By Troy Sparks
GREEN BAY – Defeats by the Green Bay and Wisconsin football teams don’t happen very often and not on the same weekend. Both teams had high expectations entering the 2012 season. Last weekend, the Packers and Badgers looked to rebound from tough losses.
The green and gold didn’t have time to think about their loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Sept. 9, at Lambeau Field, where they were outplayed and outcoached in every aspect. As one Green Bay player said, the replacement officials had nothing to do with them losing the game to start the season at 0-1.
It was time to take out their frustrations on their longtime rivals the Chicago Bears, Sept. 13, at home. The 23-10 win gave the players extra motivation and the next four days off. If a Green Bay player can’t get the adrenaline flowing against a team in the oldest rival in NFL history, then that guy has no business being in a green and gold uniform, period.
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler said the game against the Packers would be a dogfight. Cutler’s comments added fuel to the fire. His receiving sidekick in receiver Brandon Marshall was supposed to be a secret weapon that would destroy the Green Bay secondary. Marshall was a marked man all night and finished with two catches for 24 yards and no touchdowns. He dropped a TD pass in the end zone.
The offense and defense clicked on all cylinders. It was a complete turnaround from the San Francisco game. Overall, the 49ers had a better team than Chicago, and the Bears had to admit that they were not on the Packers’ level last year or this year. They got no style points in a 20-point win over the rebuilding Indianapolis Colts in Week 1.
It seemed like everybody got in on the action for the Packers. Linebacker Clay Matthews got 3 ½ sacks. Cornerback Tramon Williams had two of Green Bay’s four interceptions. Safeties Charles Woodson and Jerron McMillian each had one pick. On offense, the Pack did enough in the ground game with running back Cedric Benson, who averaged 4.1 yards a carry in his 20 rushes.
What really got the Lambeau crowd excited were the two TDs that were unexpected. The Green Bay special teams studied the Bears’ special teams for the last three years to see how they lined up in punt and kick block coverage. The result was a trick play on a fake field goal attempt by kicker Mason Crosby with punter Tim Masthay holding. Masthay took the snap, flicked the ball to backup tight end Tom Crabtree, who ran 27 yards to the end zone for Green Bay’s first TD in the second quarter. If that play didn’t work, the wrath of head coach Mike McCarthy would have been at special teams coach Shawn Slocum.
Aging receiver Donald Driver, in his last year with Green Bay, the Dancing with the Stars champion and a forgotten man on the sideline, was in the right place at the right time when he hooked up with quarterback Aaron Rodgers for a 26-yarder and a TD in the fourth quarter that helped give the Pack a 23-3 lead. Driver did the Cha-Cha in the end zone before doing the Lambeau Leap. Rodgers pointed at him as if to say, “That one was for you.”
Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers put the dogs on the Bears’ offense and didn’t call them off until the game was over. Chicago gained only 168 total yards to Green Bay’s 321. A long layover of 11 days should get the Packers ready for their first road game, Sept. 24, in Seattle, against the Seahawks’ rookie QB who was the signal caller for the Badgers around this time last year.
The Badgers wished they had Russell Wilson in Madison this year instead of in Seattle. Wilson brought excitement to the game, and they put non-conference opponents away by the second half. Bucky survived a 26-21 win at home against Northern Iowa and lost 10-7 at Oregon State in their first two games. Utah State came into Camp Randall Stadium looking for the upset, Sept. 15.
The team was trying to rebound from their last defeat and the firing of the offensive line coach in the same week. The O-line couldn’t get a big push to get one measly yard on third down a couple of times. They were 2 for 9 in the half. Those corn-fed guys couldn’t blame the fired O-line coach for 63 first half yards and not giving Montee Ball room to run.
In addition to that, starting quarterback Danny O’Brien lost a fumble, completed half of his 10 passes and got sacked. There were four penalties in the first half. The Aggies shocked the Badgers when they took a 14-3 halftime lead into the locker room. Something needed to be done in a hurry. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema made a QB switch.
“The No. 1 reason I made the switch at quarterback was to protect the ball,” he said. “For us to win at Wisconsin, we can’t turn the ball over. I said in front of the group, ‘I’m gonna make a switch. I’m gonna pop (redshirt freshman) Joel (Stave) in to start the second half.’ We got to be better with ball security. I talked to Joel and moved forward.”
In the second half, Wisconsin’s defense played better. The Camp Randall crowd roared after Kenzel Doe returned a punt 82 yards to the house. Ball ran for a touchdown late in the third quarter and the Badgers led 16-14. They held Utah State at bay in the fourth quarter until the Aggies missed a 36-yard field goal that went right and missed the crossbar with seconds remaining in regulation. Badger Nation can’t stomach any nail-biting, single digit games from non-conference teams. What will happen to the Badgers in the final nine games of the season?