Sunday, September 03, 2006

Clash in Cleveland

Wisconsin 35, Bowling Green 14

The weather suggested midseason Browns game. The calendar said different.
Through raindrops, under the kind of sagging gray clouds that usually roll in off Lake Erie in November, Wisconsin and Bowling Green played the first-ever Division I college football game at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The game went into the books as a home game for the Falcons, the second half of a home-and-home series with the Badgers begun with a 56-42 Wisconsin win in Madison a year ago.
The loyalty of the crowd suggested otherwise.
At least 40 percent of the reported 30,307 in the crowd were Wisconsin fans. A sea of Badger red spread like a rash across the center of the south stands -- designated the visiting side.
The north side, where I was among a gaggle of BG fans, was covered primarily in BG orange with rows of red mixed in. I am proud to report that BG seemed to take over the Dawg Pound, creating a nice little vortex of sound as Wisconsin drove toward the east end zone.
But all the sound in the world couldn't mask the fact that BG was playing with an inexperience offensive line and without their starting quarterback.
Anthony Turner is inexperienced enough as it is. When he was suspended for a game for alleged marijuana possession, the yoke fell onto redshirt freshman Freddie Barnes.
Inserting Barnes as the starting quarterback seemed to turn BG coach Gregg Brandon into some uber-exaggeration of Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. Brandon, normally a pretty adventuresome offensive coach, didn't just play it close to the vest with Barnes. He played it in the breast pocket.
Barnes was allowed to pass the ball 19 times, resulting in 12 completions but for just 150 yards. Most of Barnes' pass attempts were of the dink-and-dunk variety, seldom more than 10 yards downfield.
It was a far cry from the spread offense Brandon ran with former quarterback Omar Jacobs, cut by the Steelers on Saturday.
Whether by limitiations or design, the most havoc Barnes wreaked was with his legs. In what amounted to a modified option set, Barnes ran the most quarterback keepers I've ever seen in a college game. The approach did produce results, as he rushed 29 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Barnes' legs singlehandedly kept BG in the game for three quarters. BG crept to within 21-14 in the third quarter before Wisconsin scored the final two touchdowns of the game.
Aside from Brandon's ultra-conservative play calling, the real story of the game was BG's inability to stop P.J. Hill Jr. The Badgers' leading rusher punished BG's defense for 128 yards and a touchdown. Seldom were the Falcons able to bring Hill down on the first tackle attempt, usually needing a swarm to bring him down.
Few things are more demoralizing to a defense than a running back who can break two and three tackles before being brought down. Hill did just that, and it wore away at BG's defense in the second half.
The Falcons were also badly outplayed on special teams. Punter Alonso Rojas looked like he was punting a cinder block all night, clanging 30-yard shank shots off his right foot and consistently giving the Badgers great field position. Rojas was also victimized on a blocked punt that was recovered in the end zone for Wisconsin's second touchdown.
With the game over, Wisconsin could probably wipe their collective brow and call it a warm-up for the rest of the season. For BG, this was a preparation game for what they can expect, raised to another power, when they venture to Columbus to face Ohio State on Oct. 9.
Three years ago, I was there as BG made the Buckeyes sweat before losing 24-17. If Saturday's performance against a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team is any indication, perhaps I should just cover my eyes when the Falcons make their trip next month.

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