Monday, September 23, 2013

A Trip To Camp Randall, or "What A Ground Game Looks Like"

Fouad Egbaria

Before Saturday night's game, I had the chance to head to Camp Randall in Madison for the Wisconsin-Purdue game, which kicked off at 2:30. It was my first trip to that stadium, and I have to say, if you ever have the opportunity to go: do it. On a general note, after a few visits this year, Madison is easily my favorite college town not named Ann Arbor.

In Big Ten country, I've now been to Penn State, Ohio State, Purdue, Northwestern, Indiana and Wisconsin. For the purposes of comparison, however, I should note that the trips to Beaver Stadium and the Horseshoe came in 2008, so the environment for those games against a horrendous Michigan team might not have been representative of a typical big game setting.

Saturday's game was Wisconsin's Big Ten opener against the Boilermakers, a 41-10 rout. Purdue's Rob Henry-led offense was so painfully inept that it reminded me of Michigan in 2008. Even the simplest of throws seemed to be a difficult task for Henry, who finished 18-for-36 for 135 yards, good for just 3.8 yards per attempt.

Gary Andersen's squad got off to a bit of a slow start, allowing the Boilers to pick up a pair of first downs on their first drive and then going three-and-out when Wisconsin got the ball. Despite many Badger fans clamoring for sophomore Melvin Gordon to take over the starting role at tailback, James White got the start.

However, on the next drive, it was the Gordon/Jared Abbrederis show. The Badgers went 95 yards in eight plays, powered by Gordon and Abbrederis, finishing with a Gordon five yard run to give UW an early 7-0 lead. Following a Purdue three-and-out, James White took one to the house on 3rd & 1, a 70-yard scamper to put the Badgers up 14-0 late in the first quarter. White put on a pair of slick juke moves a the line of scrimmage and then five yards downfield before turning on the afterburners en route to the end zone (check the replay at 0:34 of the video below).

Purdue showed signs of life to start the second, with a nine play, 55-yard drive capped by a 22-yard touchdown run by Purdue QB Rob Henry. On Wisconsin's next drive, Joel Stave tossed an interception that was returned to the Badgers' 10 yard line. However, after a Pat Muldoon sack on second down, the Boilers managed just a field goal. Unfortuunately for Darell Hazell's squad, that was as close as the game got, as the Boilers failed to score during the final 40 minutes or so of the game.

From a football perspective, the Boilermakers aren't exactly a tough opponent but watching the Badgers run block and then watching Michigan attempt to do the same against UConn was like night and day. UW didn't have much success running between the tackles against Arizona State, but it didn't really matter as Gordon was able to carve up the Sun Devils on the perimeter.

In this one, the Badgers' ground game was firing on all cylinders, to the tune of 388 yards on 48 carries (393 on 47 if you remove a Stave sack). Freshman tailback Corey Clement was 17 yards away from giving the Badgers their third game with a trio of 100+ yard backs in the young season.

It was 24-10 at the half, and Clement made it 41-10 on the first play of the fourth quarter. No matter who you root for, watching Wisconsin run the ball with that trio of running backs is pretty darn cool. Quite honestly, it is a shame how things went down in Tempe last week, because I think the Badgers are very close to being a top 10 team. Even though Michigan and Northwestern are both undefeated, it seems to me that the Badgers have a stronger football team than either of them. The Wisconsin-Ohio State game this Saturday in Columbus will be possibly the biggest game of the conference season.

It won't be easy for the Badgers to steal a win at the Horseshoe. But, quite honestly, UW has just as good of a shot to do it on the road as either Michigan or Northwestern (who get the Buckeyes at home).

Some miscellaneous notes from my trip to Madison:
  • From an aesthetic point of view, it's crazy how much easier it is to get a crowd to all wear red than it is for Michigan and its maize/neon yellow/whatever you want to call it. 
  • Wisconsin's first down chant, "First and 10 Wisconsin" is going to be stuck in my head for many days to come. The Badgers had 22 first downs on Saturday. 
  • Ann Arbor is obviously much smaller than Madison, but it was nice to be able to walk around town before the game without constantly being surrounded by large crowds (that is, until you get close to the stadium itself, obviously). Sidewalk space on gameday is a neat thing. 
  • Joel Stave hasn't struggled like Devin Gardner has in the turnover department, but consistency has been a point of concern for him thus far this season. Stave was 12-for-19 on the day, good for 158 yards and a 0:1 TD to INT ratio. Like Gardner, however, you can sort of tell that Stave's confidence might not be where it needs to be, especially after some incompletions. Upon seemingly every big missed connection, Stave did a little wind-up motion with his right arm; it's completely plausible that that arm can get cold given how much Wisconsin runs the ball. For instance, late in the third quarter on the first play of a drive, Stave missed a wide open Abbrederis downfield for what would have been a touchdown had he not left it way short. Stave also peppered several other overthrows throughout the game. He has a decent enough arm and is fairly accurate in the short game, but at times his mechanics leads to inaccuracy when he looks downfield. The Badgers can't afford to have Stave misfire on those sorts of potential big plays when they visit Ohio State on Saturday. Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal had a nice piece summarizing Stave's day against Purdue
  • Even though the game was never truly in question (even when Purdue cut it to 14-10), the crowd got pretty loud when it needed to be. It's always difficult to gauge relative crowd noise, especially since I was sitting in the last row underneath an overhang, but I was impressed by the crowd's ability to turn it up a notch when necessary. The Kohl Center crowd for Michigan's Feb. 9 game against the Badgers was more consistently impressive, in my opinion, but that was obviously a much bigger game that was also close throughout. 
  • As far as finding a ticket goes, it didn't seem too difficult. The game was sold out, but tickets were going for as low as $45 or so on StubHub a few hours before kickoff, and they weren't too hard to come by around the stadium. Then again, it was only Purdue. Unfortunately for Badger fans, the remaining home slate isn't incredibly attractive. Northwestern comes to Camp Randall on Oct. 12, and Penn State will visit to close the season on Nov. 30; other than that, UW also gets BYU and Indiana at home
  • The wave--the same sequence that you'll see in the Big House--was the second quarter. That's a definite wave etiquette violation, but hey, when you can run the ball like Wisconsin can, I guess things like debilitating ennui and paralyzing cynicism don't have the brain-soil in which to thrive like they do among Michigan fans these days. 
  • "Jump Around" is every bit as cool as it seems (although it's hard to really tell based on this iPhone video):  

  • For what it's worth, this is what the student section looked like just after kickoff (for the people who complain about Michigan's student section). With that said, it filled up eventually: 

  • Food...there is a lot of it, and it is all good. I would highly recommend just walking down State Street, as you're bound to find something good from a wide variety of cultures. 
  • As a general aside, there seems to be quite a bit more in terms of live music around Madison than there is in Ann Arbor. 
  • Additionally, the Memorial Union Terrace is a must visit if you're in town. You wouldn't ever think about hanging out at the Union in Ann Arbor on a Friday night or a sunny summer afternoon, but that is not the case here. 
  • Speaking of the terrace, I still can't get over how cool it is that the town is situated between two lakes (Mendota and Monona). 
  • Wisconsin's band put on a nice James Bond-themed halftime show; like pretty much every other band, Wisconsin's band was also sadly much louder than Michigan's. That's not to say that loud=good, but not being able to hear the MMB is still incredibly bothersome. 
  • As far as piped in music goes, off the top of my head I remember at least one Seven Nation Army, Build Me Up Buttercup, Twist and Shout and it seemed like Avicii's "Wake Me Up" was played before nearly every kickoff. Overall, unlike Penn State, for example (based on my lone visit there in '08), Wisconsin seemed to have a nice balance between piped in music and the band going. 
  • It's funny how the UW student section's, uh, more profane chants don't seem so cool when you're a couple of years out of undergrad. In that vein, I hope Michigan can come up with something better than the Temptation "You Suck" thing, which is pretty stupid and not clever whatsoever. 
  • The Capitol building at night is something to see:

  • There's a lot more to say, but if you live anywhere near Madison, I'd suggest making a visit, even if it's not on a Wisconsin gameday. The town has an Ann Arbor-esque feel to it, and yet without a doubt has its own distinct charm. It's truly a shame that the Wolverines won't head to Camp Randall again until 2017. Thanks, Maryland and Rutgers. 

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