Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Miami buried by Clay, Ball

Let’s start by stating the obvious. Wisconsin was much, much better than Miami, and the game was not nearly as close as the score indicated. Wisconsin easily could have won this game by 3-4 touchdowns, and in retrospect it is ridiculous that Miami was favored by so many pundits and by so many points. Untimely penalties, a few trick plays, a fluky interception, and a few punts on fourth and short in Miami territory kept it close, but Miami’s offense was completely unable to do anything against the Wisconsin defense, and the Wisconsin offense was efficient (as always) both running and passing.

Wisconsin outgained Miami 430-249, had 17 first downs to Miami’s 14, and averaged 4 ypc compared to a mere 2.7 for Miami. So why was the game close?

First, penalties. Miami was penalized only 3 times for 20 yards while Wisconsin was hit for 6 penalties and 60 yards, all of them in seemingly crucial situations. They generally did a good job overcoming these mistakes, but it definitely cost them a few first downs.

Turnovers likely cost the Badgers at least 10 points as Garrett Graham’s fumble probably cost them a touchdown, and Scott Tolzien’s bad-luck tipped interception probably cost at least a field goal.

But the main reason it was so close is that Miami was bad at offense, which allowed Brett Bielema to play conservatively. Several times he called on punter Brad Nortman to punt on 4th and short from inside Miami territory to pin the Hurricanes deep, and he succeeded every time. Had the Hurricanes shown any signs of being able to do anything offensively, I suspect the Badgers go for at least a few of these and, with the way they were running the ball, I suspect they make it, but in the end the excellent punting of Nortman made the strategy pay off. Since Nortman deserves to share player of the game honors (we’ll get to the other player of the game momentarily), let’s take a look at what can only be described as an outstanding day of punting.

Punt 1: 4th and 20 at WIS 33 Brad Nortman punt for 59 yards, downed at the MiaFl 8.

The first drive of the game for the Badgers stalled when Tolzien took a big sack on 3rd and 10 at the Wisconsin 33. The Canes had just gone up 7-0 on a trick play kick return, and had they started their second drive with any kind of field position, they may have been able to put Bucky behind by 2 scores, completely changing the game. Instead Nortman boomed a 59 yard punt to the Miami 8 yard line which was not returned. When Miami went 3 and out on the subsequent series, field position was flipped and Wisconsin was able to capitalize.

Punt 2: 4th and 7 at WIS 38 Brad Nortman punt for 46 yards, returned by Thearon Collier for 4 yards to the MiaFl 20.

Another good punt that landed inside the Miami 20. The subsequent drive would stall on the Wisconsin 34 yard line when Miami failed to convert on 4th and 4. If they start with slightly better field position they probably get points out of the drive.

Punt 3: 4th and 10 at WIS 40 Brad Nortman punt for 32 yards out-of-bounds.

Nortman’s only substandard punt of the night. He did, however, eliminate the possibility of a return.

Punt 4: 4th and 2 at MIA 36 Brad Nortman punt for 24 yards, downed at the Mia Fl 12.

Punting on 4th and 2 from the opponent’s 36 is generally a bad idea. You run a very high risk of the ball going into the end zone and netting only 15 or so yards, however, Nortman excelled in this situation all night and Miami continued to shoot themselves in the foot on offense. A 24 yard punt looks ugly on the stat sheet until you consider the context.

Punt 5: 4th and 2 at MIA 35 Brad Nortman punt for 34 yards, downed at the MiaFl 1.

Called on again to pin the Canes deep, Nortman hit his best punt of the night as it hit the turf and backed up, and finally proceeded to slowly bounce down to the Miami one yard line. The Canes would fumble on the second play of the ensuing drive, setting up a field goal for the Badgers.

The other player of the game was obviously Junior TE Lance Kendricks. Frequently in the shadow of the also excellent Garrett Graham, Kendricks showed NFL level skills in all facets of the game. He was explosive in the receiving game gaining 128 yards on 7 catches, much of it after contact. He also delivered several devastating blocks in the run game, including crushing blocks on both John Clay touchdown runs. With Graham graduating this year (and likely joining Badgers Owen Daniels and Travis Beckum in the NFL), TE still looks to be a position of strength going into 2010.

Big Ten Stereotyping

Finally, I would like to say a word about the coverage of this game. I know that announcers are, in general, always bad, but the focus on Miami in this game was over-the-top and I can’t help wondering if the recent production of the 30-for-30 documentary, “The U”, by ESPN had anything to do with it. At various points of the broadcast it sure seemed like they were talking about the old U, and not the team that was actually on the field.

Everything that happened in the game happened because of something Miami was doing. When they screwed up it was cold, or they weren’t in rhythm, or Jacory Harris was limping. Miami was “faster” and “more athletic” whereas Wisconsin was slower but more powerful. At no point did the announcers create the impression that Wisconsin was simply a better football team, which was the obvious conclusion. They frequently focused on the enormous size of the Wisconsin linemen while focusing on the speed, size, and athletic ability of the Miami QB and receivers. You would never know from watching this broadcast that the Miami offensive line averages 307.33 pounds per person whereas the Wisconsin offensive line averages 295.61 pounds per person (and all you have to do to figure this out is have access to and Excel, and even if you take out the centers for both teams, Miami still wins 312-302).

It’s pretty clear that the announcers and the production staff performed only the most cursory research before calling the game. Wisconsin was easily able to match up with the allegedly more athletic team on defense, suggesting that at least on defense, Wisconsin was extremely athletic and fast in their own right. And while Wisconsin did play a power style on offense, Miami linebackers were completely unable to stay with Wisconsin’s TEs in the passing game.

I know this happens every year. I remember it in the very first Rose Bowl that I saw Wisconsin win over UCLA, I just wish television coverage would improve at some point.

It was an impressive win, and hopefully it will get the Big Ten kick started on improving their bowl record.

Finally, I should mention that Nick Toon caught that long pass as he was heading out of bounds, and I’m shocked it wasn’t reviewed.


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