tom oates

Tom Oates: Badgers' troubles go deeper than offensive line

wisconsin 16, utah state 14
2012-09-16T01:00:00Z 2013-07-17T17:15:50Z Tom Oates: Badgers' troubles go deeper than offensive lineTOM OATES | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6172

With one simple play Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium, the University of Wisconsin football team showed that a new era had begun.

Or, more accurately, an old one had returned.

Whichever way you look at it, the Badgers demonstrated early in their non-conference game against Utah State that things had indeed changed after one of the most tumultuous weeks in program history.

On the game’s second play, left guard Ryan Groy pulled to his right and led tailback Montee Ball into the hole. In reviving one of the signature plays in its old-school ground game, UW’s intent was clear: Instead of trying to find holes on running plays, the Badgers would start making them again.

The passive zone-blocking scheme taught by Mike Markuson had left along with the offensive line coach, who was fired by UW coach Bret Bielema on Sunday after only two games in the position. With young Bart Miller taking over, the Badgers hoped to return to the aggressive, downhill approach to running that had turned the offense into a juggernaut the last three years.

Given the timing of the coaching change at what historically is UW’s most important position group, the switch looked like a boom-or-bust move on Bielema’s part. Clearly, he was looking to reverse the fortunes of a team that began the season ranked 12th in the nation but had fallen out of the rankings after an unimpressive victory over Northern Iowa and a dismal loss to Oregon State.

But Bielema didn’t get the immediate boom he was looking for against Utah State, a dangerous opponent from the dead-or-dying Western Athletic Conference. The Badgers ran the ball better than they had previously, but their offense still struggled mightily in a 16-14 victory that wasn’t clinched until the Aggies missed a 37-yard field goal try in the final 10 seconds.

Despite the emphasis on offense all week and a halftime change at quarterback, it was the defense and special teams that saved the game — and quite possibly the season — for UW, which next week hosts Texas-El Paso, a 41-28 winner against New Mexico State on Saturday.

Ball did his best, rushing for 139 yards on 37 carries behind a line that relished a return to a more aggressive approach, but even those yards didn’t come easily against yet another defense that virtually disregarded the pass.

“If you watch the film,” center Travis Frederick said, “I think you’ll see it was a much more physical group than it was the last two weeks.”

And UW still needed an assist from Utah State kicker Josh Thompson to win. As they left the field at halftime, the Badgers were confronted with a 14-3 deficit and booing from their fans. Frankly, it was hard to blame the fans after players and coaches had issued glowing reports all week about energetic practices and a renewed focus. People expected more, and they weren’t getting it.

The Badgers’ meager total of 137 yards and their inability to convert third-and-1 plays in the first half raised all kinds of questions.

Given Bielema’s impulsive nature, which coach would he let go this week? Is UW simply lacking at positions such as quarterback, wide receiver and offensive line? Does transfer Danny O’Brien lack the pocket awareness UW demands from its quarterback?

Somewhere, Markuson had to be smiling. Although he was the one who took the fall, UW’s offensive woes run far deeper that his coaching philosophies. Bielema confirmed that when he replaced O’Brien with redshirt freshman Joel Stave at the start of the second half.

Still, this is UW and at UW it all comes back to the offensive line. For two games, the sights along the line of scrimmage had been the same. No creases for the tailbacks. Runners forced to go East-West rather than North-South. Offensive linemen getting pancaked instead of the other way around.

UW’s more aggressive approach up front was reflected in its rushing totals, which were better though still not up to the Badgers’ lofty standards. Miller didn’t throw everything out, but for the most part he returned to the techniques that had worked so well under former coach Bob Bostad.

“It felt like we were getting a lot of great push,” Groy said. “I felt like I was playing with the guys we had last year and the year before. Not that we’re there yet.”

Groy is right, a revival on the line is not going to happen overnight. The Badgers will have to take baby steps before they can learn to run again.

Other than protect the ball better than O’Brien, Stave did little to indicate that he can carry the offense, which generated only 97 yards in the second half, mostly on the ground. It remains run-or-bust for the Badgers and the running game isn’t back to the point where it can set the tone.

Normally, a non-conference victory over a team from college football’s hinterlands would barely register on the radar screen at UW. But this victory was big because it bought time for the Badgers, who clearly need more work to cure what ails them.

Contact Tom Oates at or 608-252-6172.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(30) Comments

  1. baseballguy
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    baseballguy - September 18, 2012 1:00 pm
    I guess the quarterback is the one trying, and I mean not trying to hard, to open holes or is the one calling all the run plays with 10 in the box?????
  2. wisconative
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    wisconative - September 18, 2012 11:16 am
    Bart Houston will be the starter next year. He is the real deal.
  3. gymrat
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    gymrat - September 17, 2012 9:45 pm
    "coaching assistants like Chryst and Doeren, who despite a head coach deficiency made the team work."

    And how good was Chryst when Alan Evridge was his QB????

  4. gymrat
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    gymrat - September 17, 2012 9:30 pm
    And what coach would you hire? Here you have a cold weather climate school, with academic standards that no SEC-type player could obtain, in a state with no Division 1 skill players to choose from, and this coach still wins 75% of his games and wins 2 Big 10 championship and puts 80,000 fannies in the seats. No good coach would want to come to a school where with so many disadvantages you get fired with that kind of record.
  5. gymrat
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    gymrat - September 17, 2012 9:21 pm
    You must be new to the message boards. There were plenty of people complaining even when going to Rose Bowls.
  6. gymrat
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    gymrat - September 17, 2012 3:03 pm
    And if he hadn't taken the time out and Utah St. kicks the game winning FG with no time left on the clock for UW to come back, YOU would have been the loudest complaining why no time outs to preserve time for yourself.
  7. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - September 17, 2012 1:36 pm
    53562 is right. Given the turnover and the vagaries of recruiting, it's the nature of college football that every now and then you have a surprising year and every now and then you have a disappointing one. 2012 is headed down Road #2 at present, but it seems more bitter than normal because last year we spent a lot of time on Road #1.
    Heck, I remember when we HOPED for the occasional mediocre year in the middle of an abysmal decade. I'm not ready to write anybody off just yet.
    Report Abuse
    SBADGERBOY - September 17, 2012 12:23 am
    Very creative play calling-
    1st down--Montee Ball left
    2nd down- Montee Ball right
    3rd down- swing pass to Montee Ball
    4th down-Punt
    No quarterback will ever look good in this crappy offense. Canada is way over his head.
  9. Overrated
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    Overrated - September 16, 2012 7:05 pm
    WE are so bad, just like basketball, play it safe and don't schedule anyone. Hate MSU but got to respect them. They have already played to ranked teams and we have non. Need to stop being weak and play SOMEONE, please. Only have to compete with Purdue, ILL and Indiana to make BTEN final. As always, we have it all laid out for us to go somewhere. SUCKY LEADERS DIVISION.
  10. leedeke
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    leedeke - September 16, 2012 5:13 pm
    I'm 5'7 213 60-yrs. old.I would like a full ride to Wis to play WR. With BB as our coach you don't have to worry about getting a pass throwin to you unlss your Abby. Don't we have other wide-outs on scholarship?
    Report Abuse
    ABDGRFN - September 16, 2012 3:23 pm
    I think that I agree with 53562 the most. I heard a lot of comments in the stands last night calling for Chryst to return..........from the same fans who called for him to be gone the last couple of years. Something needs to be straightened out but comments should be written hot and sent cold.
    Tom maybe its a good thing that Coach can't "impulsively" let you go, but then again you write partly to solicit rash remarks.

    On Wisconsin
  12. Big_Joe
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    Big_Joe - September 16, 2012 3:00 pm
    Did anyone notice the absurdly stupid time out taken by BB with about a minute to play? The one that saved more time for Utah State? When it comes to crunch time, Bret's circuits go haywire.
  13. Big_Joe
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    Big_Joe - September 16, 2012 2:56 pm
    Not yet. Not yet...BUT, we now get to see how BB does with coach selection and management. The early returns don't look too good.
  14. Big_Joe
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    Big_Joe - September 16, 2012 2:54 pm
    Still, you can't argue with their success. But, we've got the worst of both worlds now. No ground OR air attack. Let's just hope they can recover--but I'm not holding my bretath.
  15. seered
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    seered - September 16, 2012 1:20 pm
    Agree with badgerfan1.....nothing is fixed on the offense. they one more week to figure it out. Someone has to be open for a pass when the box is loaded. If DOB and Stave can't roll out play Phillips! He could at least get the pass off, and or run a pitch out to the rb to get outside the ends. WTF!!!!
  16. hcliff1
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    hcliff1 - September 16, 2012 1:05 pm
    Here's the deal, Montee' Ball is not a Heisman back this year yet they still are trying to get him his yards even thought it is effecting the offensive balance. O'brien can throw the ball but can't run and the offensive line can't help him.
    The offensive play calling is horrible, Utah State had 10 men in the box and they were "all" rushing forward on the snap. There is nothing in the Wisconsin play calling to keep them honest.
    Finally, all the local Bielema supports mostly on the radio "Heller" quit apoligizing for these boneheaded coaching moves. Now we have a qb controversy, could it get any worse? The big 10 is gonna take some severe revenge on Bielema and his staff this year, KARMA and payback for classlessly running up scores...........
  17. badgerfan1
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    badgerfan1 - September 16, 2012 12:30 pm
    It is unbelievable that a team would continue to try the same thing (pounding the ball on the ground) time after time with little results. It was apparent to anybody watching the game that Utah St played strictly for the run--eight men in the box with the safeties crashing down with every play. The offensive line may not andf probably are not that good (over rated) but they were simply out numbered on virtually every play. Now why in the world did the coaching staff not do something about this? Either this QB is so poor or we have virtually no deep threat or for that matter even a medium threat at receivers. It is obviously a combination of both plus the refusal of the coaching staff to realise they are simply unable to run the ball down the throat of even a second rung team. The Badgers have been in top bowls (including 2 straight Rose Bowls) and they can not recruit better receivers, and overall talent? This fact along with the lack of coaching ability speaks very poorly for the program. I remeber well the days when the only reason to go to the games was to party, the biggest attraction was the tuba section marching around the field (now it is Jump Around)--I fear we are headed in that direction again. Unfortunately Alvarez's pride and stubborness may take the program full circle.
  18. BDTR
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    BDTR - September 16, 2012 10:42 am
    The good ship, Badger FB, continues to take on water. Quick, Capt. Booger, throw another body overboard! QB coach, TE coach, OC, it doesn't matter. Shoot first, and aim later! Oh, and check out Pittsburgh if you want to see improvement week on week.
  19. magnum1
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    magnum1 - September 16, 2012 9:51 am
    Badgers need a quarterback! that's all
  20. 53562
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    53562 - September 16, 2012 9:11 am
    Funny how Bielema was ok when we were winning conference championships but now he's an idiot.

    Some of you people need to get outside for some fresh air. You sound like 12 year olds on your parents computer.
  21. skipuke
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    skipuke - September 16, 2012 8:41 am
    The Utah State game proclaims loudly to the world that what Wisconsin needs is better coaching. Four off-side penalties in the first half, a punted fair catch on the 2 yard line, running the same unsuccessful plays up the middle on third down and short, blown pass coverage (again), a QB who does not know when to throw the ball away...
  22. Hoople
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    Hoople - September 16, 2012 8:29 am
    DGM, the line was horrible. What game were you watching? No talent + poor coaching = a very long and ugly Big 10 season.
  23. number6
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    number6 - September 16, 2012 8:14 am
    I'm optimistic -- maybe 6/6 this year, we lose 6 times, the other team blows it 6 times.
  24. fredfunk
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    fredfunk - September 16, 2012 8:04 am
    hand picked coach brett must go.
  25. Maui Jim
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    Maui Jim - September 16, 2012 8:04 am
    Bielema plays 'Barry Ball' and as long as he is the A.D. we will NEVER have a coach who will have a more wide open offense. If you think about it, look how under utilized Wilson was last year, one of the top 5 QB's in the country goes 17 for 17 in one game and never throws again in the second half....way to promote a QB for the Heisman! Just think if Bielema/Chryst would have turned that guy loose for a full 4 qtrs. , one, Mich St and Ohio St wouldn't have come down to the last play and 2, we might have been in the national championship game.

    Honestly, if you were a promising young QB would you come to Wis. where "we run da ball" mentality exists. When I hear Bielema say "this is how we do it at Wis.", all it shows me is a coach who is unwilling to adopt a new system or philosophy and will never change....and an A.D. who coached the same way.
  26. DGM
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    DGM - September 16, 2012 7:41 am
    The Badger offensive line actually did extraordinarily well, considering that every person in the stadium knew that virtually every offensive play on 1st, 2nd and even 3rd down would be a run into the interior line. Bielema either has forgotten (or never realized) that the "great Badger running game" of the past stemmed from having a multidimensional offense with a QB who could pass efficiently (plus hang onto the ball) and/or (in the case of Wilson) hurt you badly with his scrambling. The Badgers have neither this year, and unless they start passing a lot more AND having a much more varied running game, they will struggle to win a Big ten game. Bielema's now an experienced Division I coach, we expected more of him than this.
  27. jabbs
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    jabbs - September 16, 2012 7:31 am
    It is difficult to imagine how Bielema, as HEAD coach was not aware of these multiple problems on the offensive side;. One can only wonder if the successes of the Badgers over the last several years was due to (1) a winning tradition and style of play from previous days that lead to high quality offensive line and running back recruitment and (2) coaching assistants like Chryst and Doeren, who despite a head coach deficiency made the team work. I guess we will see.Most of us were not impressed by the way that Alvarez chose Bielema, seemingly an unknown, with no real ideas different from Alvarez (run on every play, not recruiting top quarterbacks, etc.) , not likely to rock the AD's boat.... Not really in the UW tradition...
  28. badgerfaninflorida
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    badgerfaninflorida - September 16, 2012 7:09 am
    A win is a win is a win but boy was it UGLY.
  29. badgernorth
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    badgernorth - September 16, 2012 6:43 am
    Stave is NOT the answer (If you were watching the game, you know what I mean) ...unless your passing game is a 2-3 yard exercise in futility. He would be a great QB in the fraternity, touch football league.....maybe. Put O'Brien back in and get the thing rolling with some imaginative play calling....and eliminate the stupid penalties by the O line. Running teams can't exist with first and 15 every series.
  30. retired
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    retired - September 16, 2012 4:59 am
    Did you also notice, all the other big 10 teams won by 30 or more. Going to be a long season in Madison.
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