Tate: Badgers' running is no joke
With three straight Rose Bowls in their back pocket (all close losses), Wisconsin looks like the same old ground-churning Badgers.
It makes a fellow wonder if Bret Bielema, fondling his millions in Arkansas ($2.95 million this year plus bonuses), had second thoughts Saturday as future Big Ten member Rutgers dumped his Razorbacks, 28-24.
With six Big Ten teams idle, and all eyes on the Wisconsin-Ohio State primetime shootout in Columbus, new Badgers coach Gary Andersen sounded like a Bielema-Alvarez surrogate when he said Tuesday:
“The running game is a big part of who we are.”
No kidding. They’ve been chewing up fields since 1999 Heisman winner Ron Dayne ran roughshod. As a college performer, Dayne may have been the Big Ten’s most significant ball carrier in the last 50 years and beyond. He turned a program from medicore to special.
And here come the Badgers with two rip-snorting darters, both around 200 pounds, averaging plus-100 yards: Kenosha sophomore Melvin Gordon (156.0) and Fort Lauderdale senior James White (110.5). Illini leaders, by comparison, are Donovonn Young at 42.7 and Josh Ferguson at 41.7.
“Wisconsin double-teams up front and keeps running the same plays, and those two can make you miss in the hole,” said Purdue coach Darrell Hazell, a 41-10 loser Saturday.
Said Ohio State’s Urban Meyer: “Every year they keep getting great backs. I can’t imagine two better on one team.”
Is change really good?
Does anyone know a quarterback who, on three consecutive Saturdays, launched 12 TD passes and was benched the next week? That could happen at Ohio State, Meyer indicating Tuesday that an apparently healthy Braxton Miller may return to his starter’s role in place of early-season sensation Kenny Guiton.
It’s all about adding the extra dimension — the quarterback run — to the attack.
“Athletic quarterbacks have changed the game,” Andersen said. “They force you to make adjustments, to bring a defender down, and that leaves you with man-to-man coverage on the back side with no help.”
Said Meyer: “It is a blessing to have two quarterbacks that you have confidence in. We just have to manage it the right way.”
Meyer said the Buckeyes pride themselves in offensive balance, and would be disappointed if they’re not high on the NCAA rushing chart. He quipped: “We’re not chuck-and-duck, or basketball on grass. I’m pleased with our running backs, too.”
Congratulations to NCAA leaders for rediscovering their common sense and allowing Penn State to gradually rebuild football scholarships to 75 next year and then to 80 and 85. It also appears that the four-year bowl ban may be reduced.
Speculation 13 months ago painted a thick, black cloud over Happy Valley, some comparing the Nittany Lions sanctions to a death penalty. But this soon dissipated. Bill O’Brien’s teams have won 11 of 16 games and drew 92,371 fans for Saturday’s 34-0 shutout of Kent State. No, these aren’t the powerhouse Lions of the peak Paterno years, and they can seat more than 92,000, but they’re holding up pretty well, all things considered.
Coaches on Tuesday’s teleconference supported the reduced sanctions. Said the UI’s Tim Beckman: “I’m all for anything that creates more opportunities for student-athletes. I think it’s a good thing.”
Big Ten tidbits
— Most conferences take pride in their high-production spread attacks, but the Big Ten remains in great part defense-oriented with statistics showing that seven teams are permitting fewer than 103 yards rushing. Michigan State still leads the nation (58.2 per game).
— Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio’s 10-year defensive guru, Pat Narduzzi, blitzes a lot and brings safeties into the mix, leaving corners in frequent one-on-one situations that resulted in key interference penalties in the loss to Notre Dame. Dantonio was “conflicted” and sent tape to the Big Ten office, and clearly wasn’t satisfied. But he kept the response confidential. Said Dantonio: “We lost a football game. We didn’t lose our way.”
— It seldom happens that members of the same team are 1-2 in Big Ten tackles, but Illini linebackers Jonathan Brown (12.7) and Mason Monheim (10.0) lead the conference.
— More oddities: Indiana’s Tre Robinson tops the league in pass efficiency (187.1) while teammate Nate Sudfeld is No. 2 in aerial yards, his 286.5 trailing only Illini Nathan Scheelhaase (294.7). And yet none of Scheelhaase’s receivers are even close to the league’s Top 10, senior Ryan Lankford and juco transfer Martize Barr hauling in 10 apiece. Five receivers have 20 or more.
— Defensively, the Illini are permitting a conference-worst 330.3 aerial yards and 492.7 total yards as they face a Miami (Ohio) offense that is last in the country.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.