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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Seeking out reasons for optimism after sluggish win

Infuriatingly sloppy.

That’s the only way to describe the Badgers’ 27-14 win over lowly San Jose State Saturday.

UW continues to leave points out on the field – points that would make its first two wins look like blowouts – and inexcusable mistakes on both sides of the ball are starting to pile up.


Now, the untimely fumbles were the story of the home opener, but at the end of the day that’s a correctable mistake. Scott Tolzien knows how to receive the ball from his center and hand it off to his running back, even if he appeared to forget over the weekend, and freshman running back James White promised to never stick the ball out for a touchdown at the goal line ever again.

Lessons learned (hopefully).

But if you longed for the 2008 UW secondary, you know, the one that avoided sure tackling like a disease, they made a surprise appearance in the second half Saturday.

Four missed tackles on one play led to the Spartans’ first touchdown of the season and I’m sure it made fiery new secondary coach Chris Ash explode into a rage. Judging by what we saw from Ash in fall camp, the secondary will hear about that play quite a bit over the next week.

But despite all the miscues noted above, there were a few bright spots and reasons for optimism that emerged from Saturday’s victory. At the very least, here are some reasons to keep the faith as we head into week three.

J.J. Watt living up to the hype

Watt looks like one of the best defensive players in the conference right now.

He’s embraced the leadership role left behind by former captain O’Brien Schofield and has flourished anchoring the UW defensive line, which is silencing the doubters that questioned a lack of experience entering the season.

We knew Watt would be a force against the run, where his 6-foot-6, 290-pound frame allows him to impose his will off the edge and get to running backs with relative ease (Watt posted 2.5 tackles for loss against SJSU), but the junior has been a menace in the passing game as well, knocking down passes and getting in right in the face of opposing quarterbacks.

That was on display Saturday where his pass rush led to Blake Sorensen’s gift of an interception.

Watt also finds himself getting in the way of opposing kickers, which brings us to the new-look Wisconsin special teams.

Special teams making strides

Watt’s blocked field goal Saturday was the headline play, but the Badger special teams unit has been quietly impressive over the first two weeks of the season.

Poor kickoff coverage killed UW last season, but aside for a few returns in 2010, Badger opponents have struggled to make it past the 20-yard line, giving the Badgers a leg-up in the field position battle. Head coach Bret Bielema finally divvied up the special teams responsibility among his assistants and now Charlie Partridge’s coverage unit is consistently holding their gaps and playing with a ton of speed. The return game hasn’t been too noticeable, but that’s a good thing because it means we aren’t seeing glaring mistakes. Calling a fair catch, downing the ball in the end zone where appropriate and securing the football is good enough for a return game that at times last year did more harm than good.

Kicker Philip Welch and punter Brad Nortman are doing their parts as well – really well actually. Welch has nailed all four of his attempts – including a 45 yarder – and Nortman has showed off his powerful leg with two punts over 50 yards.

We all know special teams can be a deciding factor in tight games, and as of now, UW’s unit is heading in the right direction.

Still getting healthy

One of the most exciting aspects of this young season is that we have yet to see the 11th-ranked Badgers at full strength.

Sophomore linebacker Mike Taylor (who led the team in tackles before his knee injury last season) was held out against UNLV and fellow linebacker Chris Borland, 2009’s Big Ten freshman of the year, watched the SJSU game from the sidelines with a shoulder injury.

Now, Blake Sorensen and Kevin Claxton give UW some solid depth at the linebacker position, but this defense lacks playmakers with Taylor and Borland absent. When those two get on the field together, we’ll see the Badger defense playing to the best of their ability.

On the offensive side of the ball, junior wideout Nick Toon missed the home opener due to turf toe and the Wisconsin offense looked far less dynamic without its No.1 receiver. Tolzien will no doubt be ecstatic to have Toon back for Arizona State.

The eventual expectation is that once UW gets healthy and cleans up the foolish mistakes the Badgers will produce the score lines to justify their 11th overall ranking. That needs to be proven on the field sooner than later, before these mistakes become a habit.

But wins are wins and there is time to progress before conference play. Because, Badger fans, things could be a lot worse – just ask the Gophers.

Max is a senior majoring in journalism. Worried about the Badgers’ sloppy start to the 2010 season? E-mail him at [email protected].

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