Plunge right through that line

This blog needs to start with some music:

(I am curious about what year this was recorded. The fanfare sounds like one we played in 1984–85, which would mean I’m playing in this. We recorded an album — remember those? — at the Stock Pavilion that year.)

(If I was starting a new high school this would be my choice of fight song. It was written by John Philip Sousa. How many

Wisconsin plays Ohio State in the Big Ten football championship in Indianapolis Saturday night. The Badgers have played in more Big Ten championship games than any other team. Ponder that for a moment.

The storyline for this game, I predict, will be big Bucky against Ohio State’s superior speed and athleticism. But is that accurate? Adam Rittenberg suggests otherwise:

If the favored Buckeyes win, the script goes, it’ll be because they have more speed and more explosive players who were once much higher-rated recruits than the Badgers. Similar things were written after Wisconsin fell to Penn State in last year’s Big Ten title game.

But there’s a twist with this Wisconsin team. The Badgers are fast and furious. Their top-ranked defense has enough speed, especially at linebacker, to track down anyone, including the Buckeyes. Wisconsin’s offense also can make explosive plays, and not just Jonathan Taylor, who, fairly or unfairly, gets grouped with previous Badger backs who were celebrated more for their power than their speed. A young group of receivers recently emerged to stretch defenses and provide chunk plays to help a run-heavy offense.

Wisconsin has had speedy players before, but the collective trait stands out. Even Lou Holtz noticed when he stopped by a preseason practice, telling UW athletic director and former coach Barry Alvarez that the Badgers “can run with anybody.”

“You want to be as fast as you can,” coach Paul Chryst said, “and we’ve got some guys who can run.”

As the Badgers enter the final leg of the playoff race, they know they can keep up.

“When you think of Wisconsin, you think of tough running backs, power, things like that,” wide receiver Kendric Pryor said. “But we’re trying to change that. We’re trying to show people we’re fast on the outside, too.”

Pryor, a redshirt freshman, forms an exciting young troika with sophomore A.J. Taylor and freshman Danny Davis. The three have accounted for seven of Wisconsin’s past eight pass plays stretching 20 yards or longer. Pryor also has touchdown runs of 32 yards against Michigan and 25 against Iowa. This big-play prowess has helped since top receiver Quintez Cephus suffered a season-ending leg injury in a Nov. 4 win against Indiana. At the time of his injury, Cephus had accounted for seven receptions of 20 yards or longer, the most on the team.

After Wisconsin’s Nov. 18 win over Michigan, Davis talked about his desire to “win with speed.” His first career catch went for 35 yards against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 9. His second went for 50 yards the next week at BYU. Although tight end Troy Fumagalli leads the team in receptions, Davis, Taylor and Pryor each average better than 14 yards per catch.

“I know they’re going to do everything they can to fight for the ball and make sure we get it,” quarterback Alex Hornibrook said, “and then after the catch, they do some things that are pretty special, too.”

Wisconsin’s defense is doing special things, too, ranking first or second nationally in points allowed, yards allowed, rush yards allowed and pass yards allowed. The Badgers have allowed 10 or fewer points in half their games and just five touchdowns in their past seven contests. Although Wisconsin has been a top defense the past three seasons, speed is taking this year’s group to the next level.

Need proof? Look at the linebackers, especially T.J. Edwards, who is tied for the team lead with four interceptions, and Ryan Connelly, Wisconsin’s top tackler. The two have combined for 21 tackles for loss. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard also loves the athleticism he has with linebackers Garret DooleyAndrew Van Ginkel and Leon Jacobs, who has hopscotched positions throughout his career but once tracked down Melvin Gordon on a long run in practice. Jacobs is thriving this season as a starting outside linebacker, recording 8.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

“All those guys can run,” Leonhard said. “They can chase plays down. It’s not just a power game. Get us out of the box, and you’ve got us right where you want us. We don’t feel that way with that group.”

No player reflects the new Wisconsin and the program’s developmental roots more than Connelly, a 228-pound outside linebacker. He played quarterback in high school and received no FBS interest, so he walked on at Wisconsin. After showing bursts last season, in which he started eight games, Connelly has become a blur of speed and aggression this fall, always around the ball.

“That guy is bouncing around the field 100 miles an hour,” Edwards said.

Connelly perfectly complements Edwards, a Butkus Award finalist who is bigger (244 pounds) and admittedly a bit slower but who also uses his speed to reach the action.

“He’s not afraid to throw his body around,” Leonhard said of Connelly. “He plays at a high rate of speed, so when he hits something, there’s usually pretty good contact. He trusts his athleticism, and he just plays fast.”

Badgers players and coaches are aware of how they’re viewed, how they’re included in the still popular belief that the Big Ten’s best can’t run with the best from other leagues. Fullback Austin Ramesh, who had a 41-yard gain on a jet sweep at Minnesota — yes, Wisconsin runs its fullbacks on jet sweeps — said Wisconsin “might not win the combine competition” against most of its opponents but added, “We’re not a slow team.”

Leonhard recently detailed how Wisconsin’s defense matches up athletically at all three levels, highlighting players such as end Alec James, free safety Natrell Jamerson, cornerback Derrick Tindal and linebackers Jacobs, Van Ginkel and Connelly. He then paused and added, “I don’t know if this conversation can really apply to the Big Ten. It doesn’t really fit the narrative of the big, slow Big Ten anymore.”

Leonhard played in a different Big Ten when he starred for Wisconsin at safety from 2002 to 2004. Only Purdue and Northwestern ran spread offenses then, so power mattered more than speed, and Wisconsin had plenty of it. Four Badgers defensive linemen were drafted in 2005.

“It’s more of a space game [now],” Leonhard said. “Everyone is trying to find athletic players at all positions, and we obviously put a premium on the physicality and how we want to play up front, but you need athletes who can run around the field and make plays.”

Connelly thinks speed can cover mistakes. Although the Badgers are strong tacklers and seemingly always in the right position, their pursuit en masse can stop the running back or receiver who breaks free.

“That’s what’s going to win you games,” Connelly said.

Wisconsin has won every game this season, recording the first 12-0 start in team history. But to get rid of the annoying labels once and for all — really, really good but not quite elite; solid and smart but athletically limited — the Badgers need to beat Ohio State and secure a College Football Playoff spot.

From time to time, Leonhard will show players video of top college and NFL defenses, the best statistically and athletically. He’ll tell the group, “This is what the best is doing. Can we do that? Is that how we play?”

On Saturday in Indianapolis, Wisconsin hopes to deliver the answer.

Readers might recall the 2003 Fiesta Bowl between Miami of Florida and Ohio State. The former had National Football League-level athletes. But OSU won 31–24 in double overtime because the Buckeyes’ defense made one last stop. That could be analogous to Saturday’s game, except that this year’s Buckeyes have the role of the 2002 Hurricanes and this year’s Badgers are the 2002–03 Buckeyes.

The Badgers are unbeaten largely because of their defense, with improvements stemming from the second-half disaster in last year’s Big Ten championship game, as Jesse Temple reports:

The opponent and circumstances surrounding the game are different. But the lessons the Badgers took from that second half still apply.

“It’s definitely a learning experience to know that even if we get in a situation where we’re down, we’re not completely out of the game,” [inside linebacker Ryan] Connelly said. “Also, if we get up big to know they’re not out of the game. Really, anything can happen. It just goes to show you’ve got to play every down like it’s your last down.”

Wisconsin’s defense has carried that approach into this season, and the results have been nothing short of spectacular.

Wisconsin ranks No. 1 in total defense (236.9 yards per game), No. 1 in rushing defense (80.5), No. 2 in pass defense (156.4) and No. 2 in scoring defense (12 points). Wisconsin has allowed 15 touchdowns this season, the fewest of any FBS team. But the defense has been responsible for only 12 of those touchdowns.

Badgers defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said a big reason for that success stemmed from the number of returning players from last season, which has created confidence at all levels of the field. Two of the most important talking points Leonhard uses each week are to stop the run and not allow explosive plays in the passing game, and the Badgers have adhered to that strategy well.

Wisconsin is the only team in the nation to not surrender a run of 30 yards or longer this season. The longest run against the Badgers was a 28-yarder by Nebraska tailback Devine Ozigbo on Oct. 7. Wisconsin’s defense also has allowed just 32 plays of at least 20 yards. Among Power 5 conference teams, only Washington has given up fewer explosive plays with 31.

“For the most part, we’ve won our 1-on-1 battles this year,” Badgers inside linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “Guys are challenging players on every play. I think that’s just guys playing with confidence. Confident in the game plan and confident in each other that if something does go wrong, there will be a guy right next to you to have your back. I think it’s very easy to let it loose and play free when you know someone is going to be there to help.”

Tindal said he has been impressed at what he’s seen from the defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs.

“Every time I watch film, I’m amazed at what I see,” Tindal said. “Like, dang, all these guys really are down there working. I appreciate that from my standpoint and it makes me feel like, man, they’re down there working, I’ve got to handle my job, make sure their job is easier.

“We work in tandem. I’m just proud of everybody. What we’ve been able to accomplish, all the doubters, all the naysayers, ‘Oh, y’all losing this, y’all losing that.’ They say it every year, man. But Wisconsin always finds a way.”

Wisconsin’s defense was so good this season that 12 different players earned some form of all-Big Ten honors — even more impressive considering only 11 players can be on the field at one time.

But before members of the defense begin patting themselves on the back, they are aware that their most difficult challenges are still to come. That starts Saturday against an Ohio State team that ranks fourth in the FBS in total offense (529.8 yards per game) and fifth in scoring (43.8 points).

“There’s some weeks we know that we weren’t exactly challenged and we know there’s better opponents out there waiting for us,” Connelly said. “To know that we will face better opponents keeps us hungry not to completely accept the fact that we’re so amazing or anything.”

Wisconsin has spent the week studying Ohio State game film, which has provided another lesson on the importance of finishing games. Last season, Wisconsin led Ohio State 16-6 at halftime and clung to a 16-13 lead after three quarters. But Ohio State forced overtime and escaped with a 30-23 victory at Camp Randall Stadium. The previous matchup between the two teams resulted in Ohio State drubbing Wisconsin 59-0 in the 2014 Big Ten title game.

Given that a playoff berth is at stake, what happened in the Big Ten title game last season, and the team Wisconsin is playing, there will be no shortage of motivation for the Badgers defense to excel.

“I’m expecting them to come out and think they’re just going to beat us because they go to Ohio State,” Tindal said. “They just say they’re better than us. … They expect that they’re going to dominate us. We can’t let that happen.”

The faults of quarterback Alex Hornibrook aside (and there were hardly any faults in the Badgers’ Paul Bunyan Axe-winning game over Minnesota last week), Saturday’s game will be either won or lost by Wisconsin’s defense. Defense and running the ball are not just the staples of the Barry Alvarez era; they go back farther than that to when a seven-win season was a good season at Camp Randall.

The UW Athletic Department produces an online magazine, “Varsity,” which included interesting thoughts from athletic director Barry Alvarez that started with former men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan:

Every successful player or coach has done it their own way. That’s why I thought it was interesting to hear the different stories Sunday at the Hall of Fame basketball event in Kansas City.

Bo Ryan’s story is a reminder that there’s not one magical formula to winning, regardless of the level of competition or the sport.

Bo had certain things that he believed in — core principles that he taught and coached — and it was sound at every level: Platteville, Milwaukee and at our place.

Watching his teams play, you could see that his coaching was based on the fundamentals and he never got away from that. It’s pretty much how we run our football program.

Don’t try to create something you can’t do. Be true to who you are. Play to your strengths.

After Bo retired, Greg Gard has emphasized the same things. He took over a team that wasn’t playing very well and he turned them into a good team.

He never lost the kids. You saw them get better. That’s good coaching.

I can still remember going in and talking to Greg after a couple of tough losses that year. I told him, “You’re getting better. You’re getting closer. Trust yourself.” And you saw what happened.

Greg and Paul Chryst have taken comparable approaches. Unlike many coaches today, they truly care about the players. It’s not about their next job and it’s not about breaking the bank.

It’s about coaching and caring about those kids.

We never say goodbye …

… because Saturday isn’t UW’s last game. It may not even be the Badgers’ next-to-last game. Ponder that, because …

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How long have you been working here up until today?

Remember a few weeks ago I posted about the good fortune of Wisconsin’s having Paul Chryst as its coach, with his former predecessors’ tenuous job status.

That was when Gary Andersen, Chryst’s predecessor, resigned (to avoid probably being fired) at Oregon State and when the man who hired Andersen’s predecessor at Oregon State, Mike Riley, to coach at Nebraska, Cornhusker athletic director Shaun Eichorst, was fired.

The next shoe fell earlier this week when Arkansas fired athletic director Jeff Long, who hired Andersen’s UW predecessor, Bret Bielema, to be the Razorbacks’ coach. It should be obvious that if you’re not doing well in your job and the guy who hired you gets fired, that’s not a good sign for your job security.

Along that line, Saturday Down South reports:

The main reason many believe Arkansas fired Athletics Director Jeff Long is because the next move for the school will be to fire coach Bret Bielema.

Wally Hall of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was a guest on The Paul Finebaum Show Wednesday and said that Long was liked by some members of the Board of Trustees, but that support disappeared in recent days. A detailed report of Long’s “business tactics” was developed and once that was circulated, the AD’s job security was in jeopardy, Hall said. Suddenly, there was a 5-5 split on the board, and instead of receiving a  contract extension, Long’s future was in doubt.

“For it to happen today was a little surprising,” Hall said. “I felt like it was going to happen through my sources and things that were going on, but for it to happen two weeks before the end of the season, and Jeff has two more weeks on the football selection committee, that was almost like somebody was wanting to get even. ‘You embarrassed me, I’m going to embarrass you.’”

Believe it or don’t, there may be a trade of sorts in the works. There is speculation that Riley might return to Oregon State. Saturday Down South takes the next step:

Bret Bielema, the guy who Long smuggled from Wisconsin, is entering uncharted territory. For the first time in his head coaching career, his AD is gone. For the second time in his head coaching career, he’s in serious jeopardy of missing a bowl game.

Bielema’s Arkansas squad has as many wins (4) as Nebraska. In case you forgot, the Huskers just hired a new athletic director themselves, and a new head football coach seems inevitable at this point.

You probably didn’t forget that Bielema did alright coaching in the B1G before Arkansas. In fact, Bielema was better than alright at Wisconsin. A 68-24 mark with a couple of B1G titles and 3 Rose Bowl appearances wasn’t too shabby for the former Iowa nose guard. …

Yes, I hear you, Nebraska fans. What about Scott Frost? Isn’t he the obvious, slam-dunk, break-the-bank hire? Yes. Of course. If you’ve read anything I’ve written about the Huskers in the past several months, you know how I stand on that.

But it’s not a slam dunk that Frost will wind up in Lincoln. Despite those splashy names that are getting thrown around at Florida and Tennessee, both programs have deep pockets and seem more than capable of making a serious run at the Wood River, Neb., native.

Bielema, however, would be the ultimate consolation prize.

After all, Wisconsin’s model of success is the one that Nebraska is so desperate to emulate. Who knows that model better than Bielema?

The guy spent years turning 2- and 3-star recruits All-American offensive linemen while punishing B1G teams in the ground game. His success in the B1G speaks for itself, too. For Nebraska, a program that can’t seem to even hang in the top 25, Bielema’s résumé would be as good as anyone on the open market. …

I can already picture Bielema’s offense running for 400 yards against some B1G West foe and hearing 90,000 at Memorial Stadium give that “this is what we’ve been waiting for” type of applause.

Bielema would be welcomed in open arms in Lincoln. He wouldn’t have the brash, defensive attitude of Bo Pelini. Bielema wouldn’t have the hapless, we’ll-get-em-next-time demeanor of nice guy Riley. Bielema would bring energy and a chuckle to a program that hasn’t had enough of that in the 21st century.

Postgame schadenfreude, How ’bout Them Hawkeyes and Da Bears Still Suck edition

Despite what was predicted, and despite the Packers’ recent imitation of their Gory Days, Wisconsin football fans had quite a weekend.

The Badgers, dissed despite their 9–0 record, may have earned some respect with their 38–14 win over Iowa(y), which previous demolished Ohio State. The Badger defense was so stout that the Hawkeyes’ only scores came from UW quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s two pick-sixes.

The Des Moines Register’s Chad Leistikow:

Iowa players and their head coach chalked up Saturday’s 38-14 debacle at Wisconsin to the usual culprits you hear in postgame interviews after Hawkeye losses.

“It’s the same stuff that won the game last week,” offensive lineman Sean Welsh said, noting the stark seven-day contrast in outcomes between drubbing top-five Ohio State and getting embarrassed by top-five Wisconsin. “It’s details and execution. I’m sure you’ve heard that enough.”

Historic euphoria one week.

Historic futility the next.

Iowa’s offense gained 66 yards Saturday. That’s the worst output of the 19-year Kirk Ferentz era, “eclipsing” (if you want to call it that) the 100 yards in the disastrous desert performance in a 44-7 loss to Arizona State in 2004.

The 66 yards is the fewest Wisconsin has ever allowed to a Big Ten Conference opponent and the second-fewest ever.

That’s the third-fewest by any FBS team ranked in the top 25 over the past 20 seasons.
If you’re upset Iowa didn’t throw the ball more, consider this stat: Quarterback Nate Stanley dropped back to pass 28 times Saturday; the Hawkeyes netted four yards on those plays.

He threw for 41, was sacked for 37 and committed three turnovers.
It’s as bad as you can get, a week after rolling up 487 yards and 55 points against the Buckeyes. Two Josh Jackson touchdowns on interception returns saved Iowa from further scoreboard shame.

“You can’t explain it,” Ferentz said, “other than just we played clean football last week.”

That may be the truth. But it’s not the real story of Saturday’s game.

That would be the bronze bull that Wisconsin players happily carried off the field. Not the Heartland Trophy itself, of course, but what it symbolizes.

The Badgers are the bullies of the Big Ten West. They were crowned division champions Saturday after improving to 10-0. They’re heading to Indianapolis for the league title game for the fifth time in seven years since the Big Ten went to divisional play.

They’re what Iowa aspires to be.

“Those guys taking it right in front of us,” linebacker Ben Niemann said, “that’s tough.”

Saturday was a reminder that Wisconsin is the bell-cow program that those inside the Iowa Football Performance Center must figure out how to take down.

The Badgers do everything well that Iowa wants to consistently do well.

They run the football with power. They play great defense. They beat you up.

The Badgers racked up 247 yards on the ground Saturday; Iowa had 25, with its longest carry a 9-yard run on a third-and-long.

They may not look like Alabama or Ohio State or USC. But Wisconsin surgically and schematically attacks you, and exposes your weaknesses.

“They have a big O-line and big running backs,” senior safety Miles Taylor said after his fourth go-round against Wisconsin. “They power, power, power, run the play-action (and) get somebody to the flat. Run, run, run, play-action. That’s their DNA. They try to get you to come up for the run and slip somebody out and, boom, it’s a big play.”

Wisconsin has been hammered by injuries all season, at almost every position. It lost its best linebacker before the season even started. Its best safety didn’t play Saturday; neither did its top two receivers. Its injury report barely fits on a piece of paper.

But it didn’t matter Saturday. It hasn’t mattered all season.

The Badgers kept shuttling in fresh bodies and did whatever they wanted, on both sides of the ball, and Iowa was helpless in stopping it.

“These guys were playing at a real high level,” Ferentz said, “and we weren’t able to match that.

“Usually, good teams in the Big Ten play good defense. That’s what these guys have done.”

Yeah, Iowa got the best of the Badgers here in 2015. It took four turnovers, including a fourth-quarter goal-line fumble when the quarterback tripped, but the Hawkeyes got them — by a 10-6 score.

Iowa won the West that year, and deserved it.

But the Badgers own this rivalry right now — the fake punt and 31-30 win in 2010; 28-9 at Kinnick Stadium in 2013 after a two-year series hiatus; 26-24 in 2014; 17-9 last year. Now this.

I do think the Hawkeyes are positioning themselves for a good run the next two seasons. This will probably be Stanley’s worst day as Iowa’s quarterback — 8-for-24 for 41 yards. The sophomore is going to be a good one. This will motivate him.

The Hawkeyes have young players at a lot of key positions, tackle and tight end among them.
Iowa’s 2018 schedule looks pretty friendly, too.

But the mountain it has to climb, Wisconsin, isn’t going anywhere.

As if they needed a reminder, take a look at the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten opener in 2018.
Wisconsin, on Sept. 22, at Kinnick Stadium.

Then came Sunday’s 23–16 Packers win over Da Bears, which proves that Da Bears can’t even beat the Packers without Aaron Rodgers.

About that, the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs writes:

So much for the idea that the Bears would have the upper hand on the Packers without Aaron Rodgers.

We can dismiss that thought immediately, and this is probably a good point to push back any imaginary timeline for the Bears pulling even with their archrival.

Coach John Fox talked about being close after the Packers finished off the Bears 23-16 at wet and cold Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon. It was a one-score game, but these franchises remain far apart even after so many factors pointed the Bears’ way.

The Bears were coming off an open date and had an extra week to prepare. The Packers had a short week after being throttled at home by the Lions on Monday night when right tackle Bryan Bulaga and safety Morgan Burnett were lost to injuries. Then there was the midweek fallout from the Packers’ sudden release of tight end Martellus Bennett for a reeling club that had lost three straight. And let’s reiterate Rodgers was out with a broken right collarbone, replaced by former fifth-round pick Brett Hundley, who was making his third NFL start, two fewer than Bears first-round pick Mitch Trubisky.

Las Vegas oddsmakers made the Bears favorites for the first time all season, and they were favored over the Packers for the first time since 2008. That’s because there was a belief the Bears were strong on defense, strong enough to carry a fledgling offense lacking wide receivers, strong enough to bottle up Hundley, who looked dreadful in two previous starts.

This is a devastating loss for Fox, who is 1-5 against the Packers since his hiring in 2015. A victory would have put the Bears within a game of .500 and added to a feel-good vibe that has been at Halas Hall with people talking about improved culture and a deeper roster. Now they’re 3-6 and potentially headed for a fourth consecutive last-place finish in the NFC North. Consider that since the NFL/AFL merger, the Bears are the only NFC Central/North team to finish last in the division four straight years, something they did previously from 1997 to 2000. Not even the Buccaneers, who were a train wreck upon their inception, managed four straight seasons in the cellar. These Bears are two games behind the Packers and Lions, who are tied for second place, with seven remaining.

The Packers converted 7 of 16 third downs and also a fourth-and-1 late in the third quarter. A Bears defense that looked good against Drew Brees and great against Cam Newton failed to come up with a big play. The Bears knocked out the Packers’ top two running backs as Aaron Jones (knee) and Ty Montgomery (ribs) didn’t make it to the third quarter. Third-string back Jamaal Williams filled in and rushed for 67 yards rushing as Green Bay piled up 160 on the ground, the most the Bears have surrendered all season. Yes, they were missing linebacker Danny Trevathan, sidelined with a calf injury, but don’t confuse him for a vintage model of Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs.

Cornerback Prince Amukamara filled the wrong lane on Montgomery’s 37-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, but it was Hundley who did the Bears in late. He tucked it and ran for 17 yards on third-and-2 from the Bears’ 37-yard line midway through the fourth quarter with the Packers clinging to a 16-13 lead. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee crashed hard inside and Hundley, who was oblivious to pressure at times earlier in the game, deftly escaped around the edge to gain 17.

There wasn’t a more frustrating play for McPhee, who was trying to make something happen for a defense that saw its streak of getting at least two takeaways in three consecutive games end. McPhee didn’t communicate his plan to defensive end Mitch Unrein in time, so there was no stunt, and the result was an escape hatch for Hundley, who finished 18 of 25 for 212 yards. …

Two plays later, Hundley scrambled out of the pocket to his right and zipped a back-shoulder pass right by cornerback Kyle Fuller’s helmet for a 19-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 5:29 to play, the decisive score in the game. It’s the kind of play you’re accustomed to seeing Rodgers make.

The Bears were battling to get the ball back before the two-minute warning. They had one timeout remaining and the Packers faced third-and-10 when Hundley dropped a dime over Fuller, who was holding Adams, for a 42-yard gain. Good defenses don’t let Brett Hundley do that to them with the game on the line.

Culture and depth are difficult things to sell when wins don’t come along with them. This was supposed to be the start of an easier second half of the season for the Bears, but when they get beaten at home by Hundley, that should be reassessed.

The win included this bizarre moment chronicled by the Tribune’s Rich Campbell (not the former Packers quarterback):

As coaching decisions go, John Fox’s replay challenge Sunday against the Packers will be talked about long after his tenure is finished, whenever that might be.

Bears fans will never forget that 23-16 defeat on a rainy Sunday at Soldier Field when Fox won a challenge that lost the ball for his team. The details of the backfire are vexing on multiple levels and, ultimately, helped victory escape the Bears on a day they had to have it to sustain meaning in their season.

“Obviously, that’s a play you’d like to have back,” Fox said. “But that’s not how this game works.”

Watch the replay of Benny Cunningham’s 23-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter, and two things become clear.

One, the Bears running back did not score a touchdown.

Two, he screwed up trying to do so.
Let’s review: As Cunningham juked his way to the front right corner of the end zone, he dove and extended the ball while Packers safety Marwin Evans shoved him out of bounds. Cunningham crashed into the pylon as the ball slipped free. Officials ruled Cunningham out at the 2-yard line.

“We’re taught not to do it; unless it’s fourth down, you don’t reach the ball out,” Cunningham said. “But, honestly, at the time, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was trying to score a touchdown for the team.”

Fox, under advice from his assistants who help with video reviews, challenged the ruling that Cunningham stepped out of bounds.

“Every indication we had was he scored,” Fox said. “And, if anything, he would be at the 1 or inside in the 1.”

So rather than have his offense line up with three tries from the 2-yard line, Fox threw the challenge flag with hopes of being awarded a touchdown or, at worst, having the ball advanced a few feet.

But replays showed Cunningham lost possession before he hit the pylon, which, in the context of the video review, had unintended consequences.

And that’s where it got murky.

Replay officials in New York decided Cunningham lost possession before he was out of bounds and before he hit the pylon.

Overturned call. Touchback. Packers ball.

Wow.

“When I watched the review, I felt like they made the right call,” Cunningham said. “Just a bad play on my part, but the refs got it right.”

To Fox, the fumble wasn’t as obvious.

“I think maybe on 50 times, like some people get to look at it, I think maybe you could see that,” he said. “But on our look during the game, that wasn’t really even discussed.”

Here’s the thing, though: Cunningham’s left foot dragged onto the sideline as he dove for the pylon.

Slow down the replay frame-by-frame and it’s still nearly impossible to determine if Cunningham lost possession before his foot touched the sideline. What’s more, as Dean Blandino, the NFL’s former head of officiating, explained on Fox Sports, the determining factor should have been whether Cunningham was in contact with the ball while he was out of bounds and before he hit the pylon.

“Even if he doesn’t have control, and he’s just touching that loose ball with a foot out of bonds, that would make the play dead prior to it hitting the pylon, and it would not be a touchback.”

In that case, the Bears should have retained possession where Cunningham fumbled, the 2.

Referee Tony Corrente explained the ruling to a pool reporter who did not get clarification about Cunningham making contact with the ball after he was out of bounds.

Said Corrente: “Looking at the review, he did not step out of bounds and started lunging toward the goal line (with both hands on the ball). As he was lunging toward the goal line, he lost the ball in his right hand first, probably, I’m going to guess, two feet maybe short of the pylon.

“As he got even closer, the left hand came off. We had to put together two different angles in order to see both hands losing the football. After he lost it the second time, it went right into the pylon. Which creates a touchback.”

In Blandino’s view, there wasn’t sufficient evidence to overturn the call on the field. And that’s what makes the decision so difficult for the Bears to swallow.

For the second time in as many games they were hurt by the result of a call that was overturned by video review.

Fox didn’t openly feel snakebit by the league’s video review process, saying the Bears create their own luck.

The head coach at least tempted fate by asking for the review. And, because officials ruled Cunningham fumbled in bounds, Fox technically won the challenge.

The Bears were not charged a time out.

Time may well be up for Bears coach John Fox, at least according to the Tribune’s David Waugh:

As defenses go, the one Bears coach John Fox offered Sunday at Soldier Field after the Bears’ 23-16 loss was as flimsy as the one he saw flailing all day against the Packers.

“In nine games, two of them we didn’t give ourselves a chance, but in seven games we’ve had the opportunity to win every single one of them,” Fox said. “The reality is, we are 3-6.”

The reality is, coaching makes the difference in close games, and the Bears’ sixth loss threatens to become the one history remembers as the point of no return for faith in Fox. In four futile, frustrating quarters against a beatable opponent at home, the Bears undid eight games’ worth of progress.

It was premature to speculate about Fox’s future around their open date because a respectable start put the Bears in position to realistically approach a .500 season. But those of us who considered the possibility of Fox saving his job with a strong second half now can concede the Bears looking so sloppy and unprepared after a weekend off make that unlikely. Dropping to 1-5 against the Packers will get the McCaskeys’ attention quicker than any other of Fox’s shortcomings. In other words, feel free to start jonesing for Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels or Googling Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich. Dave Toub anyone?

Save any cockeyed optimism about the Bears coming close or rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky making progress for another day, one perhaps when they weren’t outcoached and outplayed by a Packers team playing on short rest with backups at quarterback, running back, tight end and offensive tackle. This is what happens when a 3-5 team gets full of itself, fattened by what-ifs and maybes in a football city starved for success.

Opportunity knocked to see if the Bears wanted to save their season, and Fox left it standing on the front porch of possibility, ignored. So say hello again to Bears hostility, everybody. Any feel-good vibes that surrounded Halas Hall for the last month or so vanished, sometime between Fox’s ill-advised challenge and his defense’s poorly timed surrender. We could build a case for the bright side by examining the relative ease of the rest of the Bears schedule, but that would create the false impression that it matters. It doesn’t, not for a Bears team that committed 11 penalties in the first half (four were declined) and gained zero yards in the third quarter.

Sunday’s most memorable mistake came courtesy of Fox, who challenged a ruling that running back Benny Cunningham was out of bounds at the 2 as he dived for the pylon on a second-quarter run. Had Fox accepted the ruling without challenging, the Bears would have faced first-and-goal at the 2 and, in all likelihood, tied the game at 10. Instead, Fox threw the red flag. Replay officials in New York determined that Cunningham fumbled the ball into the end zone — resulting in a touchback that gave possession to the Packers. Officials should have placed the ball at the 20 wrapped in a bow.

In technically winning the challenge, Fox lost the benefit of the doubt in Chicago, probably for good. Fox took responsibility for the faux pas, the most egregious part being that nobody with the Bears had the presence of mind to consider a potential touchback.

“That wasn’t part of what we thought we would be the result,” Fox said. “Maybe you can see it after looking at it 50 times like some people are able to do.”

The Bears will be replaying this loss in their heads for a long time, especially defensive players who failed to back up so much big talk.

The Brett taking snaps for the Packers was Hundley, not Favre. Yet the quarterback making his third NFL start executed and improvised like a seasoned pro, completing 18 of 25 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of 110.8. But the play that affected the outcome most — the one that may have signaled the beginning of the end for Fox — came on a 17-yard scramble on third-and-2 with 7:12 left and the Packers protecting a 16-13 lead. Rather than punt the ball back to the Bears, the Packers scored two plays later.

Hundley outplayed Trubisky, who showed improvement again by completing 21 of 35 for 297 yards but contributed to five sacks by holding the ball too long. A pretty 46-yard touchdown pass to Josh Bellamy showed nice touch, but other plays revealed a rookie uncomfortable in the pocket. Fox called it Trubisky’s best of his five starts, but it sounded like faint praise given how little confidence the coaching staff showed in the quarterback at two critical moments.

The first came on Cunningham’s fumble: Fox challenged instead of accepting first-and-goal from the 2, indicative of a coach fearing something bad could happen. The second example happened when the Bears called a quick screen for Kendall Wright for 4 yards on third-and-10 at the Packers’ 35 with 4:06 left, setting up Connor Barth‘s 49-yard field goal. Why not trust Trubisky to make a play downfield that might lead to a touchdown?

Will Fox regret this game most if the Bears change head coaches at the end of this season, an inevitability that apparently won’t affect him?

“I’ve been doing this too long,” Fox said. “I’ve never worried about my job security and I won’t start moving forward.”

After a disappointing Sunday, most fans would agree with Fox: He definitely has been doing this too long.

The Tribune’s Steve Rosenbloom agrees:

The Bears’ final regular-season game will be played Dec. 31, which means John Fox’s “Black Monday’’ should be Jan. 1. So, yeah, an early happy new year, Bears fans.

If the Bears really wanted to do this right, they’d send out “Save the Date’’ date cards.

The Bears should’ve fired Fox before he left the field after Sunday’s awful 23-16 loss to the evil, dreaded Packers, but they won’t fire their coach before the end of the season because they don’t do that. Eventually, however, they always fire their failed coach because that’s the best thing the Bears do. When the Bears whack Fox, we’ll point to this loss to the Packers the way we pointed to a Packers loss that forced the ultimate firing of Marc Trestman, addled in both NFL coaching chops and sound, same as Fox.

Fox’s Bears were favored over the Packers for the first time since 2008. They were supposed to have the best quarterback on the field in this rivalry for the first time in more than a generation. In the first two games with Brett Hundley replacing the injured Aaron Rodgers, the Packers never scored more than 17 points in losses to the Lions and Saintswhile allowing 56 points total. Fox’s Bears, nonetheless, allowed more points and failed to beat up the Packers’ weak defense the way actual teams did.

The Packers were coming off a short week following a division loss. It was all set up for the Bears, who had two weeks off in which to show they were smarter and healthier.

And splat. Face-plant. Piddled down their pant legs.

When Fox’s defense needed a stop, it failed to prevent a fourth-quarter, 75-yard drive, failed to stop obvious runs and then failed to stop Hundley from throwing a soul-killing TD pass, the Packers’ first passing TD since Rodgers went down almost a month ago.

Defense is what Fox’s Bears are supposed to do. Offense is the issue, and it still is. A week off didn’t make Fox’s offense much better. It gained zero — count ’em, zero — yards in the third quarter.

Rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky lofted a beautiful rainbow that produced a 46-yard TD, but he continued to show an inability to recognize a blitz and the subsequent open area. He also failed to realize when he had to throw away a ball to avoid a sack because the offensive line continue to show an inability to read a blitz. And he failed to recognize an open receiver on play-action.

But this was to be expected with a young quarterback. That’s why the decision to start Mike Glennon in September continues to make the Bears coaching look worse. Trubisky’s learning curve should’ve been further along.

Fox, though, can’t use the excuse of a young quarterback without pocket presence because the Packers had the same issue. The Packers found a way to win. Fox found a way to screw up. I mean, he screwed up so badly that he made Trestman look like Bill Belichick.

Benny Cunningham had just taken a screen pass 24 yards to the Packers 2. He was ruled out of bounds as he reached to hit the pylon with the ball. Fox challenged, and was embarrassed even for a guy known for bad game-day decisions in his 12-29 Bears career.

Replay officials ruled Cunningham in-bounds as he reached for the pylon and said he subsequently fumbled the ball out of bounds before he hit the pylon. Touchback, not a touchdown.

If the Bears don’t challenge, they have the ball at the Packers 2 with four chances to tie the score. But Fox apparently didn’t think his offense could get in, and so he pushed it. Oops. Suddenly, the Packers were starting at their own 20 with a seven-point lead in a game that the Bears would lose by seven.

The Bears offense false-started several times and had the center forget the snap count. They looked lost in the last two minutes of the first half. The Bears defense gave up 121 yards to the Packers’ second- and third-string running backs. They allowed Hundley to average a solid 8.48 yards per attempt and failed to intercept him. All of this came after the Bears had time off to practice things. Like football.

Or, worse, if they did practice and this was the result, then Fox shouldn’t be allowed to come back next week.

But he will. Because that’s what the Bears do.

And then he won’t come back in January. Because that’s also what the Bears do. The only thing the Bears do.

If you want to be a Badger …

Sports Illustrated profiles Badger football, beginning with this fact:

Since 2014, only three schools have won more games than Wisconsin: Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson. After defeating Indiana 45–17 last Saturday, the Badgers are 9–0, ranked No. 8 and have all but clinched the Big Ten’s West Division. Although they are led by freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, a Heisman candidate from Salem, N.J., and sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook (West Chester, Pa.), exactly half of their players grew up in-state.

That strong in-state presence dates back to 1990, when legendary coach Barry Alvarez took charge of the program. He resolved to “build a wall around this state,” and in the process created a culture that remains today in Madison, where he still serves as the Badgers’ athletic director. Successive coaches—especially Alvarez’s successor, Brett Bielema, and Chryst—have kept that barrier intact, building loyalty, cultivating walk-ons, piling up victories and indoctrinating two generations of natives in the Wisconsin Way.

[Special teams coordinator Chris] Haering is an outlier on a staff chock full of Badgers. Chryst is the son of a revered coach at D-III Wisconsin-Platteville. He went to high school in Platteville and was the Badgers’ backup quarterback from 1986 through ’88. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is a native of Tony (pop. 113) who played safety under Alvarez from 2001 through ’05. And offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, while not a Wisconsin native, was a Badgers O-lineman from 1992 through ’94. No other school that’s been ranked in the Top 25 this season has a trio of alumni as its coach and coordinators.

Rudolph started on the ’93 Badgers’ team that won its first Big Ten title in three decades in Alvarez’s third season. The coach had arrived after two seasons as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator to find a state full of recruits wearing Michigan and Michigan State T-shirts. He told them he was the guy to turn the program around, and many began to believe. Most importantly, Alvarez mined the football talent in the state’s small towns, which was critical given Wisconsin’s geography: Of the states north of the Mason-Dixon Line, only 10 are more rural, and of those just one (Iowa) has a Power Five football program. On this year’s Wisconsin team, 47 players on the roster hail from outside of Milwaukee and Madison, in towns whose populations range from 105,000 (Green Bay) to 375 (Amherst Junction).

“You go down to Florida, and you stop, and you get 15 D-I kids [at one school],” says Leonhard, who played a decade in the NFL. “When you [recruit Wisconsin players], you might have to go 300 miles between them. It’s just kind of a [lack of] bang for your buck, as far as recruiting goes. Most people are not going to go out of their way to recruit the area.”

The Badgers’ success with walk-ons gives recruiters even greater clout: Since 1990, 19 from Wisconsin have reached the NFL. Often, these players didn’t play high-level high school football, but UW coaches spotted their talents at track meets and basketball games. “Sometimes when you turn on the high school tape, you see kids that maybe aren’t as developed in football skills yet,” Haering says. “You have to maybe see through some of those layers and project a little bit.”

Some people call him Maurice

During the Fifth Quarter of Saturday’s Maryland–Wisconsin football game …

… Steve Miller conducted his “Swingtown” as played by the UW Marching Band.

Miller and UW Band director Mike Leckrone, two guys Livin’ in the USA. I wonder if Miller flew to Madison on a Jet Airliner.

That really happened. I am not being by posting this …

… nor am I a …

UW Band director Mike Leckrone has such powers that he asks perhaps Wisconsin’s biggest rock act of all time to come to town, and …

Just another example of …

Postgame schadenfreude, hog-calling How ’bout Them Cowboys? edition

I went into this weekend thinking that, as was the case throughout too much of the ’70s and ’80s, the Badgers and Packers could go 0 for the weekend.

To quote Howard Cosell while narrating NFL highlights during ABC’s Monday Night Football, “But no!”

The weekend began with Saturday night’s 38–17 steamrolling of Nebraska. (Well before Nebraska joined the Big Ten, UW Band members would sing, for reasons unknown, “When It’s Hog-Calling Time in Nebraska.”)

The Lincoln Journal Star’s Steven M. Sipple harkens back to the days of the Big Eight Conference’s Nebraska–Oklahoma rivalry:

You surely remember that thing folks used to call “Sooner Magic.”

It used to ruin Nebraska football seasons.

Well, how about that “Wiscy magic?”

Wisconsin pulled off quite a trick Saturday night before 89,860 spectators at Memorial Stadium.

With a 38-17 triumph, the UW program continues to pull away from Nebraska’s. The Badgers are 6-1 against the Huskers since 2011, the year NU started playing in the Big Ten.

Paul Chryst’s crew eked out wins against Nebraska each of the previous two seasons. But it brought the hammer in this game, showing in a forceful manner why folks regard Wisconsin (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) as the clear-cut favorite in the West Division.

Nebraska (3-3, 2-1) looks destined to go a fifth straight season without a division championship, and 18th without a conference title.

Yes, Wisconsin’s program continues to pull away from Nebraska’s.

So, what’s the trick here?

The Badgers pull away while simultaneously pounding away like a battering ram. At least that was the case on this night. Yeah, wonderful timing. Just wonderful. Nebraska honored its 1997 national championship team in a rousing pregame ceremony. That would be the Husker team that averaged 392.7 rushing yards to lead the nation. That would be the team that would dare you to stop the run because it knew you couldn’t do it.

That was Wisconsin on this gorgeous Saturday night.

The ninth-ranked Badgers rushed for 353 yards, their most in a road game since 2012.

Wisconsin simply did what Wisconsin does. It patiently imposed its will with its ground attack and hit an occasional big play through the air. Nebraska hung tough through most of three quarters, but soon the effects of UW’s body blows began to show.

In the fourth quarter, the Badgers rushed 22 times for 125 yards — and never attempted a pass.

The whole stadium knew a run play was coming, and it didn’t much matter.

The Nebraska run defense that held down Northern Illinois, Rutgers and Illinois was overmatched.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, a former Husker linebacker, had to be sitting back with a wide grin. This is his blueprint. It’s recruit big and ornery linemen from Wisconsin or regions nearby and go to work. You can imagine the rugged nature of the Badgers’ practices. Facing a downhill running game every day will make a defense leather-tough.

Wisconsin’s ground attack is persistent and powerful, said Nebraska coach Mike Riley, whose record at NU dropped to 18-14.

He had his team ready for the game. Give him that. At times, Nebraska looked ready to win, particularly when junior safety Aaron Williams’ pick-six tied it at 17 with 10:43 remaining in the third quarter. The stadium was up for grabs. What a scene.

“(The Badgers’) response to that was pretty interesting,” Riley said. “And it was very physical.”

Wisconsin responded like a championship program — except for one thing. The Badgers were sloppy most of the night. On the kickoff following Williams’ touchdown, UW was flagged for two penalties, and thus began the possession at its 7-yard line.

No problem. Wisconsin bulldozed a 10-play, 93-yard touchdown drive, using eight runs, including six by true freshman Jonathan Taylor. On the night, the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder carried 25 times for a season-high 249 yards and two touchdowns.

Forgive Nebraska fans if they were a tad envious.

And forgive them if they’re frustrated with the direction of Riley’s program.

He realizes what he’s going to hear in the days ahead. It will go something like this: Look at Wisconsin, winning big the way Nebraska used to win big.

Come to think of it, there’s nothing magic about a big offensive line pulverizing you. …

Nebraska always talks about recruiting. Nebraska wins the offseason with a formidable hype machine, with media playing a leading role.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin just keeps winning the West.

Consider this: Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas, replaced by Gary Andersen, who left after two seasons for Oregon State to replace Mike Riley, who left for Nebraska. The results:

  • Bielema, who left UW to have a better chance of winning national championships, seems likely to be fired.
  • A Badger fan flew into the Portland, Ore., airport, where he was asked if he was from Wisconsin. When he said he was, he was asked, “Would you like your coach back?”
  • Riley was hired by athletic director Shawn Eichorst, who was fired last week. Don Mor(t)on can tell you that when the guy who hired you gets fired, you should probably update your résumé.

Meanwhile, the Badgers are undefeated and ranked seventh.

The following afternoon, the Packers inexplicably missed two extra points and thus trailed Dallas 21–12 at the half.

The Dallas Morning News’ Jon Machota skips ahead to the finish:

You’ve already seen it, but Aaron Rodgers did it again. He ripped the Cowboys’ hearts out in the final seconds Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.
Here are my thoughts on the Cowboys blowing another halftime lead, this time falling to the Packers 35-31:
1. Well, that was exactly what the Cowboys didn’t need heading into the bye week, another blown impressive start. These are the types of games the Cowboys were winning at this time last year. The defense had some success getting pressure on Rodgers early, but then he just toyed with them in the second half. …
2. The third quarter was another disaster for the Cowboys. After going into halftime with a 21-12 lead, Dallas was held scoreless in the third quarter for the fourth time in five games. Not sure what’s going on at halftime, but the Cowboys continue to need at least 15 minutes to get things going again. Maybe just keep the guys on the sideline at halftime. Mix it up. The Cowboys only had the ball one time in the third quarter. Dak Prescott completed a short third-down pass to Dez Bryant, but that drive quickly stalled. Green Bay dominated the time of possession [11:20 to 3:32] and scored early in the fourth quarter to take its first lead, 22-21.

Machota’s colleague Kate Hairopoulos adds:

Dak Prescott faked the handoff to running back Ezekiel Elliott, found himself with a clear path to the end zone, and took it. The Cowboys quarterback charged 11 yards for the touchdown and celebrated with a scream and a spike of the ball.
But the elation in AT&T Stadium belied the unease on the Dallas sideline.
1:13 remained.
For Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, that’s an eternity.
And it was ultimately too much time, as Green Bay marched down the field, down three, and scored the winning touchdown. The Packers even had 11 seconds to spare when they went up 35-31.
“The minute that we got it, I immediately went to ‘Oh hell, he’s got a minute, 10 seconds,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Prescott’s touchdown and the ball going back to Rodgers. “On the other hand, – Dak Prescott faked the handoff to running back Ezekiel Elliott, found himself with a clear path to the end zone, and took it. The Cowboys quarterback charged 11 yards for the touchdown and celebrated with a scream and a spike of the ball.
But the elation in AT&T Stadium belied the unease on the Dallas sideline.
1:13 remained.
For Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, that’s an eternity.
And it was ultimately too much time, as Green Bay marched down the field, down three, and scored the winning touchdown. The Packers even had 11 seconds to spare when they went up 35-31.
“The minute that we got it, I immediately went to ‘Oh hell, he’s got a minute, 10 seconds,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Prescott’s touchdown and the ball going back to Rodgers. “On the other hand, before [Prescott] got it, I thought, ‘Just go ahead and get this score. OK!
“…You can second guess every little aspect of it, and certainly we’d have liked to give him the ball back with 10 seconds on the clock, no timeouts. But the only way to have really gotten that done is to know for sure we were going to get that touchdown. That’s the height of revisiting.”
And it’s impossible not to do, considering Rodgers is making a habit of crushing Cowboys’ souls when given any opening.
The Cowboys and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan milked the clock on the scoring drive, well aware of what Rodgers is capable of. He needed only 35 seconds left to lead the Packers to the winning field goal in January’s playoff game on this field last season.

The Cowboys ticked through 17 plays to go 79 yards, taking up 8:43, culminating in Prescott’s touchdown run.
But Linehan and head coach Jason Garrett will be fairly criticized for not consuming more clock.
Elliott and the offensive line had, finally, started to roll on the ground, yet:
On 1st and 10 from the Green Bay 29, Prescott threw a pass intended for running back Alfred Morris, but it was incomplete, stopping the clock.
Later, after a dramatic fourth-and-1 conversion by Elliott, Elliott ran for eight yards on first down to set up a second and 2 from the Packers 11. Prescott passed incomplete, unable to connect with receiver Dez Bryant in the back of the end zone, stopping the clock again.
Prescott scored on the next play. Should he have considered sliding at the 1 to take up more time?
“In theory, he could do that yes,” Garrett said. “I just think you have to be careful about trying to be perfect. It’s hard to score points in this league. It’s hard to score touchdowns. It’s a four-point game at that time. There’s no guarantee you’re going to score a touchdown there, so I think, in that particular case, he did the right thing.”
Said Prescott: “You’re playing with fire doing that. Those guys get paid on defense too. If you’re running down and you’re trying to get to third down, you’re wasting the time. It’s a slippery slope. For us, it’s important to get in the end zone and put the pressure on them. I’m going to trust my defense.”
But Jones did allow that the discussion it’s impossible not to have is whether the Cowboys should’ve bet on their strength — their offense — instead of ultimately put the game back in the hands of the defense that couldn’t stop Rodgers and Co. most of the day.
Jones said he believed Rodgers could lead the Packers to a field goal to tie the score, but thought the defense would keep them from a winning touchdown.
“We are all going to second guess on what happened at the end of the game and keeping the ball away from them a little bit more,” Jones said. “Everything speaks for itself here. You give Rodgers a minute, and you’re more than likely going to get a score in a critical moment.
“…All we wanted to do was keep the ball away from [Rodgers] but we needed to score a touchdown. We’ll be second guessing those last two calls for a long time.”

The News’ Samantha Pell describes the last play:

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was going to call another play.

Instead of the game-winning back-shoulder touchdown throw to receiver Davante Adams with 16 seconds left in the game, he was going to look another way.

If he did, the outcome of the game — a 35-31 Packers win over the Cowboys — could have been a lot different. But Adams, who had had the ball knocked away on the exact same call on the previous play, wasn’t going to let that happen.

“I came back and let him know,” said Adams, who scored two touchdowns Sunday afternoon after getting knocked out of the Packers’ game last week against Chicago. “I said, ‘Do it again. Let’s go back to it.’ He gave me a look. I said, ‘Let’s do it again.'”

And as Rodgers tossed a “perfect ball” into the outstretched arms of Adams in the end zone, the Cowboys faithful saw flashbacks to the team’s 34-31 playoff loss to Green Bay in January — when Packers kicker Mason Crosby nailed a 51-yard field goal as time expired.

“We’ve been through that before,” Adams said. “We’ve been through that before in this building. When you’ve got ’12’ (Rodgers) back there, it allowed you to be a little more calm.”

Trailing 31-28 with 1:13 to play, Rodgers needed a field goal to tie, not win the game as he did last season. But regardless, Rodgers said afterward he was thinking of a touchdown the entire time.

“We had time,” a nonchalant Rodgers said of driving his offense 75 yards down the field in just over a minute.

Cowboys rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who was defending Adams on the game-winning touchdown catch, praised Rodgers’ play.

“He’s a great quarterback, has great weapons around,” Lewis said. “We have to stop him. I didn’t.”

In Rodgers’ execution of the offense downfield in the waning minute, he also had a crucial third-down scramble — in classic Rodgers fashion.

Facing third and 8 on the Dallas 30-yard line with 29 seconds to go, Rodgers said he had a good play called for the situation, but bad leverage on the backside forced him to scramble.

He found daylight on the left side of the field, running for 18 yards before stepping out of bounds at the 12-yard line. The next play was the incomplete pass to Adams in the end zone. The one after? The game-winner.

“Once I was able to get loose, it was about getting the first down and getting out of bounds,” Rodgers said. “My eyes got kind of big there for a second, as I tried to get back inside, but going out of bounds was a smart play, and it gave us a chance to get a shot in the end zone.”

Of course, postgame social media was almost as entertaining as the game:

Shannon Sharpe tweeted:

Can someone check on @RealSkipBayless for me? Want to make sure he’s ok

Signs things are better at Camp Randall

UW athletic director Barry Alvarez talks about last week:

I got word at about mid-week that Florida Atlantic was looking to see if we could move or cancel Saturday’s game because of understandable concerns with Hurricane Irma.

I told Chris McIntosh, our deputy athletic director, “Let’s get a hold of their AD (Patrick Chun) and let them know if they got stuck here, we’d do whatever was necessary to accommodate them.”

Some different contingencies were brought up and considered after games involving other Florida schools were canceled or postponed. But those options just weren’t going to work out.

Instead, we said, “Come up and play the game at 11 a.m. on Saturday and if you can’t get back, stay here. It may be the safest thing anyhow. We’ll take care of you.”

It wasn’t finalized until Thursday. We were still worried whether they’d get out of Florida on Friday. I understand they may have been one of the last flights to leave before the airport closed.

Because they took a bigger plane out of Florida than they would have normally for the travel party, the coaches were able to bring their wives and children with them to Madison.

We connected all of our people with all of their people: our strength coaches with their strength coaches, our equipment people with their equipment people, our video people with their video people.

Our coaches’ wives even hosted a tailgate for their coaches’ wives.

After Saturday’s game, their administrators were kind of playing it by ear — taking everything day by day — until they could determine when they could get back to Florida.

We had a lot of people step up to help them. Their players lifted in our weight room on Sunday and practiced in the stadium on Monday and Tuesday. So, they’ve tried to make the best out of the situation.

Here is the follow-up:

 

To the south, however, Brett McMurphy tweets about Alvarez’s successor as football coach:

Since Jen Bielema tweeted on this day in 2013 after Wisconsin’s wild loss at Arizona State; Wisconsin is 41-12, Arkansas is 23-27

Evan Flood expands on that:

When they face BYU (1-2) on Saturday, No. 10 Wisconsin (2-0) will travel out West for the first time since 2013 against Arizona State.

In that game, the Badgers fell 32-30 in a wild finish that was later ruled an officiating error, resulting in the referees being suspended by the Pac-12.

Following the loss, Jen Bielema, the wife of former Wisconsin and current Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, tweeted “#Karma.”

Arkansas hasn’t won more than eight games since Bielema’s arrival in 2013.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin has won at least nine games every season since Bielema left, including three consecutive bowl victories and two 11-win campaigns.

And to think, as a friend of mine pointed out, that Bielema left Wisconsin because he thought he’d have a better chance at a national championship at Arkansas.

Meanwhile, FanSided reports about Bielema’s successor:

With his Oregon State team not looking good in its two losses so far, head coach Gary Andersen is not too happy.

Oregon State is 1-2 this season, and the win was a narrow victory (35-32) over Portland State. In two losses to FBS opponents, the Beavers have been outscored 106-41 by Colorado State (58-27) and Minnesota (48-14). Things won’t get any easier, with a road trip to take on No. 21 Washington State on Saturday followed by games against Washington and USC.

Andersen made a radio appearance with John Canzano of The Oregonian on Thursday, mostly to preview the Washington State game. He also acknowledged the frustration he hears from fans.

“There’s nobody more frustrated than I am…I’ll do my best to keep banging there and keep fighting. I’ll always have my kids’ backs.”In two-plus seasons at Oregon State, Anderson has a 7-20 record. Things improved a little last year, with a 4-8 record and a win over chief rival Oregon after a 2-10 debut season in 2015. But there’s still a rebuilding job to be done in Corvallis, and last year’s three conference wins will be tough to repeat.After an 11-2 campaign and a top-20 finish in both polls at Utah State in 2012, Andersen moved on to take the head coaching job at Wisconsin. The Badgers won 19 games in his two seasons there, and Big Ten West division title in 2014. But reported frustration with the academic standards at the school, and family considerations, led to Andersen leaving for Oregon State before the bowl game to end his second season.In leaving Wisconsin, with good (family) or flimsy (academic standards) reasoning, Andersen went from coaching a perennial Big Ten contender to coaching a low-tier Pac-12 team. Andersen also pointed to the difficulty of the situation he finds himself in.

“This team has had some tough times come its way, “I’m not going to be a guy who is going to yell and scream, whine and cry. … We come back on Monday and we learn on Monday from the good and the bad, win or lose.”

Andersen signed a contract extension through 2021 during the offseason, so he’s got some measure of job security. But another season with less than five wins is surely coming, and unless his buyout is excessive Andersen could still be relieved of his duties. Expectations can’t be incredibly high for the football program at Oregon State, but barely beating an FCS program is not a sign of progress so far this year.

Andersen did not come off as a proverbial “Wisconsin guy” when he was the coach there. But there’s something to be said for winning at least nine or 10 games every year, and based in part on high academic standards for his players Andersen bailed on a very good situation. What’s that they say about being careful what you wish for?

Andersen did not disgrace himself and nearly torpedo the entire UW Athletic Department, like Don Mor(t)on, the poster boy for bad coaching hires, did, but Wisconsin really dodged a bullet when Andersen decided to leave. One good thing that can be said is that Andersen brought along defensive coordinator Dave Armada, whose work made up for an unimpressive offense.

Wisconsin goes to Brigham Young for only their third meeting Saturday. (I saw the first, when a punky QB later to be known as McMahon carved up the Badger defense.) Chryst is 8–1 on the road in his Badger career, and BYU is not the same dominant football team it used to be.

There is a concern about the game, however, as reported by SBNation:

One of the best parts of the early college football season is the high number of cross-country, out-of-conference games, pitting wildly different fan bases together. Just this week, UCLA fans get to visit Memphis, Ole Miss and Cal fans will hang out in Berkeley, and Kansas State fans get introduced to Nashville.

One of the funniest mixes? Wisconsin is headed to Provo, Utah, to take on BYU.

Sure, this game is compelling for football reasons. BYU, despite its anemic offense, has an excellent defense and will be Wisconsin’s toughest test before Big Ten play. LaVell Edwards Stadium is gorgeous, both programs have a ton of history, and anybody watching will see cool uniforms and lots of hard hitting.

But there’s something else we should be watching here.

Wisconsin fans like to drink. BYU is a Mormon school.

Look, I’m not saying this as a pejorative or anything. But bars outnumber grocery stores in Wisconsin almost three to one for a reason.

Flowing Data

Provo, home of Brigham Young University, does not enjoy adult beverages quite as much. Over 90 percent of Provo’s population is made up of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons), and Mormons don’t drink.

If most of your city doesn’t drink alcohol, you’re probably not going to build too many bars, right?

So I looked into where Wisconsin fans might drink, and it appears Provo has two bars.

Before I get Well Actually’d about this, this doesn’t include places like Chili’s, where you can get a beer, or liquor stores, grocery stores, private clubs, or bars at hotels. And there are bars in nearby cities, like American Fork or Orem. I’m just talking about bars with Provo addresses. And that leaves us with City Limits and ABG’s Libation Emporium.

They’re not worried about running out of alcohol, but that seems like a challenge to me.

I called up ABG to see if it was making special preparations ahead of the Wisconsin game, and I was told that the bar hadn’t even thought about it yet.

“Look, if it’s on TV, it’s on TV, but we’re not going to put on a specific game, because then the college kids come in here and drink waters and don’t buy anything,” I was told.

But ABG’s representative isn’t worried about actually running out of alcohol.

“We have 53 flavors of beer and probably the largest liquor selection in the [Utah] Valley,” the rep said.

Multiple attempts to reach the other bar, City Limits, were not successful. Maybe it was just too busy serving Wisconsin fans?

I don’t know how many Wisconsin fans will make the 2,000-mile trip to Provo. I imagine many will bring their own supplies or pick some up along the way.

But the idea of a fan base actually drinking the whole town’s bars dry is funny.

If Washington State fans were able to drink all the booze in a bar at Auburn (and again on a flight to UNLV), then Wisconsin fans ought to be able to clean out Provo’s bars.

I don’t want to encourage any risky or unsafe behavior. But there are only two bars here, Wisconsin fans. This is within your power. Especially if BYU pulls the upset.

I’ve been to Provo. I’ve also been to Salt Lake City on New Year’s Eve, the only time I ever went anywhere on New Year’s Eve where I had no concern anyone was going to spill beer on me. The best way to describe the people of Utah is the phrase “pathologically polite.”

I played at Wisconsin’s first game in Las Vegas (which will never be confused for any community in Utah) in 1986. Legend had it that Badger fans drank the entire supply of brandy in Vegas. So the bar owners might be whistling in the dark.

U rah rah Wisconsin

The Daily Caller reports:

The Wisconsin Badgers have been revealed as the most admirable team in college football.

The Wall Street Journal released an updated ranking of college football programs, and the kings of Madison took the top spot for most admirable. The WSJ uses several factors for the “Football Grid of Shame,” including team performance on the field and the actions of players off the field.

Or as the Journal puts it:

Winning goes a long way in college football. It packs stadiums, brings in money and can even lead to the glory of a national championship. But at many rpograms, there’s a qualifier: How much did fans have to grit their teeth and pinch their noses on their way to those victories?

This is the awkward harmony of college football. There’s what happens on the field, which grips fans like nothing else on Saturdays. Then there’s what goes on off the field, which may be the only thing capable of overshadowing the football itself.

Now the season is set to kick into full gear this weekend. Which means it’s time for The Wall Street Journal’s annual Grid of Shame, an exercise that quantifies answers to the two most important questions about your favorite team: How good are they? And how embarrassed should you be about them?

Observe in the upper right corner of the grid:

 

The only schools close to Wisconsin are Northwestern, Washington, Clemson and Kansas State.

Alabama and Ohio State are named as the two biggest power houses on the grid, but the Buckeyes are substantially higher on the ranking of most admirable. Baylor and Ole Miss were ranked as the worst programs for off-the-field issues.

I’m not going to lie, this is the least surprising thing I’ve ever seen in college football. Of course the Badgers are the most admirable. That’s what being a Wisconsin Badger is all about. We take care of business on the field, and we’re champions off the gridiron.

We accept nothing less than a culture of perfection. Do we win as much as Ohio State or Alabama? No, but we are still an elite program, and we do it the right way. We do it the Wisconsin way.

Glad the Wall Street Journal is showing my people the recognition we deserve, but of course, a true Wisconsin man doesn’t revel in attention. We just keep outworking our opponents on and off the field.

The story is behind a paywall, but if you’re wondering how schools got where they are:

Teams’ on-field rating is an average of the 2017 projected finish by two media outlets and two predictive models. Teams’ off-the-field rating is a somewhat subjective rating of elements including Academic Progress Rate, recent history of NCAA violations and probations, athletic department subsidies, player arrests, attendance at last season’s games, concussion lawsuits, and overall “ick” factor.

What’s not to like about this? The Badgers play in a bowl game every year, and have played in more Big Ten championship games than any other Big Ten team. An alumnus coaches the team. The players graduate and generally behave themselves by the standards of college students. J.J. Watt, now of the Houston Texans, sought to raise $200,000 for Hurricane Harvey relief, and raised $27 million.

Note, meanwhile, who is in the opposite corner — Minnesota and Michigan State.

Two losses

There were two more reminders of the passage of time this past week.

One was reported by Rolling Stone:

Glen Campbell, the indelible voice behind 21 Top 40 hits including “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” died Tuesday. He was 81. A rep for Universal Music Group, Campbell’s record label, confirmed the singer’s death to Rolling Stone. During a career that spanned six decades, Campbell sold over 45 million records. In 1968, one of his biggest years, he outsold the Beatles. …

Campbell was a rare breed in the music business, with various careers as a top-level studio guitarist, chart-topping singer and hit television host. His late-career battle with Alzheimer’s—he allowed a documentary crew to film on his final tour for the 2014 award-winning I’ll Be Me—made him a public face for the disease, a role President Bill Clinton suggested would one day be remembered even more than his music.

“He had that beautiful tenor with a crystal-clear guitar sound, playing lines that were so inventive,” Tom Petty told Rolling Stone during a 2011 profile of Campbell. “It moved me.”

Campbell was a hugely popular singer, which may have obscured his guitar talent.

The other is reported by Channel3000.com:

Phyllis Leckrone, 81, the wife of UW Marching Band director Mike Leckrone, and the woman known to band members as “band mom” has died.

UW Marching Band spokesperson Jay Rath said, “She was a mother to generations of band students and her impact will live on in those countless lives.”

“She loved the whole Badger Band Family. She was known to many alumni members as the band mom,” a post on the UW Band Alumni Association Facebook page said.

A native of North Manchester, Ind., Phyllis and Mike met in junior high school and became childhood sweethearts. They were married 62 years. Phyllis taught with the Middleton-Cross Plains school district for more than 25 years, according to a news release.

Leckrone died early Tuesday morning surrounded by family after a long illness, Rath said. She is survived by her husband, five children, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren. …

In lieu of flowers, the family asked that memorials be made to Phyliss’s favorite charity, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, www.stjude.org/donate.

The first thing to know about the Leckrones is that they were married for 61 years.

I saw Phyllis a couple of times every year — on the two epic road trips we took, to the Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., and Las Vegas, and at the annual UW Marching Band banquet in the Memorial Union. (Three words: “Fudge Bottom Pie.”) Compared to performance Mike, she was quiet. For that matter, non-performance Mike is quiet compared to performance Mike. I went to their house a couple of times as a rank leader; the Leckrones invited band leaders to their house before rehearsals began.

I also have become Facebook Friends with some of their kids. The only consolation I can offer is that it is the natural order of life that parents die before their children; no one who is a parent wants the reverse to happen. (There are, sadly, several people I marched with who have since passed away.)

Mike Leckrone became the UW Band director in 1969. So Phyllis had to share Mike with 200 to 250 college students every year for nearly 50 years. We remember Phyllis fondly.

Fight, fellows! Fight! Fight! Fight! We’ll win this game!

What a fine and unusual time we Badger fans find ourselves in these days.

I wrote last week that the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament selection committee screwed the Badgers by lining up a potential second-round meeting with the tournament’s overall number one seed, Villanova, which was an obvious attempt to get rid of the Badgers as soon as possible. Instead …

… the Badgers have suddenly, and crazily, become a Final Four favorite after ending Villanova’s chance to repeat as NCAA champions. Wisconsin plays Florida at [UW–] Madison Square Garden in New York today at 9 p.m., with the winner playing seventh-seed South Carolina or third-seed Baylor Sunday for, in the Badgers’ case, their third Final Four trip in four seasons.

Did you ever think you would read a paragraph like this, from the Los Angeles Times?

No team left in the NCAA tournament is as used to being in the Sweet 16 as Wisconsin. The Badgers are in their fourth straight regional semifinal, a feat no other team can claim. They have also reached the round of 16 in six of the last seven years.

SEC Country reports the prediction of ESPN’s Dick Vitale:

The ESPN commentator, who is helping fans make prediction’s using the Allstate Bracket Predictor a predictive tool that analyzes a number of statistics and probability metrics, added that while many were picking the Badgers to advance, he likes Florida to move on the Elite Eight. Vitale did hedge a bit in that the Gators could be in for trouble against a very good Wisconsin front court.

“The thing that scares me with them is that this might be the time they really miss John Egbunu. He was a tough kid and a physical rebounder and gave them unbelievable defense,” Vitale said. “But in this game he could be a major loss because the one problem you deal with against Wisconsin is they get great spacing but their two bigs in Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. They cause major problems for Villanova and could do the same for Florida. And that could be the case for Florida.”

Egbunu tore an ACL against Auburn back on Feb. 14 and will not play again this season. The Gators struggled against teams with strong front courts, notably Kentucky and Vanderbilt. The Gators seek their first Elite Eight appearance since 2014, when the Gators advanced to the Final Four.

At this point you might see similarities between this team and the 2000 Badgers, which had a most unexpected Final Four trip after knocking off number-one-seed Arizona in the second round. For those who don’t remember, though, that 2000 team was predicted by absolutely, positively no one to get to the Final Four. As stated previously, if the Badgers win tonight and Sunday they would make their third Final Four trip in four seasons, their number eight seed notwithstanding.

The thing that makes one pessimistic is that the Badgers have to play at the top of their game in order to win; they don’t have enough talent to win despite playing poorly in some aspect of the game. (Except, apparently, free throw shooting, given that the Badgers shot worse than Villanova Saturday, but the Wildcats’ missed free throws, particularly the last one, hurt them worse than the Badgers’ misses hurt them.)

So is defense and experience at this level enough?