Wisconsin 2006 Preview - Further Analysis
Wisconsin Badgers
Posted Aug 1, 2006

Wisconsin Badgers Preview 2006 - Further Analysis

1st and Ten – The New Mr. T – The 2006 NFL Draft came and went with much fanfare, but one guy who could’ve been part of said fanfare was busy preparing for his senior season in Madison.  A guy who was potentially 30 minutes away from being the first or second tackle taken in this year’s draft.  Yes, Wisconsin’s Joe Thomas, healthy, is as good, if not better, than D’Brickashaw Ferguson, taken fourth by the New York Jets.  Ah, the rub – how healthy is the star tackle?  Flash back to Wisconsin’s dominating Capital One Bowl and Thomas, on defense, gets…whoa, hold on, what?  Thomas on defense?  Yeah, he’s on defense pursuing a play from behind and, well, he plants wrong one time.  Consequently, one ACL tear later and Thomas is spending April rehabbing, instead of shopping for a new house.  Quite simply, Thomas is the closest thing we’ve had to Robert Gallery since the former Hawkeye ruled the Big Ten.  He’s nasty, he’s quick – he can pass protect, he can get movement off the line of scrimmage.  He’s the total package, from an athletic standpoint, and it’s the reason that he was playing defense in that bowl game.  It’s a shame that it happened when he was moonlighting, but even worse, that it happened at all.  Regardless, this is a guy who shut down Penn State’s Tamba Hali – oh sure, Hali destroyed Wisconsin, but when Thomas lined up on his side, forget it, Hali didn’t do anything.  But, go back to the word ‘injury’.  People think that an ACL tear is the worst thing that could happen to a skill player, but it’s almost an offensive lineman’s death knell.  Don’t believe it?  Just ask Eric Winston from Miami.  So, Thomas will return for his senior year, but how much will his ‘skills’ dissipate from the injury?  Very hard to say, but the Badgers want and need to run the ball at least 60% of the time, and with three key linemen out of eligibility, it’s imperative that a relatively healthy Thomas return with his nasty attitude and, more importantly, quick feet.  Thomas may be the best lineman that has set foot on this Wisconsin campus, but how different is that man that lines up against Bowling Green this September going to be?  Is the new Mr. T going to be more A-Team or DC Cab?  Badgers everywhere are hoping for more of the latter.

2nd and Seven – Surprise, Surprise – Alright, let’s start this one off with an important question or three.  Who had a better year statistically in 2005 – dark horse Heisman candidate Iowa’s Drew Tate or Wisconsin QB John Stocco?  Before you answer that one, how about this one – better year statistically – former five star recruit Michigan’s Chad Henne or Stocco?  More touchdowns – Ohio State’s Troy Smith or Stocco?  Same answer – Stocco.  Surprise!  For all of you who perceived the Wisconsin signal caller to be the weak link for the Badger offense, you better start to think again.  After the QB draw against Michigan that won the game, Stocco took his game to another level – he was sharp, consistent and productive.  He threw seven interceptions in those last 9 games, but he also threw 17 touchdowns.  The Wisconsin QBs, the Darrell Bevells and the Mike Samuels of the world, have always been good game managers and wouldn’t do enough to kill the offense, but Stocco has taken his game, under offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, to a point where teams now must start to prepare for what Stocco can do in the passing game.  How’d you do on those quiz questions?  Not so good?  Don’t feel bad.

3rd and Three – Surprise, Surprise - Part II – There wasn’t one writer, prognosticator or football mind who thought that Wisconsin’s D line had much of a chance against Auburn in the Capital One Bowl last January.  Auburn was going to slice them up to the tune of 300+ and a huge victory for the Tigers.  But, that’s why they play the game, right?  When it was over, Auburn didn’t even have 100 yards rushing.  The defensive line was active and aggressive (sometimes a little too aggressive, but we won’t tell anyone now, will we?).  They harassed QB Brandon Cox all game long and held a hot Kenny Irons in check.  The biggest question all year was this defensive line, but they weren’t healthy, all at the same time.  Well, that is until the Capital One Bowl game.  But, with every key player returning to the front four, the D line showed in Orlando exactly what the Big Ten better get ready for in 2006.

4th and One – Will it change that much? – Sit down with an avid Wisconsin fan, especially those fans/alums who’ve been around since before Barry Alvarez, and ask them their feelings about the former head man.  The words might be tough to come by; you are talking about the guy who saved Wisconsin football.  Pure and simple.  He turned Wisconsin football into a happening and the Badgers into an annual power in the Big Ten, and the nation.  As he turns the program over to Bret Bielema, the question that most Badger fans will have is how much Bielema will change to make it ‘his’ program?  Most head coaches, no matter who they follow, attempt to put their stamp on their team and their program and Bielema, the youngest head coach in Division 1A, will be no different.  Badger fans have seen his passion for the game and the intensity that has put him in this position.  Don’t expect that to change.  In fact, Bielema will crack his whip, as he did earlier this spring after a supposed sloppy spring practice, but there shouldn’t be too many more adjustments.  Chryst did a great job with this offense last year, and with Bielema in charge, there shouldn’t be much different, even with new defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz.  And, don’t worry, Barry is still just ‘down the way’, keeping a close eye on his protégé.

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