Monday, September 2, 2013

Did I learn anything on Saturday?

Yes, but what I learned was more about the big picture. You don't want to read to much into a game that was probably less competitive than when the 1s play the 2s at practice. With that being said, there are a few things I saw that comforted me.
After Gary Anderson came in with new systems, and brought in a JC transfer QB to run his spread offense I was worried. Those fears were somewhat reduced when Stave won the starting job, as Stave is not mobile and will not be running any read option. The offense on Saturday looked pretty much the same as the offense that UW has run successfully for several years. Lots of power run plays setting up play action passing, with occasional shotgun in 3rd down passing situations. Anderson appears to value getting his best players on the field and playing to their strengths over imposing a preferred scheme.
The offensive line did what you would expect in beating up an undersized and not talented defense. The running backs are talented and fast, and Watt looks like he may join his brother in the NFL someday (if they still have fullbacks by then). The tight ends and wide receivers are solid blockers and effective enough pass catchers, but only Abbrederis is a big play threat. Stave did not look very good in the 1st half, but played better in the 2nd. With only Abbrederis to create big plays in the passing game, the offense will probably struggle as it did last season against good defenses that can slow down the run game. Will the offensive line be good enough to win games by just running the ball? We won't have much idea about that until ASU.
The defense is a bit harder to get a handle on. I assume the Badgers are not going to show their hand until at least the ASU game, so while this defense looked a lot like last years it may look entirely different in 2 weeks. Anderson said he was going to bring in a 3-4 press man coverage scheme that was designed to pressure the QB. I don't remember seeing a CB within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage before the first play of the 2nd quarter. There were a few CB blitzes, but the defense was pretty vanilla and played off the ball. On 3rd down passing situations the Badgers played without anyone down on the defensive line, but they did that last year as well.
The Badgers stayed in their base 3-4 against 3 WR sets just as they did often with their 4-3. The only difference from 3-4 to 4-3 was Kelly was standing up instead of in a 3 point stance on the end of the line. The other OLB Armstrong was standing up as well but not on the line, as he split out to cover the slot WR. Not many 3-4 OLBs are going to match up on a WR, but Armstrong is not a typical 3-4 OLB, and neither is Kelly (a converted DE). UW basically looked like a 4-3 with Kelly standing up. Kelly was in coverage a little, and didn't look very good when he was. When the Badgers did play nickel, with 2 lineman, 4LBs, and 5 DBs, they did play more press coverage, but still with limited blitzing.
There will probably be no more answers against another over matched opponent in Tennessee Tech next week.
My first thoughts on this team is that we are looking at a repeat of last year. This team is very solid defensively, but not dominant. The defense should be good enough to keep UW in most every game. The running game is good enough to beat up bad defenses, so UW should put up points against bottom level competition. This should get them at least 5-6 wins. Last year UW lost a ton of close games because they couldn't score enough against defenses that could stop the run. In the 5 games in which UW failed to score 17 points in regulation they won just 1 (against Utah State when they missed the game winning field goal). They also lost to PSU in overtime when they only scored 21.
If Stave can stay healthy and start all season long, Abbrederis stays healthy, and the offensive line can stay healthy and perform close to as well as last year's line, this team could be better offensively and win enough of those close games to get to 10 wins. That's a lot to ask. If the offense struggles and looks like it did last year, UW probably loses some close games again and finishes with 8 wins. Barring catastrophic injury problems, I have given up my fears of a disastrous 5-7 losing season.

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