UW Health Sports Medicine 

The Voice: Badgers keep cooking without sizzle

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgSo what does a person who covers sports for a living do during a free weekend? He sits on the couch and watches sports, right?

With the Wisconsin football team idle last weekend, it was fun just to be a fan. From all the pomp and circumstance of the NBA's opening week, which included the home opener for the Miami Heat (and that guy named LeBron), to the World Series (see what happens when you get some pitching, Brewers fans?), to the latest in the Brett Favre Saga, this past weekend had plenty to offer.

Oh yeah, there was plenty of college football to take in as well. It was a good chance to take in some of the craziness that is making for a truly wild season. Who knew that Iowa would put that type of a beat down on Michigan State? How 'bout Oregon's seemingly unstoppable offense? Auburn quarterback Cam Newton's Heisman campaign continued as he passed for two touchdowns and caught one as well.

Nebraska did not look half bad, and it was not freshman sensation Taylor Martinez who stole the show, but rather running back Roy Helu, who rushed for 307 yards and three touchdowns as the Cornhuskers knocked off Missouri.

It seems just about every team in the top 10 has a fair amount of sizzle. From high-octane offenses featuring dazzling quarterbacks, to a coach nicknamed "Mad Hatter," and another coach who names plays after ESPN personalities. Yes, there seems to be lots of sizzle in college football's high-rent district.

Then you have the Badgers.

As is usually the case, this team that might be light on the sizzle, but the steak is still pretty good. Good enough to be in the thick of the Big Ten title chase.

Bret Bielema has often said that the Badgers might not be the sexiest squad around, so they need to win by being tougher than the other team. They truly demonstrated that toughness in the last two games against Ohio State and Iowa. Yes, that fake punt was big, but they still had to finish the drive against a very good team in an extremely loud stadium.

Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst continues to draw rave reviews from national media types. It is an interesting offense that is short on really big plays (nine of 30 yards or more so far this season), yet is averaging 35.6 points per game, second-best in the conference.

John Clay goes into the Purdue game needing 113 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. He is having a very good year again, but there is little in the way of sizzle to his game. His longest touchdown run has been 19 yards. Not exactly the type of highlight material that excites the TV pundits, but his 5.5 yards per carry is something his coaches appreciate.

Defensive coordinator Dave Doeren has had to adjust on the fly without the playmaking ability of linebacker Chris Borland. Through eight games, this defense has forced just seven turnovers, yet it ranks in the Big Ten's top four in rushing, passing and total defense.  

It is nothing very fancy-- just good, solid, tough and smart play. In building a 7-1 record, the Badgers are guilty of just six turnovers. They commit just 33 yards in penalties a game, second-best in the league.  They are the Big Ten's best in third-down efficiency. The one game they were well below average was at Michigan State.

The Badgers have worked hard to put themselves in this position. Now they go into November facing teams with different flavors of spread offenses, making for a new set of challenges for the defense.

It seems no matter the style of offense or defense they face, if the Badgers stay true to their values of toughness and smarts, they at least will have a legit chance to make this a November to remember. No need to be very fancy. Why change now?

I have been around both the football and basketball programs long enough to realize that sometimes the sizzle can be overrated. It is the steak that matters.