Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Bleach: Saturday a must win for Bielema

The phrase “a must win game” is thrown around more often by media pundits than T-shirts at a Madison Mallards game and it is abused by fans like the Packers pass protection going against Jared Allen.

Unless the upcoming contest is an actual elimination game though, chances are the hyperbolic clich? is more unnecessary than half the metaphors in my column.

While I understand that massively exaggerating the importance of game is part of the fun of being a fan — they need a third down stop here… in the second quarter… of the third regular season game — this particular expression grates on my nerves like few others can.


I started the column in this way to emphasize that I really do understand what a “must win game” is, and like the end of Captain Morgan commercials state, I use the phrase responsibly.

With that being said, the Wisconsin football team’s eighth game of the season against Purdue is an absolute, slam-dunk must win game.

For head coach Bret Bielema’s reputation.

I say reputation because it would take a recruiting scandal/five-game losing streak/orgy on the 50-yard line at Camp Randall for Athletic Director Barry Alvarez to fire Bielema this year.

So it isn’t a must win game for his job, but if the Badgers can’t overcome the Boilermakers Saturday, Bielema’s credibility as a head coach will drop faster than Ryan Grant after first contact.

Now I am not saying I think Bielema should be fired. On the contrary, the fourth-year head coach has done a solid job this season with a youthful team that has only lost to top-25 competition.

But coming off a 7-6 season and embarrassing bowl defeat, his margin for error now is Kate Moss-on-cocaine thin. A third loss in a row would crush him in the eyes of many Badger fans forever, putting Bielema in an impossible position to recover public approval. Just ask Notre Dame’s intern Charlie Weis what it is like to coach when public favor is lost.

And as irrational as many fans often are — I have a smart friend who is pre-med and honestly believes the Packers defense has failed him when they give up a first down — the hordes of crazies would have a point.

Losing to Ohio State in the Horseshoe is understandable. Dropping a home game to Iowa after jumping to a 10-0 lead is frustrating.

Falling to a 3-5 Purdue team? That disappointment may provoke the student section to start tossing chunks of the bleachers out of Camp Randall like they did back in the ’80s.

The reasons Bielema must win are fairly obvious.

The Badgers have had two weeks to prepare. With the bye week, starters could rest their nagging injuries, technique and strategy problems could be completely addressed (i.e., Phillip Welch might stop pushing field goals to the right and Scott Tolzien will have patience with his reads once again) and the UW players can escape from the stench of their two blemishes.

From a coach’s point of view, the extra time to prepare should be a huge advantage — if you are a good coach. Although it is a small sample size, you have to go back to 2002 for the last time Bill Belichick and the Patriots lost coming off a bye week. Coaches worth their paycheck simply win with extra time to prepare.

As for Purdue, the Boilermakers are certainly coming on strong with an upset over Ohio State two weeks ago and a victory over Big Ten bottom-dweller Illinois last Saturday. But they are still a team with a 3-5 record and they are still a team that lost to Northern Illinois. And let’s be serious, they are still Purdue.

Simply put, strong teams with solid coaching cannot lose to a team of lesser talent given two weeks to prepare.

Putting even more pressure on Bielema, however, is the ugly shadow from last year’s team. Despite making it to a bowl game and finishing with a winning record, Wisconsin was largely viewed as a failure last season for its four-game losing streak to open up Big Ten play. Fans often blame coaches for not having the leadership to halt a losing streak, and dropping three games in a row will have Badger backers looking toward Bo Ryan and basketball pretty quickly.

Bielema knows this and has tried to distance himself from last season as much as possible.

“You know what, we’re in 2009. I’ve talked enough about 2008,” Bielema said Monday at his weekly press conference. “And I understand where you’re coming from, but, you know, if you want to keep going back, 2008 was disappointing. This is 2009.”

Bielema has been trying to prove all year that last season was a mulligan. Getting the Badgers back on track against a weaker opponent is a must if he wants to avoid the 2008 to 2009 comparisons.

Like a Chad Ochocinco guarantee, you can take this to the bank; Bielema must win Saturday or he will join Brett Favre in Wisconsin football infamy.

Michael is a senior majoring in journalism. Think Bielema will be fine if the Badgers lose? Let him know at [email protected].

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