September 27, 2008

UW defense collapses in fourth quarter

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Consider this, the Badger defense held the Wolverines to 21 total yards and forced five turnovers in the first half of Saturday's Big Ten opener. Not knowing any better, one would think UW coasted to an easy win. Not quite. Michigan came out determined in the second half and scored 27 unanswered points to stun No. 9 Wisconsin 27-25.

The following is a positional breakdown of UW's defense from Saturday's game.

Defensive line:

It is somewhat funny how so much can change throughout the course of a game. In the first half, the Badger defensive line looked dominant. Sam McGuffie could not gain any yardage while rushing the ball and quarterback Steven Threet looked shell-shocked.

It was clear Michigan's offensive line is young and morphing into what coach Rich Rodriguez wants them to be,. Early on, UW's front four, with its' athleticism and strength, dismantled the young Wolverine line and forced Michigan into turning the ball over. In total, the Wolverines only managed 21 total yards of offense in the first half and much of that had to do with the play of the Badger defensive line.

Watching the game in the second half though, one could see Threet settling in and the defensive line wearing down which opened the door for key Wolverine big plays. It has to be incredibly frustrating for a unit that was so dominant early in the game knowing that only a couple big plays hurt the Badger defense and in retrospect, cost them the game.

Frankly, not much blame can be put on the Badger front four. They limited the running game and got to Threet, however, when a unit is on the field as much as they were, stamina clearly becomes an issue.

Grade: First half-A; Second half- C

Linebackers:

Much like the defensive line, this unit helped dominate the Michigan offense early on in the game. Jonathan Casillas looked more like his usual self and was all over the field making big plays. But again, when the second half rolled around, everything went out the window, particularly in the fourth quarter.

In fact, the Badgers gave up 155 yards of offense in the final 15 minutes and let the Wolverines score 20 points. On Michigan's first two offensive touchdown plays, the linebackers looked lost.

The first, saw Wolverine receiver Kevin Koger break wide open up the seam for an easy 26-yard pitch and catch late in the third quarter. Then, early in the fourth, Brandon Minor burst through the Badger defensive line, and right past the blitzing linebackers for an easy 34-yard touchdown run. Finally, on what may have been one of the biggest plays of the game, Threet rumbled for 58-yards on an option play, leaving the Badger defense in his wake.

As much as the beginning of the game looked very promising for the Badger front seven, the ending was that much more horrid.

Grade: C-

Secondary:

While Michigan did not really test the Badger secondary that much, (Threet completed only 12 passes), it may have lulled them into a false sense of security. For most of the game, Threet was unable to connect with his receivers and threw erratically. But as the game wore on, poor tackling angles and missed tackles once again doomed the Badgers.

On Minor's touchdown run, Shane Carter looked like a deer in the headlights when he saw the tailback bearing down on him. All Minor had to do was shift to the right and he just simply outran the Badger safety to the end zone.

However, most of the defense's late collapse can be put right back on the Badger offense. Consistently going three and out disallows the defense any chance to regroup and catch their breath.

Grade: C+

Special teams:

Freshman place kicker Philip Welch missed an early field goal attempt, which at the time, looked as though he may be in for a long day. However, he was able to bounce back and connected on his next three kicks including a 52-yarder near the end of the first half.

Punter Brad Nortman struggled somewhat on Saturday, averaging only 39.8 yards per punt. However, he did have a nice head bob that drew Michigan offsides when lined up under center on fourth and one.

All in all, the UW special teams were the only unit of the day that was consistent throughout. They never allowed a big return from the Wolverines and forced them into fumbling the ball multiple times. If only the Badger offense could have turned the great field position into touchdowns, UW would most likely still be unbeaten.

Grade: B. The missed field goal, poor onside kick, and average at best punting hurt the special teams' grade.

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