Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Depleted UW squad remains undefeated

[media-credit name=’AJ Maclean’ align=’alignnone’ width=’648′]JamesErasmus_AM_400[/media-credit]How much do the Badgers need a bye week?

If the 12 unanswered points at the end of Saturday's victory over Northwestern reveal anything, it's that the answer is a lot.

At times during the game, UW was running defensive-line sets with zero out of four starters on them. At times, Anthony Davis disappeared for three straight series. At times, the team was barely recognizable.


But, though many of the faces were unfamiliar, the result was the same. Another week: another win. How, with such a battered team, have the Badgers continued to roll? The answer lies in a patchwork team with stars emerging wherever they're needed.

Filling in

Andy Crooks: A true freshman, Crooks wasn’t supposed to get much playing time in 2004. But it didn’t take long for the 6-foot-3, 235 lb linebacker to work his way into the hearts of coaches and fans alike. With tackles in every game and six against Northwestern, Reggie Cribbs may have a bit more trouble getting back onto the field than the doctors are telling him.

“The coaches know a lot,” Crooks said. “You’ve just got to listen to them and you’ll be fine.”

Joe Monty and Jamal Cooper: In their first career starts, it’s tough to say that Monty and Cooper filled the gap left by Erasmus James and Jonathan Welsh on end, but only because that gap is so large.

“Erasmus and Jonathan are great players,” Jim Leonhard said. “You could notice that [the Wildcat passing game] might have had a little more time. But that doesn’t mean that Cooper and Monty aren’t doing a great job.”

The two combined for six tackles against Northwestern; Monty registered a sack, and Cooper hurried quarterback Brett Basanez twice.

“It’s unbelievable. It shows the depth that we have on our team,” Brett Bell said. “We won the game; that’s all that matters in the end … They did a great job; they stepped up.”

“Without Raz in there, people thought that our defensive line wasn’t going to be as tough, but I thought we put up a good fight,” Monty said. “Guys needed to step up; we all know that. I’m here to do whatever they need me to do.”

Booker Stanley: Book didn’t need to be great against the Wildcats, but he had to be good enough that the Badgers didn’t fall apart when Davis had to come off the field. With 71 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown on 15 carries and two receptions, he came through in spades.

“I thought Booker really played a good football game,” offensive coordinator Brian White said. “He was physical in the game and aggressive. He was a great complement (to Davis).”

Playing hurt

Anthony Davis: It’s tough to tell exactly how hurt the Badgers’ star running back is. When he’s on the field, he looks like the same dominant ‘AD’ of old. But the periods of time that he’s disappearing to the sidelines are just as noticeable.

Alvarez indicated after Saturday’s game that Davis’s quadriceps were still tightening up and limiting him and other coaches labeled his performance “gutsy.”

“I thought Anthony — at about 80 percent — was really good,” Alvarez said. “He ran really strong.”

If he’s as hurt as they’re making it seem, then carrying the ball 31 times against Northwestern — including 11 times in the fourth quarter — qualifies more as heroic than gutsy. For his part, Davis says that not playing hurt isn’t even a consideration.

“I think its just sometimes taking responsibility,” Davis said. “There was no way that I could get in the huddle, look in the eyes of all those guys busting their tails to open up these holes and not find some way to play.”

Anttaj Hawthorne and Jason Jefferson: After ‘Taj sustained a calf injury and Jefferson spent time with trainers against Purdue, the production of the hyped, inside defensive line duo has seen substantial falloff.

The result has been the first sign of vulnerability against the run. UW allowed an average of 72 yards per game on the ground in the first six games of 2004 (including zero touchdowns and zero 100-yard rushing games). Since Hawthorne sustained his injury, the Badgers have allowed 140.5 yards per game (including two touchdowns and two 100-yard rushing games).

Against Northwestern, Hawthorne came off the field for stretches of three plays quite often. Jefferson spent more time on the field, but was invisible in the stats — registering zero tackles on the day.

Assigning sole responsibility for this decline to Hawthorne and Jefferson is a little bit of a stretch. With about half of the defense injured to some extent, it may be more reasonable to say that the two seniors have stuck it out to keep the Badgers alive. But, undeniably, getting the nation’s top run-stopping combination back to full health will be crucial before Minnesota brings its high-powered ground game to Madison.

Sitting out

Erasmus James: How important is Erasmus James to the Badger defense? Before he came up limp on a play that had already been whistled dead, UW was allowing just less than 200 yards per game. Since, UW has allowed just more than 350.

Without James creating pressure on the pass rush, Purdue and Northwestern have averaged 84 more yards per game passing against Wisconsin than opponents did in weeks one through six.

His absence is even noticeable on penalties, where the Cats lost a third as much yardage as UW’s other opponents without James to hold off the end.

Even his replacement at end, Joe Monty, can tell the difference without James on the field.

“We don’t have as much pressure on the quarterback as when he’s in there,” Monty said.

Jonathan Welsh: Welsh often gets ignored with James opposite him — both when he’s on the field and when he can’t be — but his absence has shown that the Badger defense is far from a one-man show.

“[James] is just one guy and we’re a team defense,” Monty said.

“We need everyone to get healthy to perform like we can,” he continued. “[Welsh] is an important part of what we do.”

Welsh had 14 tackles — 3.5 of which went for loss — before he went down.

Reggie Cribbs: Cribbs was the second leading tackler on the Badgers through five games. Andy Crooks has stepped up to fill his shoes nicely, but getting the junior back will give UW additional depth and speed at the position.

Stepping up

Mark Zalewski: The Badgers needed someone to become a star defensively against the Wildcats; Zalewski fit the bill. The sophomore strongside linebacker recorded eight tackles to help the Badgers remain undefeated.

The most memorable of the hits came on a second-quarter, Northwestern option. Basanez tossed the ball to tailback Noah Herron; Zalewski was there waiting. He leveled Herron to end the Northwestern drive.

“I saw him burst on the football a couple times — that play early on that option,” Bielema said. “He’s just so fast; he’s got a good burst. [Zalewski] can be as good as he wants to be. He’s a rainbow that you don’t know where the end of it is. He can keep going, and he will keep going, because it’s important to him, and he has a lot of ability.”

Robert Brooks: After missing the season’s first two games, Brooks has become a crucial part of the UW defense. The safety had six tackles (one for loss) and two pass breakups against the Wildcats after forcing a game-defining fumble against the Boilermakers last week.

“I think I did some good things, but I also did some things I need to correct,” Brooks modestly said after the game. “That’s true with every game. I don’t know anyone who’s ever played the perfect game.”

John Stocco: Stocco rallied Saturday after an early interception had many Badger fans rolling their eyes, finishing the game with 178 yards and a touchdown. After averaging 136.7 yards per game in the first six games of the season, he’s averaging 194.5 in the past two.

As he has shown a propensity for this season, the sophomore quarterback came up with big passes at big times.

“We threw a little bit more to open the game than we normally do.” Alvarez said after the game. “John made some big throws, some key throws in crucial situations.”

Brandon Williams and Darrin Charles: Two games ago, it seemed that the UW air attack might never right itself. Now it’s a question of how good the unit can get; B-Will and DC are at the core of the turnaround.

“They’re team players. They don’t care how many receptions they have,” Alvarez said of his receivers after the game.

It’s much easier to say that now that UW’s top two receivers have combined for 19 catches and 280 yards in the past two weeks than it was when they combined for 20 catches and 207 yards in the first six weeks combined.

“I think we’re starting to click (with Stocco) a little bit more,” Williams said.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *