December 27, 2008

Post-Champs Sports Bowl analysis

The Wisconsin football team did not do anything Saturday afternoon to salvage its disappointing and at times disastrous season in the Champs Sports Bowl. In some regards, UW's 42-13 loss to Florida State was a perfect portfolio of the 2008 season. The Badgers hung in there for some time, but unraveled when it mattered most.

Following the conclusion of the blowout, Wisconsin finished the season 7-6 and will have another bowl loss staining the cardinal and white jerseys until it takes the field next September.

The following is an analysis of Saturday's game:

UW offense:

Obviously the Badgers tried to run the ball against Florida State's undersized, yet extremely quick and athletic defensive front. However, the term one-dimensional may have reached a new level as the Badgers had no semblance of a passing game throughout.

Whether the coaching staff was afraid to let Dustin Sherer pass the ball with FSU's relentless pass rush or just thought the run game was the best road to victory, there were extreme lapses on the offensive side of the ball. In the end, UW out rushed the Seminole's 201 to 134, but because its passing game did absolutely nothing when the game mattered, it lost the total offense battle my nearly 80 yards.

In fact, Florida State scored two defensive touchdowns following two Badger fumbles during the game. The first, and opening score of the game, came in the first half as the Badgers were marching deep into Seminole territory. The second came with the game in hand as Sherer was hit from behind and fumbled the ball to the FSU defender who took it to the house.

The only glimpse of any offensive momentum was on two P.J. Hill runs of 46 and 43 yards respectively, easily the longest plays from scrimmage throughout the game. Much talk was made heading into the contest in regard to UW's massive offensive line and the speed of the FSU defense, and in this case, size was no match for speed. Hill was caught from behind when he broke into the open field, and UW's drives would stall each time after getting into FSU territory.

But perhaps the biggest gaff of the night was at the end of the first half. With just over a minute to play in the second quarter and trailing 7-3 while backed up inside its own 20, UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst thought UW could move the ball through the air. With an incomplete pass, UW did FSU a favor by stopping the clock and by falling short on third down, the Seminoles burned a timeout and got the ball in great field position. A short number of plays later, Florida State had a 14-3 lead going into the break after a great Greg Carr catch in the corner of the end zone.

The Badgers never bounced back.

Grade: D-

UW defense:

In the first half, the Badger defense played exceptionally well. The only problem that occurred was a lapse at the end of the first half that allowed the FSU touchdown in the waning seconds, but the Badger defense should have never been in that position if it would have ran out the clock instead of pass.

It was evident that Christian Ponder was sore from all the hits he had taken from the UW defensive line in the first half. It seemed like the Badger front four had FSU's number, particularly senior Matt Shaughnessy. Multiple times during the first half, Shaughnessy broke into the backfield and harassed the Seminole quarterback, but that effort was for naught as the second half rolled around.

After UW opened the half by scoring a field goal to cut the lead to 14-6, the Florida State offense took the ball and marched down the field and eventually scored a touchdown to open its lead to 21-6. That long drive seemed to take the wind out of the Badger's defensive sails as it was never the same from that point on.

On UW's next offensive possession, Hill fumbled inside Florida State's 30 yard line, and FSU once again made the Badger defense pay. The speed of the Seminole backs and the height advantage its receivers held over UW were key throughout the game. It certainly did not help when the Badger secondary gave up a third and 19 situation and was called for a phantom roughing the kicker penalty that extended FSU drives.

In all actuality, the Badger defense allowed 28 points, but was unable to get off the field and force FSU into any turnovers, and that proved to be a major turning point in the game.

Grade: C-

Special teams:

There is a reason Graham Gano won the Lou Groza kicker of the year. He was simply amazing during the course of the game, especially during the first half. Multiple times he pinned the Badgers deep in its own territory and never allowed the Badgers to fully get into its game plan because he altered field position that much.

He also got away with an obvious flop at a critical time during the third quarter when UW forced a punt. With Louis Nzegwu diving off the end, Gano fell to the ground after he punted the ball. Although the referee was right there, he failed to notice the Badger special teamer did not touch the FSU punter.

For UW, Brad Nortman punted the ball well and Philip Welch nailed a couple of field goals, but never had a major impact on the game.
Grade: B

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