Was Wisconsin Coach Bielema Wrong For Running Up the Score On the Gophers?

Kevin LindseyAnalyst IOctober 10, 2010

Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema
Wisconsin Coach Bret BielemaAl Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The most exciting aspect of the border war between Wisconsin and Minnesota was the post-game handshake between Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema and Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster.  Difficult to imagine that there will be an exchange of holiday greeting cards between Mr. Bielema and Mr. Brewster.

The Badgers dominated the Gophers from the start of the game.  Wisconsin raced out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter the old fashioned way – they ran the ball down the Gophers throat.

On Wisconsin’s first two touchdown drives, the Badgers ran the ball 13 times out of their 17 plays. If you eliminate the plays where the Badgers were within five yards of Minnesota’s end zone, the Badgers only failed once to gain at least five yards on the ground.

Minnesota to its credit closed the gap in the second quarter cutting the lead to 14-9 at halftime.

Bielema and the Badgers emerged after halftime with the same recipe for success that worked in the first quarter.  Wisconsin returned to heavy doses of running the ball with an occasional play action pass or quick slant to keep the Gophers honest.

As a result, Wisconsin scored touchdowns on its first four possessions of the second half.  The score stood at 41-16 with 6:39 to go in the game when Bielema decided to go for a two point conversion.

The two point conversion failed on a simple passing play.

The Gophers quickly scored a touchdown on their next possession to cut the lead to 41-23.  Instead of trying an onside kick, Minnesota kicked the ball deep.

Wisconsin consumed the last five minutes of the game by running the ball. 

As the rival head coaches met to shake hands after the game it was clear that there was some animosity between the two men.

When asked after the game why he went for a two point conversion, Bielema stated that he did so because it was on the “card” that all coaches use to determine when to go for one or two points.

"You know what?  If we're playing and somebody is going to go for two against me because they're up 25, that's what they should do, that's what the card says," Bielema said.

I laughed when I heard Bielema first say he consulted the card; I smirk now even writing down his quote.

Coach Brewster must not have one of those cards because he didn’t agree with Bielema’s decision.

“I thought it was a very poor decision by a head football coach and he'll have to live with that," said Brewster.  "It was wrong. Everybody in here knows it and everybody in college football knows it. It was wrong."

Was Bielema’s decision wrong because going for a two point conversion exhibits poor sportsmanship?

If the “kids” playing in the game were a bunch of eight-year-olds, I would likely take issue with Bielema’s decision.  The “kids” playing in the game are however actually adults playing major college football in the Bowl Championship Series division. 

No one needs to protect the Gopher players when the team they are playing is trying to score.  The Gopher players simply need to step up and make plays. 

The Gophers defense has not had much success this year but they do occasionally make plays. 

Remember, Minnesota did stop the Badgers on their two point conversion attempt.

Bielema’s decision to go for the two point conversion can be justified on the grounds that he is trying to position his team for the BCS Championship game or a BCS Bowl game.

It is no secret that teams gain more points in the eyes of the voters when ranked teams such as Wisconsin post huge victories over lesser opponents.   Ranked teams that win close games against teams with losing records are not looked upon favorably by pollsters.

In order for a victory by Wisconsin over Minnesota to be viewed as a quality win, Wisconsin needed to post a solid double digit victory over Minnesota.

Don’t believe it?  USC beat Minnesota 32-21 earlier this year and then dropped two spots in the Associated Press poll.

Somehow, however I don’t think that Bielema based his decision to go for the two point conversion to bolster his team’s standings in the polls.

I think there is something personal between the two coaches. 

Is Bielema irked over the fact that Minnesota has hired several former Wisconsin coaches?  Does bad blood still exist between Bielema and Brewster over recruits such as David Gilreath who chose Wisconsin over Minnesota?

Big Ten studio analyst Gerry DiNardo suggested that Bielema’s decision was not made solely on the basis of relying on the card.  “I would suggest to you that if there wasn’t already bad feelings, then Bret Bielema wouldn’t have used the chart,” DiNardo said, “Other things come into the decision when you use the chart.”

Why did Coach Bielema decide to go to the chart when he is up by 25 points in the fourth quarter when his running game is firing on all cylinders?

I don’t fault Bielema going for the two point conversation. 

The game between Minnesota and Wisconsin is college football played on the big stage and it is legitimate for Wisconsin to want to pad its resume to enhance its chances of going to a BCS bowl game.

However, I do wish that Bielema would have been more honest about his motives.


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