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November 17, 2010

Tom's take: Lay off Bielema

MADISON - I, like Bret Bielema, get it.

I get that people (especially the national media) are going to look at last weekend's 83-point explosion and assume things. I get that they are going to blast Bielema for being ungraceful, unsportsmanlike and any other superlative this side of disrespectful.

I get that an 83-20 win over a lowly Indiana squad is going to raise eyebrows simply because there's some pre-conceived notion that Wisconsin is a smash-mouth football team straight out of 1996.

Don't get me wrong, Wisconsin is going to run the ball and slough through games like a heavyweight boxer: by landing body blow after body blow before eventually delivering the knockout punch late in the game.

But these aren't Ron Dayne's Badgers anymore. They can score in other ways, too.

Look at Bielema's tenure as head coach and it won't take long to see offensive balance and a team that averages 31.2 points per game over that span.

So the stigma that this team can't score needs to be abolished. It's an old stereotype that's alive and well and there are too many ignorant pundits buying into it. Hell, maybe it's a stigma that even extends past Wisconsin and overflows into the rest of the Big Ten. Maybe it's a league-wide stereotype that gets tossed around when one of its members scores like an SEC or Pac 10 team.

Regardless, it needs to stop.

The outcry stemming from Saturday's beat down inside Camp Randall, whether it comes from Bristol, CT or anywhere else, is absurd. And it's fueling the ultimate double standard.

Of the current BCS top 25 teams, 24 of them have at least one win of 35 points or more. Usually that's a pretty good margin of victory and signifies one team's dominance over another. Did all 24 of those teams get slammed for running up the score on a national scale?

When Oregon beats New Mexico (a fellow FBS school) 72-0 in the season opener, they're certainly not running up the score. It's what a beautifully crafted offense does. (Note: sarcasm)

TCU can smack around Tennessee Tech 62-7 and everybody says it's what the Horned Frogs have to do to compete with the big boys in order to contend for a national championship.

Then Ohio State works Eastern Michigan 73-20 and Terrelle Pryor gets national headlines as a Heisman candidate.

But as soon as Wisconsin, a Midwest school with a rich ground and pound tradition, starts scoring an inordinate amount of points against a fellow Big Ten school it's inexcusable.

How does that make sense?

Again, I get 83 points is an unusual amount of scoring. But Wisconsin has had an explosive offense for at least half a decade now. It's not like this came out of nowhere. Then you can compare UW's 63-point margin in that game (against a Big Ten opponent mind you) to Oregon's 73-point spread against New Mexico and it's crazy how nobody questioned the Ducks.

If anything, UW's win should be more impressive than it is appalling. Last I checked, Indiana, while it hasn't been great, is still a team with a solid offense and talented players. They are a BCS conference team.

And its head coach Bill Lynch took Bielema's side. He didn't think the Badgers were running it up. So the fact that so many other people had a problem with it raises a red flag.

Talk about a double standard that's nothing less than sickening. And what makes it worse are the people lambasting Bielema even though they never even understood the context of the game. They formed their flawed argument around a flawed system (BCS) that whether they want to admit it or not, values style points.

Clearly Bielema was thinking about style points when he trotted his fourth stringers into the game late in the fourth quarter. Remember, we're talking about kids that never get the opportunity to play inside a packed stadium and ones that wanted to have some fun with their time in the spotlight.

Since we're talking double standards, it's funny how everyone calls Bielema irresponsible for allegedly running up the score when at the same time, isn't it irresponsible for all the analysts and pundits around the country to spout off about a game they admittedly didn't even watch?

If somebody wants Bielema to account for the fact he had his young quarterback throwing a pass in the fourth quarter, shouldn't somebody be held accountable for not researching further before addressing the masses?

Bielema said it best when he mentioned how Budmayr had only thrown six passes in his career entering the Indiana game. That's the same quarterback that could be facing a Rose Bowl sized responsibility with one bad twist or turn of Scott Tolzien's arm or leg at any point during the next two weeks.

Sure it may not have been necessary to throw a deep pass midway through the fourth quarter with his team up 69-10 and more than in control. But in the context of running an offensive scheme, against a live defense that isn't wearing the same color as you, what are you going to tell your freshman quarterback to do? And as a head coach, wouldn't you like to see how that player performs under pressure?

Look at the facts.

The Badgers only threw 21 passes, most of which came in the first half, against Indiana. It's not as if Paul Chryst had Tolzien firing 50 passes while running a hurry up offense into the fourth quarter. They simply ran the ball and only threw the ball in passing situations.

I have a feeling Urban Meyer, Les Miles or Chip Kelly would have done the same thing. But I doubt any of those three coaches would have had to go onto morning talk shows to explain themselves.

Tom Lea can be reached at thomasmlea@gmail.com.




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