A Letter to Coach Bielema.

Written Ramblings by DJ

Despite tough losses, Wisconsin still has a path towards Pasadena.

Dear Coach Bielema,

It all happened so fast. Just about a month ago, you were riding high in Madison after thumping the Huskers. There was no stopping the Bucky train after that historic night. Everybody knew Camp Randall is one of the toughest joints to play during the night but nobody expected your squad to hammer another team ranked in the top ten in that fashion. You made it clear during your next game against Indiana that you weren’t afraid to run up the score to help your case in the polls. Actually, you’ve made that clear in the past against other teams too … Tim Brewster, the former head coach of Minnesota is still pissed at you for that two point conversion you pulled off despite the 25 point lead. You did everything you were supposed to during the first five weeks to prove that the Badgers were a contender. The media bought in as they hyped up the Badgers and essentially crowned them as the favorite to win the Big Ten.

But you have been in Wisconsin for a while now to understand the fickle nature of the media. You knew the media hypes up teams a little too much and they do it quickly. They get too excited about hottest team now. Heck, you and your buddy Bo Ryan ALWAYS get the short end of the stick in terms of the media hype. There is really nobody specific to blame for what happened over the last ten days. The hype was too much but you had every reason to believe that you were going to run the table. Everything after the first five weeks of play suggested that there was no challenge after the Nebraska game. But at the same time, somewhere deep inside you knew that anything can happen in this conference. You know the unpredictable nature of the Big Ten better than anybody else …

1. You probably didn’t even realize that Russell Wilson was this good. He was the biggest free agent acquisition of the off-season in all of college football and I am sure you played a significant part in the recruiting pitch. But when we saw him carve up the Nebraska secondary with ease; everybody agreed that he was the real deal. After all this is the same Husker secondary that puzzled Kirk Cousins’ offense last Saturday with their zone defense. Because of Wilson’s uncanny ability to throw 40 yard passes on the run, it possibly covered up the holes in the defense … just a little bit. But there was reason to believe that this Wisconsin team was different than the past years because of the quarterback play.

2. It isn’t your fault that ESPN kept showing the rest of your schedule on the screen during the fourth quarter of the blowout against Nebraska as they tried to identify the potential pitfalls after that game. The game that was circled repeatedly was against Illinois. Illinois??? This is the same team that started 6-0 and will probably end up at 7-5. You knew that wasn’t your toughest test. You coached against The Zooker for over five seasons now and it is a known fact around the league that the Illini always choke during the second half of the year. Illinois was riding their best win of the year as they beat Arizona State the weekend before at home. Herbstreit and Mussberger were not totally off when they ignored the trips to Columbus and East Lansing. Why?? Because Michigan State just dropped out of the rankings after a debacle in South Bend and Ohio State couldn’t complete a pass against Miami. Once again, the focus was on teams that were good at the moment!!

3. You weren’t expected to roll against Michigan State but your team clearly had the upper hand and deservedly so. The Spartans won ugly at Ohio State and had a few lucky breaks against Michigan so there was every reason to believe that Wilson would tear up the vaunted Michigan State defense b/c Notre Dame, another team that likes to throw a fair amount comfortably beat Sparty. But State did outgain the Irish on the road; turnovers spoiled their road trip. But it is still Michigan State on the road … East Lansing has been a house of horrors for the Badgers over the last eight years. If I remember correctly, Wisconsin hasn’t won a game over there since 2002. They spoiled your season last year and somehow the college football gods set you up to go there two years in a row. You can thank Nebraska for screwing the scheduling for you.

4. As if one road night game wasn’t enough, you had two of them scheduled consecutively! You know from experience that night games in the Big Ten bring an entirely different twist to home field advantage. Combine that factor with the fact that this is against The Buckeyes?? There is a history between the two programs and that intangible does matter in this conference. Your program shattered their hopes of an undefeated season twice over the last decade. You might not have been around in Madison for the 2003 bruiser against the #1 Ohio State team. Lee Evans caught the deep ball to shut down any hopes that Tressel had of a repeat trip to the BCS title game. You put your own mark against the Scarlet & Gray last year when your team exposed Terelle Prior’s inability to pass consistently and broke their undefeated season again. You have been around Camp Randall enough to know that road games at night are not easy. That is the nature of the Big Ten where teams have the best home field advantage over any other conference.

5. It isn’t your fault (maybe some of it is) that your defense was shocked to see Braxton Miller chuck a 40 yard pass as he was about to go out of bounds last Saturday night. The safeties should not have given up on that play especially after what happened during the last game but you can’t be blamed for that b/c Miller hasn’t shown any ability to attempt, let alone complete long passes until that very moment. This is the same quarterback that didn’t even attempt a pass against Illinois until halfway through the 2nd quarter. And they could have gone the whole game without passing to beat Illinois (that’s the genius of The Zooker). This is the same offense that played musical chairs with Bauserman/Miller against Michigan State at home and scored an apathetic touchdown with a minute left in the fourth quarter. Nobody, I mean nobody including the home crowd saw that pass coming.

I didn’t research any defensive analytics about the Badger secondary but they let you down a little bit over the last couple weeks. There was a fair amount of talk around Nebraska’s brutal schedule but your program didn’t exactly have the easiest road towards the BCS title game either. Those two road games are legitimately tough and your team played its heart out for about 118 out of the 120 minutes. There is nothing wrong with that. All of this obviously makes sense now after the two losses. Everything in hindsight is 20/20 right??

Wisconsin didn’t take those games for granted! They were well aware of the challenges on the road but they needed some luck to pull it off. Every contender needs to catch a few breaks on the road against tough foes but your team got nothing. Michigan State wasn’t called for a single penalty during the whole game. How rare is that??? One of the backup quarterbacks (Keith Nichol) caught the winning pass that ricocheted off the best receiver (BJ Cunningham). What are the odds?? It is just bad luck.

Now the media will write you off as vulnerable and basically make it seem like the entire season was a waste. But there is still plenty of hope left. The Badgers might not end up in the BCS title game but the second half of the conference schedule is not insurmountable. Sure, Penn State has a two game lead over you but guess what? They have to play Nebraska at home and go to Columbus. It is more than likely that they lose one of those games. And you will have your shot against the Nittany Lions in Madison to end the season. Illinois made their QB Matt McGloin look like Tom Brady during the last drive on Saturday but his play this season has been analogous to that of Matt Moore in Miami. Ohio State has the tiebreaker against Bucky but they end the season in Ann Arbor. Brady Hoke and the improving Michigan defense will be ready for that one. Hoke will be wearing a headset the entire game on November 26th, I can guarantee you that.

The season will be decided in Madison and Ann Arbor. But you need some luck and maybe it will be kind to you during the second half of the year as compared to the last couple weekends. You will probably see D’Antonio or Pelini again in Indianapolis in a few weeks if you run the table. I’ll take the under on the total number of successful Hail Mary’s line of 0.5 during that game. I like my bet b/c what you went through the last two weekends is very rare. You still have the fan base that stuck with the program for decades. They have been around the Big Ten to understand the unpredictability. It will be fine. Your team is still talented enough to play in Pasadena for your first Rose Bowl win since The Great Dayne played in Madison.

Hang in there …

DJ

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