The Wisconsin Badgers couldn't have picked a better time for a bye week if they tried.
Coming off two straight losses to arguably the two best teams in the Big Ten (Ohio State and Iowa), the Badgers needed this bye week.
Hopefully, the bye will help the Badgers re-group after dropping out of the Big Ten race with those two losses and recover from some of the injuries they've sustained.
John Clay, I'm talking about you.
I also think I can speak for the rest of my fellow students when I say I'm glad there is no Badger game this weekend. Even students can get burned out and with five of the first seven games at home, I'm sure most students are glad to have the weekend off.
Besides, we've got to gear up for the infamous Madison Halloween weekend right? Not to mention there's two hockey games and another football game that weekend.
So...I'm pretty sure most students are glad they have this weekend off.
Anyways, seeing as it's a bye weekend, I think this is a perfect time to grade the 2009 Wisconsin Badgers.
Here we go:
Scott Tolzien started off the year brilliantly. In fact, he looked like he could be one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten.
Then, Wisconsin played Ohio State and Iowa, the two best defenses in the conference. Tolzien threw five interceptions in those two games and looked a lot like the 2009 version of Allen Evridge.
Granted, this is his first year as a starter and nine touchdowns and eight interceptions isn't terrible if you think about it that way.
But, in the two biggest games of the year, Tolzien definitely showed his inexperience. If he wants to remain the starter for his senior season, he'd better show up in these last five games.
Running Backs: A-
Simply put, John Clay has been phenomenal. He's already rushed for 716 yards in his sophomore season, best in the Big Ten. And the year's only a little more than half over.
If he keeps improving the tremendous skills he already has, expect him to be in the Heisman race next year.
However, Wisconsin's other running back, Zach Brown, has been nothing but a disappointment. After having a productive freshman season, Brown has done little over the past two years.
This year, he has only 217 yards and is averaging under four yards a carry. He's also had fumble issues, most notably his fumble that was returned for a touchdown in the game against Minnesota.
If he can't hang onto the ball, he's not going to see much playing time.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B
Although they haven't been amazing by any means, Wisconsin's receivers have definitely helped Tolzien this year.
Wideout Nick Toon and tight end Garrett Graham lead the team with 29 catches apiece. Toon looks like he's following in his father's (former NFL wide receiver Al Toon) footsteps, and Graham could definitely make some noise in the NFL.
Otherwise though, Wisconsin's receivers have been a little inconsistent. Isaac Anderson has stepped up occasionally (most notably, his 80-yard touchdown against Northern Illinois), but sometimes he just disappears during games.
Other than that, Wisconsin doesn't really have any consistent targets. After showing promise the last few years, David Gilreath, Maurice Moore, and Kyle Jefferson have been basically non-existent.
Offensive Line: A
These guys are the glue that holds Wisconsin's offense together. The O-line has given Tolzien excellent protection all year and have opened up huge holes for Clay. No wonder you see Wisconsin offensive linemen in the NFL Draft virtually every year.
As a whole, Wisconsin's offense has been really good. They're averaging a little over 28 points a game, though it would probably be over 30 if they hadn't played OSU and Iowa in back-to-back games.
Areas could definitely be improved, but overall they've exceeded many fans' expectations.
Defensive Line: B+
This is one of the few bright spots on Wisconsin's defense.
Led by O'Brien Schofield, the Badger's D-line is allowing only 3.3 yards per rush and are consistently pressuring the quarterback.
Wisconsin already has 19 sacks, with Schofield leading the team with 6.5. Schofield also leads the team with 16.5 tackles for loss and run plugger J.J. Watt has chipped in with 8.5.
It all starts up front and luckily for the Badgers' defense, that hasn't been a problem.
This is where it starts to get a little dicey for the Badgers defense.
The run defense has been fine for this linebacker unit. The three starting linebackers are leading the team in tackles.
It's the pass defense that's shaky. Sure, they have a few interceptions, but the linebackers have been consistently burned by tight ends and never seem to make a stop in crucial situations.
In addition, outstanding freshman linebacker Mike Taylor—who leads the team in tackles—is out for the year with an injury.
Defensive Backs: D
Wisconsin's defensive backs are awful. There's no way around it.
They give up 211 yards passing a game and have already allowed 11 touchdowns. Defensive backs have only six of the the team's nine interceptions and they consistently give up big plays.
For their part, the safeties haven't been totally awful. Chris Maragos leads the team with three interceptions and Jay Valai has been decent. However, they have been late in helping the cornerbacks multiple times. And believe me, the cornerbacks can use all the help they can get.
Between the rotation of Anthony Fenelus, Devin Smith, Aaron Henry, and Niles Brinkley, the Badgers' cornerbacks have been completely inept. If they're playing zone, they all play about eight yards back allowing for easy short completions. And of course, they'll usually miss the tackle.
If they're playing man, they have to hope for an awful throw or some sort of penalty because they're not going to be able to cover their guy. Really frustrating to watch to say the least.
Special Teams: C-
As far as the punt and kickoff return games, they've been basically non-existent. After showing such promise his freshman year, David Gilreath has done squat.
He's averaging 21.7 yards on kickoff returns and a remarkably horrible 3.6 yards on punt returns. And that's if he doesn't call for a fair catch, which seems to happen at least half the time.
The kicking game has been inconsistent as well. After making a 57-yard field goal against Fresno State, it appeared Phillip Welch's struggles were over. Not so. He's only 8-for-14 and has already missed two field goals inside of 40 yards.
At least Brad Nortman has been a consistent punter: 44 yards a boot and nine inside the 20 isn't too bad.
Overall, the defense is pretty much what fans expected it to be: mediocre. They're giving up 25 points a game, and although they've shown some improvement in the past few games, they still have a lot of work to do.
Well, Bret Bielema has already won five games this year, which is more than most people thought he would have at this point. So I can't give him too harsh of a grade.
However, boneheaded calls (passing the ball on third down when the Badgers were trying to run out the clock against Minnesota) and an inability to adjust his team to the opponent (i.e. the Iowa game) still make his employment a source of constant criticism among Badger fans.
He'd better have a good end to the season. Let's just leave it at that.
Overall Grade: B-