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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Cliches, Queen and missing Chris Borland

Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema is no stranger to motivational ploys. Under his tutelage, Bielema has ensured the players eat a 1-0 breakfast, go 1-0 on all academic undertakings and drive their mopeds at a 1-0 pace

Right after his one week, one day, one hour, one rep, one breath (should I stop now?) at a time philosophy, comes the “next man in” mantra. If a Badger goes down injured, the next man must be ready to step in. You might think other football programs operate in a similar fashion, but trust me, they are just stealing the idea from Bielema.

In the week leading up to the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the motivational puffery takes a step up. The Axe is displayed proudly on the practice field, reminding the Badgers of their task ahead. How effective this tactic is remains up for debate. As senior left tackle Gabe Carimi put it: “I don’t know. When I am out there I am focusing on my hand placement and footwork. I’m not paying too much attention to the Axe.”


Still, despite the airy (OK, mocking) tone to the beginning of this column, I am actually not completely against the use of symbolic tactics. Sure, sometimes football coaches can take it over the top – like Bielema did this Monday when he refused to confirm or deny that the Badgers had the goal of winning a Big Ten Championship, because it broke the clich?-time continuum of his one week at a time motto – but occasionally the right metaphorical jab can produce an excellent response.

So tonight, while all the players are getting a good night’s rest in their hotel beds, Bielema and defensive line coach Charles Partridge should try one last Jedi mind trick:

Softly pump Queen and David Bowie’s hit classic, “Under Pressure,” into the rooms of every single defensive lineman and linebacker. Under Pressure. Get the motto stuck in their head of exactly what they need to place Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber. And Terrelle Pryor after him. And then Ricky Stanzi. Under Pressure.

(Column Interlude: Hat tip to associate sports editor Mike Fiammetta for pointing out that Queen – of all bands – has produced the most influential sports anthems of all time. “We are the Champions,” “We Will Rock You,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” the song for Chicago Bears quarterbacks, and “Bicycle Race” for the Tour de France/steroids. Seriously, how did Queen come to claim this throne?)

Because if the remaining Big Ten quarterbacks on the schedule are allowed the time Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins was to stand in the pocket and scan down field, Wisconsin football is going to be in for a lot more 34-point frustrating days.

Based on my admittedly amateur analysis while watching tape of the Michigan State game, Cousins dropped back 32 times last Saturday and was pressured on nine plays. Or another way of putting it, Cousins dropped back 23 times and got rid of the ball when he chose to, not when the pass rush forced him too. These numbers do not account for three-step drops, play-action, rollouts or anything else, so view the unofficial pressure numbers through that giant caveat. But 23 of 32 times seems like a lot for the quarterback to throw in rhythm.

The takeaway?

UW reallllllly misses Chris Borland.

Obvious? For sure.

But if Wisconsin spends the rest of the season reduced to J.J. Watt as the only reliable pass rusher among the front seven, the offense will need James White to evolve into Brian Calhoun right quick.

As of now, the Wisconsin defense is looking to Louis Nzegwu, David Gilbert, Kevin Rouse and possibly even freshman wide-receiver-turned-rush-end Manasseh Garner to complement J.J. Watt. All have flashed, but none have performed consistently.

The loss of Borland is manifesting itself two-fold.

One, defensive coordinator Dave Doeren’s favorite toy, the 3-3-5 Badger package, loses a lot of its appeal without an effective rush end opposite Watt. As UW’s go-to pressure scheme, that is simply not good.

More importantly, however, without an effective four-man rush, Wisconsin becomes predictable.

Example: Down by three with about half of the fourth quarter remaining, Wisconsin forced MSU into a 3rd-and-11 on their own 28-yard line. Unable to generate much pressure with their four-man rush for most of the day – and having already given up a 3rd-and-nine conversion earlier during the drive – the Badgers blitzed six rushers … and played right into the Spartans’ hands. Cousins hit running back Larry Caper with a screen pass and Caper dashed 35 yards before Wisconsin brought him down.

That perfect play call was made possible by MSU diagnosing the same thing UW did – the four man rush wasn’t getting home.

So the Wisconsin defense must listen to, think, breathe in the theme of Under Pressure.

Because if the defense cannot get a consistent pass rush going, the pressure will be all on the offense – and then Wisconsin will be robbed of hearing the most special of all Queen songs at the end of the year.

Michael is a senior majoring in journalism and co-author of the blog Think he is overreacting? Don’t trust his video analysis? Let him know at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @michaelbleach.

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