Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Four Big Things vs Nebraska: Day Three

29 Sep

Last year’s Ohio State game was one of the greatest atmospheres and moments in Wisconsin football history. To this day I still get chills thinking about it. I’m here to argue, however, that this upcoming game is bigger. Much bigger.

The Badgers came into last year’s game against No. 1 ranked Ohio State  limping off a loss to Michigan State and holding the 18th position in the polls. Sure, we thought we were good, but we had yet to prove it. We hoped we would win, sure, but that’s all it was–a hope. Going into the game we hoped it would it be a great atmosphere, but we didn’t know if it would be. We hoped we’d play the Buckeyes tough, but we didn’t know for sure. We hoped the Badgers would smash the Buckeyes in the mouth and come away with a magical win, but…we had no way of knowing.

Bottom line: those things did happen, and now we know how great it is to play in a Camp Randall night-game shrouded in national hype. Last year we hoped to play for a BCS birth. Now we know we’re fighting for one. We’ve seen what can be and we know what to expect–now we’re fighting for the chance to repeat it. We’re not the underdog anymore, Wisconsin. No more are we the darkhorse–we’re the front runner.

Or at least we think we are.

That’s where the third installment of Four Big Things vs Nebraska comes in:

Playing With Expectations

Here come the bright lights, Badgers. Last year you demonstrated you could win the big game–but that was last year’s team. The players from last year’s team understand what it takes to pull off the big win–and how it feels to lose the big one. They should be prepared for Nebraska. There will be no surprises. There will be no wide eyes. The Badgers no longer have the luxury of coming into College Game Day’s showdown as a relative underdog. They’ve got the target on their big cardinal-clad back. It’s here we see if they are truly continuing the momentum they started last year. It’s here we see if the Rose Bowl loss has kept them hungry. It’s time to see what they’re made of.

Gut-check time, Badgers; time to prove you’re worthy of another magical Camp Randall celebration.

On Wisconsin.

-Mitch Larson

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Players to Watch: Wisconsin vs Northern Illinois

15 Sep

All right, I bought a new Ethernet cord for Saturday afternoon. Here’s to hoping my computer doesn’t crash before then.

Ok, back to business. Here are your Badger players to keep a close eye on this Saturday:

Offensive Player to Watch: James White, RB

James White, simply put, is too good to stay under the radar for three weeks in a row, especially when his next opponent has as hard a time stopping the run as Northern Illinois does. Now you may be saying, “whoa, whoa, Larson, James White has not been ‘under-the-radar,’ Montee has just been that dominant.” I get that, but I also get that Nebraska comes a-knockin’ in two weeks. I doubt Bielema is going to want to lean too heavily on his TD machine, Montee Ball. I also know that, with a flashy, quick scoring offense like the Huskies have, part of Chryst’s game plan will feature a lot of time-eating, run-heavy drives. Now, it’s not rocket appliance that Wisconsin leaning on the run + Bielema using Ball more sparingly = (to the dismay of the Huskies) James getting plenty of touches come Saturday. And I expect James to fully take advantage of the opportunity. Expect big things from number 20 come Saturday.

Defensive Player to Watch: Marcus Cromartie, DB

Ummmm, could it have been anyone else? It’s been well-documented (initially through the awesome-ness of Twitter) that senior corner back Devin Smith has been forced to miss the remainder of the playing season. Here’s where the importance Continue reading

Players to Watch

30 Aug

We’re rolling out a new weekly feature here at the Red Zone. Each week we’ll  be high-lighting who we think the key offensive and defensive players will be for the upcoming game. These players will either be men who need to stand out for the Badgers, or who we think will make some serious waves for the Badgers. Let’s get her cracking.

Offensive Player to Watch: Jacob Pederson (TE)

All eyes will be on the quarterback come Thursday night. Russell Wilson is the big unknown with the big upside who has been constantly in the media’s spotlight. While all indications from fellow players and coaches point to Wilson as a player who can handle the pressure of leading a nationally ranked football team. But let’s not kid ourselves; as much as Wilson says he’s not nervous, it’s only human for him to have some pre-Camp Randall butterflies.

The cure to those butterflies? A good, reliable tight end.

But, “wait,” you say, “We lost Lance Kendricks to the NFL. We don’t have any tight ends.” Oh, how wrong you are. Bielema has sung Pederson’s abilities this summer saying he possess the size, physical blocking tools, and play-making ability to make Pederson just as good, if not better, than Kendricks. Those are some pretty lofty expectations.

Either way, I expect Paul Chryst to get the tight end involved early and often to help Wilson find his groove before asking the quarterback to stretch the ball further down the field. Look for a healthy dose of short passes to Pederson to start the game and don’t be surprised when Pederson walks away from Thursday with some “Kendricks-esque” numbers.

Defensive Player to Watch: Louis Nzegwu (DE)

If you’re JJ Watt, life is good. If you’re Louis Nzegwu, life is good, too. Coming into last season fans were concerned about filling the void that O’Brien Schofield left. After all, there was no sure-fire DE to come in and dominate the way Schofield had: enter JJ Watt. Currently the Badgers once again asking themselves who will be the next defensive end to step up and contribute to the Badger defense. If you ask me, that player will be Louis Nzegwu. Nzegwu is a worker, like JJ. And while he may not have the “motor” that JJ possessed (OK, to be fair, nobody in the country has a motor that matches JJ’s) Nzegwu has the physical abilities to dominate and be the “next guy” in the line of great Badger defensive ends. He finished second on the team in quarterback sacks and hurries last year and will be the guy who helps make up the lost production of JJ Watt.

With plenty of experience, the Platteville WI native should come into this season as one of the leaders on the defensive side of the ball. Look for Nzegwu to apply plenty of pressure to UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring (who is making his first career start). I expect the Badgers to dial up plenty of pressure from the start and challenge Herring to prove himself against the secondary. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised to Nzegwu come up big with consistent pressure on the Rebel quarterback and be a big disruptive force in Wisconsin’s defensive scheme this week.

On Wisconsin.

-Mitch Larson

The Russell Wilson Effect

5 Jul

Paul Chryst got a new toy this year. And Big Ten defenses beware: somewhere, right now, he’s salivating as he figures out how to use it.

Arguably Bret Bielema’s biggest win in the offseason was keeping Chryst, the Badgers’ offensive coordinator, out of Austin, Texas and in Madison. And after a quick glance at the Longhorn’s depth chart compared to Wisconsin’s returning offensive talent, I think Chryst may have a little more fun in the Badger State, this year.

And that brings us to Bielema offseason win #2: Russell Wilson.

Wilson comes to Madtown with a decorated ACC resume. And despite the fact that most Big Ten fans like to look down on “basketball conferences” like the ACC, Wilson’s gaudy stats speak for themselves. This kid can play. Just check out this video and see for yourself.

I hope the thought of that, but with a Motion W on the helmet, gave you chills.

Now, it remains to be seen IF Russell Wilson can bring that level of play to Camp Randall and it’ll be very interesting to see how quickly Wilson can adjust to smash-mouth Big Ten football.  What’s obvious, though, is that Wilson possesses a skill-set that hasn’t been seen under center in Madison for a long, long time.

If Wilson adjusts to and thrives under Wisconsin’s offense, Chryst continues to schematically create nightmares for opposing defenses, White and Ball shred defenses, Nick Toon plays like we all know he can, and Borland sparks a very good Badger defense, we could be looking at another special year in the Badger Nation. I know those are a lot of ifs, but the truth is, those things are far from being unrealistic.

With the buzz created from the 2010 campaign, and more recently, with the addition of Russell Wilson, Wisco has been getting a lot of love from the so-called “experts.” But I’m going to go a little bit farther. I’m going to say that the hype that has been generated this offseason is part of something bigger, something on a broader scale. I think the nation is ready to see Wisconsin replace OSU as the Big Ten’s top player in the college football landscape.

Uff-da. That can’t settle well with tOSU faithful. But with Wisco’s recent success and the widely publicized happenings in Columbus, it’s hard to argue against.

Who has the most prime-time televised games in the Big Ten this year? Wisconsin.

Who are most pundits picking to win the Leaders Division? Wisconsin.

Who are a lot of people predicting to take the Big Ten’s first championship game? Wisconsin.

Who beat out the defending national champion and, dare I say it, an SEC team, for Russell Wilson? Again, Wisconsin.

I’m not saying that the Badgers will waltz into the Big Ten Championship game unscathed and leave with their tickets punched for Pasadena, but I am saying that the retention of Paul Chryst, the signing of Russell Wilson, and the growing perception of Wisconsin football definitely has the Badgers moving in the right direction as a Big Ten powerhouse.

The stage has been set, Wisconsin. Now don’t squander the chance.

-Mitch Larson

From Red to…Red: Russell Wilson Officially a Badger

27 Jun

Well Badger fans, it’s official. After months of speculation following dismal quarterback performances at April’s annual spring game and the announcement that North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson was transferring, the Wisconsin Badgers have a quarterback for the 2011 season. And, as many news outlets had been predicting, it is indeed the former signal-caller for the Wolfpack.

Wilson, who for the last three years was under center in the ACC, will be heading to Madison and the Big Ten in the hopes of leading the Badgers to consecutive Rose Bowl appearances.

After being replaced as the NCSU starting quarterback because of his commitment to his professional baseball career, it appears as though Wilson will again put that part of his life on hold. Following a two-day visit to the UW campus, Wilson will be trading in his N.C. State red for Wisconsin cardinal.

So, it’s real. Russell Wilson will be a Badger for the 2011 season.

But, what will he actually do for Wisconsin? Can he replace the departed Scott Tolzien and match or improve on the 11-2 season Wisconsin posted last year?

Let’s take a quick glance at Wilson.

Standing 5-11, Wilson does not have the ideal size for a Big Ten quarterback. Big Ten offensive lineman (especially in Wisconsin’s case) are huge and it’s essential for a quarterback to be able to see down the field. Wilson will be shorter than every single one of his lineman.

But, unlike Tolzien (who stood an impressive 6-3), Wilson has scrambling ability and is more than comfortable moving out of the pocket. Then, it doesn’t really matter how tall you are. If you can dodge defenders while still looking downfield, size matters little.

In three years at N.C. State, Wilson tossed 76 touchdowns and just 26 interceptions. In fact, in statistically his worst year, Wilson threw 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last season while still leading the Wolfpack to a bowl win. On the other hand, Tolzien, considered by many to be one of Wisconsin’s best quarterbacks, threw 32 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in two years as a starter. Not exactly Heisman-esque.

Now, of course, the Badgers ran the ball much, much more than N.C. State. And, unless coach Bret Bielema completely alters Wisconsin’s game plan to match Wilson’s skills, there is no way Wilson will throw as much as he did the previous three years. That said, it’s pretty obvious Wilson has passing skills not seen by Wisconsin fans in years.

With the signing of Wilson, Wisconsin becomes the odds-on favorite to win the Leaders Division in the Big Ten. As Terrelle Pryor is no longer a Buckeye, Ohio State will, for the first time in a decade, play second fiddle to Wisconsin to begin a season.

Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Wilson will bring the talent and experience that Wisconsin hasn’t had at the quarterback position in maybe…ever. But, he’s not a savior.

The rushing attack, led by James White and Montee Ball, will still be key to Wisconsin taking the Big Ten. Wilson, if he can be as efficient and protective of the ball as Tolzien, will be vital to any success the Badgers have. Yes, he’ll bring a passing option that Wisconsin hasn’t seen in years. But to think that he’ll be airing it out all year would be foolish.

In the end, for one year at least, Wilson could be one of the best quarterbacks in school history. He’s certainly a better option that Jon Budmayr, who, as the spring game indicated, needs another year learning the system before he’ll be capable of taking over the Wisconsin offense. But, he won’t put up the ridiculous numbers be put up in the ACC, not only because the Big Ten features much better defenses, but simply because the Badgers run a much more ground-oriented attack.

If he can match the production of Scott Tolzien in 2010, he’ll be worth all the buzz he’s currently receiving.