Fresno State - Wisconsin: Week Two Pros & Cons

David JohnsonContributor ISeptember 14, 2009

It felt like mid-August on Saturday in Madison. While the weather was unseasonably hot, the atmosphere was hotter at Camp Randall Stadium.

The Wisconsin Badgers hosted the Fresno State Bulldogs in a reciprocation game. While unranked, Fresno State has a solid reputation in college football as a well-coached team that is fundamentally sound and runs the ball well.

In Madison, they were also showcasing an aerial attack that had Bucky on his heels early.

To start the game, Wisconsin won the toss and deferred to the second half. After both teams had a short series that ended in punts, it was Fresno State getting on the board early and fast.

Let's get to the pros of Saturday's game.

Scott Tolzien

Wisconsin has found its quarterback. While the season is still young, Tolzien has been good, poised, and shown he has a strong arm and can move around in the pocket more than everyone thought.

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Tolzien completed 17 of his 28 attempts for 225 yards and one touchdown. These aren't Heisman Award numbers, but he's doing more than managing the game. He's making plays.

John Clay

In the fourth quarter, Clay showed he still has breakaway speed with his large frame, thundering off for a 72-yard touchdown. Clay finished the game with 21 carries for 143 yards and a touchdown. He was also used in the blocking game and was solid.


During Fall Camp, the Big Ten Network traveled to all 11 Big Ten schools and did a correspondence from practice. They proclaimed that Wisconsin has an underrated receiving corp and combined, could be some of the best in the nation.

Again, the receivers aren't putting up huge numbers, but they are making the right plays and have been nearly flawless this season.

Isaac Anderson hauled in another big catch this week for 44 yards. He finished the game with four receptions and 70 yards.

Nick Toon proved again to be a go-to guy in big situations and snagged four balls for 49 yards while adding a touchdown in the first overtime. 

Garrett Graham, yet again, did all the right things, including a 26-yard catch in the second quarter to set up a touchdown drive. He finished the game with three catches for 49 yards.

David Gilreath scored two plays after Graham's big catch on a reverse from eight yards out to make it a game again for Wisconsin. Gilreath had two receptions for 33 yards and three carries for 21 yards and the aforementioned touchdown.

Special Teams

Unfortunately, it's been a while since the special teams play has been a bright spot for Wisconsin.

It started with on a negative note when Philip Welch missed a 47-yard field goal at the beginning of the second quarter to go 0-for-3 to start his season. However, he would atone for that later.

Welch nailed a career-long 57-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to send Wisconsin into the locker room down by four and with momentum on its side.

Welch had some good kickoffs this week, too. None were touchbacks, but he did average 67 yards per kickoff. Also, in double overtime, Welch knocked in a 22-yard chip shot to seal the victory for Wisconsin.

David Gilreath didn't get his hands on the ball much during kickoffs, but that was Fresno State's game plan. When Gilreath did, he made them pay. Gilreath had only two returns but, averaged 36.5 yards per return, with his longest return being 38 yards.

Brad Nortman was great again on Saturday with some beautiful punts. Nortman booted six punts for 285 yards.

He had two punts within the 20, with one punt being down at the one-yard line to begin the fourth quarter. Nortman's longest punt was 58 yards on the day. 

Also, Chris Borland had his ups and downs in the special teams area. He snagged the last kickoff of the game right in front of Gilreath and went to one knee after a 10-yard return.

Putting the ball in Gilreath's hands could have set up better field position and potentially Wisconsin would have gone for the win instead of running out the clock and going to overtime.

However, Borland was victimized in the fourth quarter after John Clay's 72-yard touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, Fresno State's A.J. Jefferson fielded it at the goal line. Borland came steaming in, looking to drop Jefferson for a 10-yard gain at the most.

However, a block in the back blew the play up. A referee was no more than three yards away from the infraction that happened right in front of him, but declined to throw a penalty flag.

Jefferson returned the ball for a 34-yard gain, giving the Bulldogs great field position. The Bulldogs' drive stalled, but Borland was robbed of a great special teams play.

Turnover Battle

While Fresno State seemed to have the momentum from the beginning of the game, it's always been said that the winner will always win the turnover battle. This held true on Saturday.

Interceptions by reserve cornerbacks Niles Brinkley and Antonio Fenelus were crucial, as Fresno State was moving the ball with relative ease on those drives.

However, the biggest turnover came in overtime when senior safety Chris Maragos stepped up again and picked the ball off in the end zone. Maragos' play sealed the win for Wisconsin, as Welch kicked the winning 22-yard field goal.


The Badgers faced documented adversity all week when the flu bug riddled the locker room. J.J. Watt and Aaron Henry were the most notable players affected by the flu.

After the game, Coach Bielema stated that 40 players had flu-like symptoms during the week. Preparation for the game was handled differently, including a rare Friday practice, just to get all the "X's and O's" in line for their formidable opponent.

Also, when the Badgers were down 14-0 early in the game, the team was unaffected.  This is a team that has confidence in itself and in its teammates.

This wasn't a sexy win for the Badgers, but good teams always find a way to win. Many BCS teams won't play Fresno State because they won't go to Fresno. 

Coach Hill is a fantastic coach that gets effort from all of his players. He doesn't get five-star recruits. He recruits players who are big, tough, and have a blue-collar work ethic.

Captain Play

Captains are leaders on and off the field. Chris Maragos and O'Brien Schofield are setting positive examples for everyone on the field with tenacious play and tremendous heart.

Schofield led the Badgers with 11 tackles, one sack, and four tackles for loss. Schofield was helped off the field in the fourth quarter, but came back out for the first overtime and had a six yard tackle for loss.

Maragos had two of the biggest plays of the game on defense, both of which were game saving. The Bulldogs' running back, Ryan Matthews, broke off a 55-yard run in the third quarter. Maragos chased him down, making the touchdown-saving tackle.

The next play, quarterback Ryan Colburn threw an interception to Antonio Fenelus, thus ending the Fresno State threat. Also, Maragos had the aforementioned interception in the second overtime to give Wisconsin the ball and the victory.

Now, let's touch on the cons of the game. These are things that need to be fixed before conference play in order for Wisconsin to be a contender for the Big Ten title.

Slow Start

The game looked promising at the start when the defense forced Fresno State to a three-and-out.

However, the game turned ugly quickly. Fresno State led at the end of the first quarter, 7-0. Also, the Bulldogs struck quickly at the beginning of the second quarter and Wisconsin was down 14-0 with 14:46 remaining in the half. 


Wisconsin's defense didn't do much to stop the Bulldogs in their tracks on Saturday. It seemed at times that Colburn had all the time in the world to read the field and make safe and accurate throws.

There wasn't much of a pass rush with only two sacks in the game and no QB hurries. However, when pressed to make a big play, Colburn made bad decisions with the football, which directly led to all three of his interceptions.

Fresno State often times broke the first and second tackles, which was far different from Wisconsin's approach last weekend against the Huskies. The Bulldogs averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 196 yards rushing for the game.

Most of the Big Ten teams on the Badgers' schedule have equivalent or better running games. The run defense will have to be corrected to remain competitive throughout the season.

The pass defense was also scorched for some big plays. The most notable was Devin Smith in the second quarter.

Colburn connected with Devon Wylie for a 70 yard touchdown to put Wisconsin down by 14. In all, Colburn finished the game with four touchdowns and 289 yards passing.


Penalties were another killer this week. Wisconsin can attribute part of the slow start to penalties. Scott Tolzien was twice a victim of the play clock and was whistled for a delay of game to start a drive.

The first was after the Bulldogs' first touchdown, with the second being after the kickoff at halftime. Tolzien will get a mental clock in his head with experience, but it needs to be addressed before conference play.

Nick Toon was also flagged for a false start in the first quarter. No wide receiver should be flagged for a false start, especially playing on home turf. It's understandable that Toon wanted to break off the line and gain separation, but this is inexcusable.

Niles Brinkley was called for a 15-yard face mask penalty when he tackled Seyi Ajirotutu by his helmet, pulling him out of bounds.

Brinkley made of up for his mistake three plays later when he intercepted Colburn, ending the Bulldogs' push through Badgers' territory.

In the first overtime, Jaevery McFadden was called for pass interference on 2nd-and-goal from the 16 yard line.

This moved Fresno State to the two yard line with four opportunities and an open playbook to score. Fresno State scored on its next play to force the second overtime.

Time Of Possession

The team with the ball wins the game. It's that simple. If a team can control the ball, it can control the game. Fresno State controlled the ball, except for the third quarter.

Wisconsin cannot allow teams in conference play to control the tempo of the game and expect to survive. Fresno State is typically a slow-working, bruising style offense. When it can control the ball and execute the fundamentals, it will be successful.


Again, it's unknown how badly the flu interfered with the Badgers and their preparation for Fresno State. It is safe to say the flu affected the depth of the team overall.

Aaron Henry didn't play in the second half after having flu-like symptoms Saturday morning. J.J. Watt wasn't in the game as much as last week and it was documented he was ill this last week as well. Those are two big cogs of the Wisconsin defense.

Fresno State is a quality opponent and is rarely seen on the non-conference schedules for BCS schools. I like the gamble Wisconsin took on playing Fresno State. The Bulldogs are tough to beat anywhere they play because they are disciplined, tough, and well-coached. 

While there were problems again this week, Wisconsin was victorious. The Badgers aren't BCS contenders this year. There is a wide range of issues that must be dealt with before that happens.

However, it is nice to see a two-dimensional offense, unlike last week. Fresno State's adjustments at halftime were to stop the Wisconsin passing game.

Wisconsin ran play-action a lot, keeping the Bulldogs defense true, and Clay broke the big run in the fourth to give Wisconsin momentum.

I would have liked to see Coach Bielema try to put the ball in the air a little more before halftime. Wisconsin ran the ball three times before it went through the air on a 44-yard completion to Issac Anderson.

Tolzien was then sacked, and Welch kicked a field goal to go into the half. The 57-yard field goal by Welch was impressive, but points may have been left on the field with the way the offense was clicking in the second quarter.

Also, I would have liked to see Coach Bielema take a shot downfield when Wisconsin got the ball back with 16 seconds left in regulation.

However, he's wearing the headset on Saturday, and I'm sitting on my couch critiquing. I have the utmost respect for Bret and I think he has a talented team this season.

That's all for Week Two's "Pros & Cons." Keep your eyes up and On Wisconsin!