Oct. 12, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin defensive end Pat Muldoon probably gained a greater appreciation for the idiom “all thumbs’’ when he didn’t have the full use of his one of his. “Meaningless tasks like putting on your socks takes a lot longer,’’ he said.
Prior to playing in last Saturday’s win over Illinois, he had been sidelined since the Oregon State loss (Sept 8) with a Bennett’s fracture to his left thumb. Two pins were inserted to stabilize his thumb during surgery and the extended rehab frustrated Muldoon, a junior from Mason, Ohio.
“It was no fun watching,’’ he said.
During the rehabilitation period, UW coach Bret Bielema recalled, “He was begging to play. He said he’d sign any waiver to get back on the field, and he wasn’t joking. He was very serious. I think he met with our doctors every Sunday just to try and get them to let him play sooner.’’
You can understand where Muldoon was coming from given the number of injuries that he has been forced to overcome. During his redshirt freshman season alone, he had a shoulder that kept popping out of place, which was a minor annoyance compared to tearing the ACL in his right knee.
An old high school injury cropped up again, too, necessitating surgery to his left knee. So given this backdrop -- in addition to the pins that he had in his thumb, he previously had two screws holding together the lower part of his femur (thigh bone) -- you can better understand his angst.
“It’s just part of football -- you’re always injured, you’re never playing at 100 percent,’’ he rationalized. “Luckily, you can play through a lot of the injuries. But I wasn’t able to do that with something as small as a thumb fracture.’’
Muldoon did find a silver lining in that “I felt I came back stronger,’’ since he spent most of his time conditioning when he couldn’t practice. When he finally did get clearance to play again, it was with the condition that he would wear sufficient padding -- a “club’’ -- on his left hand to protect his thumb.
“It was not very fun to have on and it provided some different challenges,’’ Muldoon said of the adjustments that he had to make playing with the club against Illinois. “But it also gave me some advantages in other aspects. It provided a different kind of strike to deal with.’’
Muldoon finished with 2.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback sack. Bielema was impressed; understandably so, since during his Iowa playing days as a nose guard, he also played briefly with a club and he said that he used it to ward off offensive linemen with a “strike to the throat’’ if necessary.
“When we didn’t have Patty, it was a big blow to the defense,’’ Bielema said. “He makes plays. He’s never really out of position. He always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. He doesn’t have the exact dimensions that you want or all the numbers. But he plays really good football.’’
Bielema compared Muldoon to former UW defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, now a starter with the Raiders, from the perspective of fundamentals; always squaring his shoulders to the play. “Pat is smart and he’s a great film study guy,’’ said Bielema, noting that Shaughnessy had the same traits.
In a word, Bielema said Muldoon was “savvy.’’
Purdue will put a great deal of pressure on the UW’s defensive ends with its perimeter attack, namely bubble screens, a staple of former coach Joe Tiller. Whether the Boilers go with Caleb TerBush or Robert Marve at quarterback, Muldoon said, “Each presents a pretty similar style of offense.’’
Muldoon, for his part, is just happy to be back and contributing. Football, after all, is in his DNA. His dad played at Ball State. One grandfather played at Miami of Ohio; the other played at Louisville. Two uncles played at Ohio State. One brother played at Carnegie Mellon, the other at Denison.
One can only imagine what Thanksgiving is like in the Muldoon household.
“There are a lot of big people,’’ Pat Muldoon said, “eating a lot of food.’’
And then they adjourn to play football in the backyard.
“In sports, in general, we’re competitive,’’ he said.
Since taking over as the offensive line coach following the Oregon State game, former graduate assistant Bart Miller has seen incremental improvement, step by step. “We are slowly improving,’’ he said. “But we’re seeing signs each week that lead you to believe that we’re definitely on the right track.’’
There has been growth on his end, too.
“It has been a tremendous opportunity and I’ve grown a lot as a coach,’’ he admitted. “I feel like I’ve grown in development in terms of strategic planning, practice planning, game management and things of that nature; stuff you don’t get as a GA. Those things are where I’ve seen the biggest growth.’’
Miller was encouraged by what he saw in the fourth quarter against Illinois. “We ran the same play over and over and we continued to execute it,’’ he said. “We opened up lanes and we were taking the proper steps and using the techniques that we had done in the first half at Nebraska.’’
All of these steps, Miller said have been “pieces to the puzzle’’ and part of a building project.
As they have fallen into place, he confidently implied “we’ve laid the foundation.’’
It has all started with how the O-line has practiced, he said, citing the “physical nature of practice, the physical nature of our preparation and the way we play the game physically.’’
The operative word is physical in any discussion
He added, “Each week we’ve had a superior number of knockdowns, which is how we grade.’’
Miller is a coaching disciple of former UW offensive line assistant Bob Bostad.
As such, he has reintroduced and reinforced a Bostad mindset.
“Practices are much more intense,’’ Miller said. “The players want discipline and hard work. That’s what we’ve seen the last four weeks and that’s been really encouraging to me. If we continue to do that we’ll be right where we want to be at the end of the year.’’
Purdue’s defensive line will definitely be a measuring stick. The Boilermakers feature two of the best tackles in the Big Ten in Bruce Gaston and Kawaan Short who has 41.5 career TFLs, including 16.5 sacks. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Short has blocked three kicks this year and has seven career blocks.
“They’re a big, strong interior D-line,’’ Miller said. “They use their hands well and they shed blockers very well. They bat balls down and they pressure the quarterback. We need a big game upfront from our guys. Whoever is going to win that game is going to win the line of scrimmage.’’
Since Miller grabbed the reins of the O-line, there has been one addition to the starting lineup that has personified the “physicality’’ that he was seeking. That has been right guard Kyle Costigan, who missed the Illinois game with an injury. Costigan returned to practice this week and will start at Purdue.
“He has a tremendous work ethic and toughness,’’ Miller said of Costigan, a redshirt sophomore from Muskego, Wis. “When he’s in the game, the level of intensity and the level of physicality really changes. He also attacks the week of preparation. Those are the traits that I saw in guys like Kevin Zeitler.’’
Zeitler was an All-American and a first-round draft choice of the Bengals. Costigan is a converted defensive tackle and just beginning to scratch the surface. At Nebraska, he finished the game on a dislocated knee cap, which he injured early in the first quarter.
“Obviously, it was real painful,’’ Costigan said. “But when you’re in that situation -- in that atmosphere with the adrenaline rush that you have -- there was no way I was not going to play unless it was a life-threatening situation. I had to grind it out.’’
Costigan tore his meniscus, sprained his MCL, and strained his patella ligament. During surgery, he said, they removed 12 “floating bodies’’ of cartilage which had been sheared off. “I wish they would have given them to me,’’ Costigan said. “I would have made a necklace out of it.’’
Of course, he was kidding.
“He wasn’t kidding,’’ Bielema said.
UW safety Shelton Johnson, like Muldoon, finally got back on the field against Illinois after being injured at Oregon State.
Johnson, a fifth-year senior, broke his arm. Never once, though, did he allow himself to think that it might be a season- and career-ending injury. “Never crossed my mind,’’ he said.
Johnson had plenty of incentive during his rehab. “This being my last season, my senior season,’’ he said, “You want everything to be special and you want to build off every game. But when you’re on the sidelines and you’re seeing the backups struggle sometimes, it really pushes you to get back.’’
There was one scare in the Illinois game when Johnson fell and tried to brace himself. That forced him to the sideline temporarily. “I thought I had broken it again,’’ he said. “Initially, there was that little scare because of the pain. For the most part, it felt pretty good.’’
Johnson has a 10-centimeter plate in his forearm, a constant reminder of the injury.
“I know it’s there,’’ he said, “but it doesn’t prevent me from doing anything. Hopefully I will get it taken out when I’m done playing football. When I was going through security at the airport and they were wanding me, they thought I had a watch on and I wasn’t wearing any jewelry that day.’’
Purdue’s receivers are the jewel of the spread offense. Antavian Edison has caught at least one pass in 26 consecutive games, while O.J. Ross has no fewer than five receptions in any one game this season. Edison, Ross and Gary Bush have combined for 10 touchdown catches.
“The strength of their team is skill players,’’ Johnson said. “You have to tackle in space.’’
That takes a commitment. Johnson has never shied away from one, especially off the field. Recently, he was nominated to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, which recognizes players for the commitment that they have made within their communities.
Johnson has logged more hours of community service than anybody on the Badgers. That has included time that he has spent in elementary schools reading to children and at local hospitals. Bielema recommends that each player spend a certain number of hours in this capacity.
Johnson goes above and beyond.
“A lot of us are doing volunteer work; it’s the thing to do around here,’’ Johnson said. “Once you start and you really get involved, you forget about the hours that you’re putting in all together.
“I do like working with kids. It doesn’t matter to them if you’re an All-American or a third-stringer, they’re just always excited to see you.’’