The UW football team deserves a ton of credit for the way it battled through a flu-ridden week that severely limited its preparation for Fresno State. With that said, there's no epidemic that can hide some of the deficiencies that hamper the 2009 Badgers.
Head coach Bret Bielema was quick to bring up the flu in his post-game press conference -- and rightfully so, as it was the biggest story of the week -- but he also blamed some of the team's shortcomings on certain players having to play special teams and others battling through injuries.
What happened to the "next man in" philosophy? Apparently that doesn't apply when there is no next man in as is the case in the UW secondary. Aaron Henry was struck by the flu early Saturday morning and Niles Brinkley is battling a "messed up hammy," as Henry put it.
Wisconsin insisted on playing well off the wide receivers and gave up a number of first downs when Fresno State went with a quick slant pass on third down.
"We were pretty much playing Cover-3 most of the time and a lot of times in some of the those coverages you give up the short routes so you don't get beat on some of those deeps ones," Henry said. "They nickeled and dimed us down the field and they came back down the field with the slant-go's and the double-moves and you just had to play football."
It worked. Wisconsin gave up four passing touchdowns while Ryan Colburn completed 22-of-36 passes for 289 yards.
"The first half was horrible," Henry said. "It was ridiculous. All the points we gave up was because of the secondary."
That includes Fresno State's first touchdown in which Henry was beat four times on slant routes, including the 13-yard touchdown pass from Colburn to Chastin West. Ailing, Henry left the game and never returned.
But it can't all be blamed on the secondary. The defensive line failed to get to the quarterback as often as it did last week against Northern Illinois and that may be where the flu bug affected UW the most. Defensive end J.J. Watt was among those hit hardest by the virus and it showed on the stat sheet as he only finished with two tackles and one pass break-up.
O'Brien Schofield seemed determined to pick up the slack, however. In the most complete effort of his career, Schofield finished with 11 tackles, four tackles for loss and one sack.
"I left it all on the field. I'm empty. I have nothing left," Schofield said.
The senior defensive end and free safety Chris Maragos did enough to save their defense and allow the offense to outscore Fresno State 24-3 before the end of regulation -- enough to erase a 21-7 deficit and make it to overtime.
The Bulldogs actually put up more yardage in the second half (241 yards) than they did in the first half (227) but scored 18 less points than they did in the first two quarters.
Those numbers are a result of a defense that allowed Fresno State to convert 11-of-18 third down conversions, but managed to come up with big plays to win the game.
The biggest of those plays was Maragos' interception in overtime that set-up Phillip Welch's game winning field goal.
It's a good sign that Wisconsin is making plays in key situations to win the game, but it's alarming that for the second straight week the defense put the opposing team in position to do the exact same thing.
Bielema admitted after the game that about 40 players were out Tuesday with flu-like symptoms. With so many guys suffering, it was easier to find out who never had the flu and that list included running back John Clay and Schofield.
Because their game preparations were interrupted by the flu, the Badgers practiced Friday when they usually only have walk-throughs.
Offensive tackle Gabe Carimi said they had to pretend Wednesday was Tuesday, Thursday was Wednesday and Friday was Thursday. Luckily, they only treated Saturday like Friday during the first half.
Running game makes an appearance
Should Badger fans be worried about the running game? Clay had a 72-yard touchdown run but only had 71 yards total on his other 20 carries. In fact, outside of that big run, UW running backs only had 107 yards on 30 carries.
The reality is that Fresno State loaded the box a lot like Northern Illinois did last week and it allowed Tolzien to complete some tough passes in 1-on-1 coverage when blitzes came.
Clay proved on his long touchdown run that he still has breakaway speed. He made a believer out of Carimi who admitted he was surprised Clay made it all the way to the endzone.
Tolzien gives himself a "B/C"
Last week Tolzien gave himself a "B" grade in his solid debut as Wisconsin's starting quarterback. This week he actually gave himself a worse grade, saying it was a "B/C" performance. The junior finished with 225 yards and one touchdown while completing 17-of-28 passes.
Once again Tolzien showed confidence and poise in situations when his offensive line failed to pick up a blitz. He was only sacked twice when in reality, he could have been sacked as many as five or six times.
Travis Frederick left the game in the first half with a right ankle sprain and Peter Konz filled in nicely as the backup center. Bielema said Jake Current would have been the third string center. He said he expects John Moffitt to be ready next week but did not guarantee his return... Fullback Bradie Ewing suffered a concussion during the game but "was smiling at the end of the game," according to Bielema. He did not expect it to be a serious injury... Finally, Issac Anderson played through cramps as a result of the flu. He finished with four catches for 44 yards.