Oates: Second straight win not cause for celebration

2010-09-11T19:45:00Z 2010-09-13T00:53:30Z Oates: Second straight win not cause for celebrationTom Oates | 608-252-6172 | toates@madison.com madison.com

TOM OATES

Bret Bielema was anxious to see how his University of Wisconsin football team would respond.

He was curious about the reaction he would see from the 11th-ranked Badgers immediately after their underwhelming performance in a 27-14 non-conference victory over a game but overmatched San Jose State team Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

"I told the team afterwards, if I (came) into that locker room and they weren't disappointed, I was going to be disappointed in them," Bielema said.

This time, the Badgers didn't disappoint their coach.

For most of the three hours before that, they clearly did.

In fact, UW's second victory over an obscure team from the far west looked a lot like the first one. Just as they did in beating UNLV 41-21 the week before, the Badgers played superbly down after down only to have an occasional lapse undermine almost everything they did.

On offense, two fumbles inside the 5-yard line cost UW two touchdowns. On defense, breakdowns in coverage and tackling allowed San Jose State, picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference, to make a game of it.

Afterward, the Badgers knew they had no reason to celebrate a 2-0 start to a season many think could end with a BCS bowl appearance.

"We were disappointed in the way we played," cornerback Niles Brinkley said. "We know we're a better team than what we've shown in the last two games. I honestly agree with Coach B. If we weren't disappointed about the way we played in the game, if we were to come in and everybody was excited, I would expect the coaches to be disappointed with that."

And why not? When you're a highly ranked Big Ten Conference team and you're playing a mid-major opponent that was 2-10 the year before, there's only one rule: Never let them see you sweat.

The last two games, the Badgers have pitted out their jerseys. UW held a slim 17-14 lead over UNLV at halftime despite outgaining the Rebels by 261 yards. Saturday, the Badgers let the Spartans creep within 20-7 late in the third quarter.

In both games, UW responded well to the challenge. That doesn't hide the fact that there shouldn't have been a challenge to begin with.

The biggest problem in both games was that the Badgers left too many points on the field. If they hadn't been so careless with the ball, they probably would have held a 48-0 lead over UNLV after three quarters. If freshman tailback James White and senior quarterback Scott Tolzien hadn't fumbled inside the 5 against San Jose State, the Badgers probably could have had a 31-0 halftime lead.

"We're just not finishing drives and (we're making) a lot of little mistakes that kill drives," guard John Moffitt said.

The defense could say the same thing after giving up 252 yards and two touchdowns through the air. The worst and, to be fair, most uncharacteristic play was San Jose State's first touchdown, when Chandler Jones caught a short pass and made four would-be tacklers miss on a 37-yard dash to the end zone.

"That's just not us," linebacker Culmer St. Jean said. "I was actually the first person to miss the tackle, so I feel like I should take all the blame. If I had gotten that first tackle, there wouldn't have been three others that missed."

It was admirable for St. Jean to run interference for his teammates, but UW's less-than-impressive start to the season is a team effort. The surprising part is that UW was even sloppier in the second game than it was in the first.

After the UNLV game, Bielema was almost happy that UW had made mistakes so he would have some teaching points. But the lessons, especially the one about ball security, didn't sink in.

"I think it's not living up to our expectations, basically," safety Jay Valai said. "I give us a 'D' because it was our first (home) game and, defense and offense, we kept plugging away and doing our thing and then (we'd make) one small move and something big happened. I think that was the theme throughout the (game)."

That's why Bielema didn't exactly walk into a postgame celebration in the locker room.

"We were embracing the win," Brinkley said, "but it was also like a we-could-have-done-better mood. A lot of the guys weren't really happy with the win because we know we're a better team than that."

With Arizona State coming to Camp Randall next week, the time has come for the Badgers to start showing that.

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