The Wisconsin Badgers started their highly anticipated 2010 football season in Sin City Saturday night. While the Badgers came away with a 20-point victory, there were a few concerns for fans, as the Badgers went into the half only up three. But after the dust had cleared, the Badgers emerged unscathed and with only eleven more games to go in their quest to go undefeated. Special teams and defense were solid while coach Brett Bielema, running backs John Clay, Montee Ball and James White were spectacular. Quarterback Scott Tolzien left something to be desired, while Linebacker Chris Borland showed why he is going to be a difference maker on the defense. The Badgers have to be happy with a win in Las Vegas, and here are the top ten things that we all learned in Saturday night.
Wisconsin Quarterback Scott Tolzien Fades Back to Pass
Overall, quarterback Scott Tolzien was pretty solid in the passing game against UNLV. But as a perfectionist, Tolzien would be the first to admit, he missed some opportunities. In the off-season, Tolzien acknowledged that if the Badgers are going to compete for the conference championship, he will have to limit mistakes.
However, on Saturday, Tolzien threw no touchdowns and an interception returned for a touchdown. The interception was clearly his fault, as he stared down the receiver the entire play. Tolzien had all day to make the play. After Tolzien watches the tape and sees the UNLV secondary cheating up and being very aggressive, maybe he will learn to fake and go over the top...overall, he was fairly accurate, completing 15-20 passes for 198 yards, but that play was not pretty, double coverage, telegraphed pass, that can't happen in conference play.
Wisconsin Head Coach Brett Bielema Glares at a Referee
The Badgers stuck to what they are good at, toting the rock. When UNLV was still in the game, the Badgers rammed the ball right down the middle of the Runnin' Rebel defense, and did not deviate from their game-plan. Props to Bielema and Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst for sticking with what they know to work.
The Badgers special teams was abysmal at times last season, allowing long kickoff returns and tackling poorly throughout the season. During the off-season, Brett Bielema turned over each portion of the special teams units to one of his coaches, and the results were evident last night. The Badgers didn't allow any long returns either on the punt coverage team or the kick-off unit, even to explosive UNLV return man, Deante Purvis.
Nick Toon is one of the most physically talented wide receivers in the Big Ten. Last night, he was upstaged by senior receiver David Gilreath. Each receiver had four receptions, none for touchdowns, but Gilreath had the 45 yard reception that set up the Badger's second touchdown. If Gilreath continues to emerge as a big play guy, and Tolzien gets his head on straight, the Badger passing game will become a force to be reckoned with.
The biggest question going into the Badger's first game was going to be the defense. That question was answered in a big way in the game against UNLV. Before anyone says it was a weak team, let's keep in mind both Oklahoma, and Texas, as well as Florida all struggled to put away their opponents, while the Badger defense only allowed 16 yards of total offense until the third quarter. The Badgers also had four sacks, the most by any Big Ten team this week. The defense relapsed to last season's form in the fourth quarter, allowing some big plays and letting UNLV find the end-zone one last time, but overall, the defense was solid, allowing only 217 yards of total offense.
The Badger's O-Line dominated the trenches, allowing all three Wisconsin running backs to gain three-four yards before being touched on almost every carry, and protecting Scott Tolzien the entire game. The offensive line is huge, and athletic, and capable of domination along the line.
Almost everyone knows about John Clay, and he was great against UNLV, but not many people have heard about Montee Ball or freshman James White. The Badger's back-up running backs combined for 138 yards on 27 carries, and both of them show extremely good bursts and great elusiveness. Ball scored two touchdowns. There are very few teams in the country with two backs this capable, much less three.
Over the last few seasons, Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst has gotten the badger's running backs involved in the passing game. That looks to be the case this season as well. The Badger backs accounted for four of the Badger's 15 receptions, and averaged over ten yards per reception. This adds another facet to an already potent offense.
Other than this blatantly obvious face-mask, Clay was very good against the Rebels. Coming off surgery on both ankles in the off-season, some where unsure how Clay would be affected. His carries were limited in the game, but he managed 123 yards, two touchdowns and a 7.2 yards per carry average. Clay's cuts were solid and his size enabled him to run over and drag tacklers. Running behind this offensive line, he may gain 2,000 yards this season.
The Badger's linebacking corps combined for sixteen total tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss to go with a sack by Chris Borland. The 'backers were solid in coverage, and showed good instincts. When Mike Taylor comes back from his injury, the Badger linebackers could compete for best group in the nation.