Zetlin: Fresno victory a positive sign

first_imgThey passed more tests than most do during finals week.And that’s not a knock on anyone’s academic prowess.With their backs against the wall, it was fullback Bill Rentmeester — the most unlikely of heroes — who aced the final exam, bulldozing his way up the middle, behind the immovable wall known as the UW offensive line, for eight yards, icing the Wisconsin victory. Three Dustin Sherer kneels later, Bulldog Stadium was quieter than Tiger following a birdie putt on 18 at Augusta. Only instead of that one guy yelling, “Get in the hole,” what looked like a little more than a handful of Badger fans tucked away in the corner of the south end zone stood and cheered, as the team dressed in white with cardinal numbers scurried toward the locker room still undefeated. Somehow.I stood up, and the only word I could verbalize was, “Wow.” My front right pocket then vibrated for about 14 straight seconds, each text message reading the same exact three-letter word I had uttered only a moment before. At first I wondered if there was an ESPN2 camera focused on me, and people had seen my reaction to the conclusion of a game that had hearts pounding and feet shaking for the entire second half. But then I realized everyone watching was simply as awestruck as me.“What the hell just happened?” seemed to be the collective response following Wisconsin’s 13-10 victory over the Bulldogs of Fresno State Saturday night. At the time, I actually couldn’t have told you, because let’s face it, the previous wins over Akron and Marshall were about as helpful as a Bill Belichick press conference in terms of gauging just how good this team really is. But after a four-hour delay in Phoenix, a three-hour flight to Chicago, plus a three-hour bus ride back to Madison, I’ve had some time to ponder what exactly occurred in Fresno and what it means for the future of the now No. 8 Badgers football team.Here’s what I came up with:Evridge just might be the answerLast season, in Wisconsin’s four losses, quarterback Tyler Donovan threw a combined five interceptions (two each against Illinois and Penn State and one vs. Tennessee). Saturday, Evridge didn’t throw any. In fact, the Badgers didn’t turn the ball over once against the Bulldogs, which, as you know, is an essential ingredient in the difficult recipe for road victories.Is Evridge the next Tim Tebow? No. But guess what: He doesn’t have to be. Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst need Evridge to take care of the football and hand the ball off to the trio of talented running backs who stand behind him. Because of UW’s dominant rushing attack, No. 4 doesn’t need to do too much except minimize mistakes. But if he feels like putting up some numbers — like he did against Marshall — the big boys up front usually give him plenty of time to find Travis Beckum, Garrett Graham or the occasional wide receiver.But unlike his predecessor, Evridge seems to understand that he doesn’t need to be Superman for this team to succeed.Hopefully that won’t be his kryptonite.P.J. speaks the truthAll spring, P.J. Hill was more excited than Mel Kiper Jr. on draft day, saying he was healthier than ever and for us to expect big things from him this fall. So far, he’s walked the walk, rushing for 112 yards on 26 carries against a tough Fresno State defense.“P.J. Hill is reading plays better than ever before in his third year because he’s been there, done that,” Bielema said Monday.Funny, I was thinking the same thing. If you’re looking for Hill to bring the Heisman back to Madison, don’t get your hopes up. But the kid from East Elmhurst, N.Y. is becoming a more complete back. Instead of doing the hokey-pokey while trying to hit the long ball on every carry, Hill is hitting holes harder than ever, understanding where the first down markers are and keeping drives alive.Yes, I’d like to see John Clay have more than three rushes, too (especially on third and fourth down from the one), but the only way Bielema’s Bunch has a chance to visit Pasadena is if it hops on P.J.’s back.Good thing No. 39 is prepared for the ride.The freshmen can kickKen DeBauche’s little brother Brad looked awful in the spring game. Both Phillip Welch and Matt Fischer weren’t much better in April’s scrimmage, either. But in three games — including Fresno’s rowdy crowd — Welch, a freshman, has proven he can succeed Taylor Mehlhaff just fine, both with the kickoff and field goal duties.And while he had a punt blocked Saturday night, fellow rookie Brad Nortman has been solid as well, kicking another 50-yarder against the Bulldogs. Dave Peck’s snap was along Nortman’s shoe tops, so don’t be so quick to throw the UW punter under the bus for the mishap; he won’t be a problem.Front seven back on trackWith senior linebacker Jonathan Casillas back in the lineup, the Badgers’ front seven looked like a completely revamped unit. Defensive end O’Brien Schofield had a big sack and Matt Shaughnessy got his paws on two Tom Brandstater passes at the line of scrimmage, one of which ended up in the hands of DeAndre Levy. Tackles Jason Chapman and Mike Newkirk also consistently stopped Ryan Mathews — who rushed for 163 yards against Rutgers — and the Bulldogs’ running game.Casillas’ mere presence allowed Levy to play the game of his life Saturday, which included nine tackles, a sack and that interception. Plus, Casillas may have saved the game, chasing down Mathews from behind on what seemed to be a sure touchdown scamper. And he’s only going to get better as his health progresses.Achilles heel: The secondaryPoor tackling and missed assignments from the UW secondary led to way too many Fresno State big plays. Fortunately for them, the front seven — along with Kevin Goessling’s three missed field goals — bailed them out, holding the Bulldogs to just 10 points at home. The only time the Badgers were tested deep, cornerback Niles Brinkley slipped, but FSU wideout Seyi Ajirotutu dropped the ball.If Wisconsin is going to compete with Ohio State and Penn State, Shane Carter needs to learn how to tackle in the open field, Jay Valai (who is vastly better in pass coverage than Aubrey Pleasant, by the way) needs to take better angles to the ball, and the duo of Brinkley and Mario Goins needs to keep wide receivers in front of them, because they’re only going to get tested more and more.They found a way to winI don’t care if it was Marshall; this football team came back from a 14-point deficit to score 51 straight points. Then, it survived the elements of Bulldog Stadium with a teeth-grinding, 3-point win. Last year, I’m not sure that would have happened (UNLV was no Fresno State). Good teams find ways to win, no matter what.And this Badgers team has now shown it can do that.Derek is a junior majoring in economics. How good is this football team? Send him your thoughts at [email protected]last_img