence beyond those two drives was a 25-yard pass play in the third quarter that accounted for more than a fifth of the yards SDSU managed to gain. The Badgers forced a dozen punts. Yeah, 12 of 'em. They played a solid game. Future Wisconsin opponents beware: this is what happens when you dance.

You might expect me to say that the offense was a different story, but I'm not going to. The offensive line played as well as it has all season, and the running backs just plain wore out the Aztec defense. Clearly Stocco had a bad day, but he timed it well; that sort of performance against, say, Michigan next week would have been a death sentence (for the team's chance at victory, not for Stocco himself). It was pretty surprising, actually; he had all the time in the world to execute. In a game where he was only sacked once and the offensive line was giving enough push to allow the featured running backs to gain 263 yards on 32 carries, Stocco couldn't complete a pass on third down to save his life. And while most of the poor play was on Stocco, the wide receivers were right there with him. It took the Badgers twelve quarters to get a touchdown out of their wide receiving corps.

The message I got from this game was that a team can completely disrespect the passing game while stuffing eight guys in the box to keep Hill in check. I am impressed by Hill, but I don't think he's capable of taking over a game like Brian Calhoun was, and if Stocco has defenders in his face all day long, there will be problems -- he doesn't have a receiving corps that can bail him out in a pinch. Add that to the fact that Michigan's defense proved that they are an extremely opportunistic group, picking off Brady Quinn three times and taking another fumble in for a score, and you'll find that there is positively no room for error.

Analysis of Bret Bielema's fourth down calls, leading to a missed 55-yard field goal and an 0-for-3 day otherwise, coming later. Aside from that, let's get excited about 3-0! Four wins in the Big Ten or three and one against Buffalo, and we're going bowling!

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