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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Henson: Badgers need work but effort is there

They found a way.

In one of the most bizarre, unpredictable games you’ll ever see, the 11th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers made enough plays to escape with a one-point victory over Arizona State.

When Omar Bolden streaked by the Badgers’ coverage unit on his way to a 97-yard touchdown return, you wondered what happened to the so-called “improved” Badger special teams, and when Deantre Lewis picked up 13.6 yards per carry, you wondered what happened to one of the Big Ten’s top units against the run.


And as ASU receiver Kyle Middlebrooks flew down the sideline with the final seconds of the first half ticking down you had to say to yourself, “This can’t be happening.”

But the Badgers didn’t break, and through three weeks UW is a perfect 3-0.

Granted, the Badgers are far from a perfect product. Like every other team, they need work.

But history tells us good teams have struggled in early-season non-conference games before. A season ago Iowa needed to block two field goals with seconds remaining to get past Northern Iowa at home. A few weeks later the Hawkeyes squeaked by Arkansas State with a three-point win in Iowa City.

That’s not all.

The 2009 Ohio State Buckeyes were in danger of being upset by Navy until linebacker Brian Rolle picked off the two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game. That’s two heavily favored Big Ten teams that squeaked out wins at home early in the season. Interestingly enough, they ended the year in similar fashion. Both teams went on to win BCS bowls.

But the Badgers aren’t meeting everyone’s high expectations despite three victories, and they aren’t blowing teams out the way fans want them to. I get that. I understand and acknowledge that for UW to contend for a Big Ten title, the Badgers need more consistency across the board.

But like Iowa and Ohio State a year ago, they made the decisive plays and found a way to get the ‘W’ against a legitimate Pac-10 opponent.

And despite UW’s flaws it’s easy to root for a team that plays with tremendous effort, plays through injuries (exhibit A: J.J. Watt and Culmer St. Jean) and plays through adversity. It makes it even easier when they’re winning.

UW is doing all the above and Shelton Johnson and Jay Valai exhibit that fact perfectly.

Johnson’s touchdown-saving play at the end of the first half was just about as good as it gets. The tackle will undoubtedly go down as one of the top plays of the season for UW.

It’d be hard to find a Badger fan that knew anything about the backup safety before Saturday’s game. Now Lou Holtz is commending his tackle on ESPN.

For whatever reason, Phillip Welch decided to kick a line drive, the absolute last thing you want from a kickoff, and Middlebrooks was off and running – until Johnson, with some help from Dezmen Southward, caught him.

Now how on earth did a slow, unathletic, Big Ten player even come close to chasing down one of those dynamic and lightning-fast specimens from the West Coast?

Effort. And yeah maybe the kid from Texas has some wheels too.

Johnson’s play brings UW fans back to 2006, when the Badgers met Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl and had to deal with Darren McFadden. The superstar running back broke free in the first quarter and appeared to be long gone – until UW corner Jack Ikegwuonu chased him down. As a result, Arkansas failed to score and in the end UW won 17-14.

Those extra-effort plays win you football games. Plain and simple.

Johnson’s play was the kind of effort that keeps a touchdown off the board and allows your team to hold onto a halftime lead.

Now, awe-inspiring effort play No. 2 came from Jay Valai and the PAT unit.

Extra points are considered a given. Hell, in the old NFL Blitz video game (Da Bomb anyone?) extra points were automatic – you didn’t even have to try. Some real-life professionals still don’t.

While watching the Patriots-Jets game from yesterday I caught New England’s first touchdown, and I was curious to see how the Jets handled the point after.

Four people moved. The rest just watched the ball go end-over-end through the uprights.

Instead of hanging their heads after giving up a potentially game-tying touchdown Saturday (which the majority of teams would do), the Badgers put everything they had into blocking the extra-point to hold onto the slim advantage. It paid off.

“I thought we had the momentum going. The PAT block is normally unheard of, in college football,” ASU head coach Dennis Erickson told reporters after the game. “In all my career I’ve never seen something like that. The bottom line is they got someone through.”

It wasn’t textbook, it wasn’t pretty, but the Badgers did what they needed to do to earn a hard-fought win. And you can thank UW’s extra-effort for that.

Max is a senior majoring in journalism. Impressed with UW’s dramatic victory over ASU? E-mail him at [email protected].

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