Following the University of Wisconsin home opener this past Saturday, there was a definite air of dissatisfaction, as many players and even head coach Bret Bielema expressed thoughts that the team had not played up to its potential or made adequate improvement from week one to week two.
"As a coach, the one thing you are always trying to find are the mistakes … and those are things that were really apparent to me as I walked off the field on Saturday," Bielema said, before revealing that, upon further review, there were more bright spots from Saturday's 34-10 lukewarm victory over I-AA opponent Western Illinois. "After we watched the film, after I looked at my game notes, there were some things that jumped out to me that set some positives about what we did."
Among the encouraging aspects that the first-year Wisconsin head coach listed were the first-half defense, the performance of kicker Taylor Mehlhaff, and the special teams coverage units.
"I thought those things were positive," said Bielema, who also recognized the individual accomplishments of wide receiver Luke Swan and defensive end Joe Monty. "Joe Monty really kind of came into his own. Not a huge production number, but he was doing the things we asked him to do and really had a great week of preparation and taught some of the other defensive lineman what we need to do to have success."
Bielema also mentioned the play of linebacker DeAndre Levy was much improved from the Badgers' season opener against Bowling Green.
"I really challenged DeAndre Levy a week ago; I really didn't think he was coming downhill on some things," Bielema said. "He was one linebacker in particular that had a fairly good game [against Western Illinois] and put a lot into it."
Levy, who was credited with four tackles and two quarterback hurries, is still adjusting to the nuances of the linebacker position.
"Bottom line, it's his second start and he's going through some growing pains," Bielema said. "He was a kid coming out of high school that really just kind of stood in the middle of the field, and wherever the ball went, he ran and got it. He didn't ever do anything fundamentally from the linebacker point of view."
Badgers have half the time: One of the issues that is sure to keep Bielema up a little bit at night is the fact that UW's opponent on Saturday, San Diego State, will have had two weeks to prepare for the game, as they had a bye week following their first game.
"Sometimes coaches are always worried about their performance after an off week and then others get excited," Bielema said. "It'll probably be decided on Saturday how well they handled the situation."
Compounding the situation will be the problem that the Aztec staff is all new, following the hire of new head coach Chuck Long from Oklahoma. That leaves UW only with film from San Diego State's first game against UTEP to study.
"The thing you have to understand about San Diego State is that they have a new staff for the first time getting together," Bielema said. "We've only seen one game film."
Bielema explained that he expected that several players would spend extra voluntary time to prepare and catch up with the Aztecs' head start on hitting the books for the contest.
"You have to play the hand that you're dealt," Bielema stated matter of factly. "How they handle things, especially from the special teams stand point, is going to be interesting."
Defense has room to grow: While the Badger defense has been solid in the first two games of the season, they have yet to showcase the dominance that was expected by many, coming off of an outstanding effort against Auburn in the Capital One Bowl. According to Bielema, the expectations might have been set too high right away by the media.
"You know what, if you go back and check my comments, a lot of [the media] thought that we were going to be a special unit defensively," Bielema said. "But what I knew of our defense was that we were young, relatively."
Remembering 9/11: Like many Americans, Bielema couldn't help but look back and reflect upon the Sept. 11 tragedy on its five-year anniversary. He recalled being an assistant at Iowa and preparing for an upcoming contest against arch-rival Iowa State when he first caught wind of what was happening.
"One of our video coordinators came in and told us what happened," Bielema recalled.
"It makes you step back and understand the reality of the world that goes on in the world of college football, because as coaches we kind of get wound up in the moment. I was sitting in my office this morning and I caught the tail end of an early morning T.V. broadcast asking for everybody to wear red, white and blue today and I hadn't even thought of the date walking out my door."