What Were You Thinking?

What were you thinking? It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot lately.

Major League Baseball, how could you allow Game 3 of the World Series to start after 10 PM local time? What were you thinking?

Major League Baseball, how could you try to play Game 5 of the World Series on a field that was basically “underwater”  (Chase Utley’s accurate description)? What were you thinking? (Although at least the league did the right thing by completing the suspended game the following night.)

Owners of several houses that my son trick-or-treated at, how could you give out just Tootsie Rolls? And not even the king-size ones, but the little dinky ones? What were you thinking? (Seriously here, Halloween to a five-year-old is the second biggest day of the year. Instead of another proposed stimulus check, every household in the country should have been mailed several bags of Sour Patch Kids, Snickers, and Twix bars early last week.)

To myself after downing six White Castle cheeseburgers in one sitting during a visit to Minnesota this past week and suffering the severe gastric distress that I undoubtedly deserved, what were you thinking?

And finally, to Wisconsin Badgers head football coach Bret Bielemafor calling a timeout with under 30 seconds to go and allowing the Spartans time to set up for the game-winning field goal for Saturday’s nauseating 25-24 loss at Michigan State, what were you thinking?

OK, Bielema’s gaffe at the end of Saturday’s game was not the sole reason Wisconsin lost. And MSU’s Brett Swenson, who had already made three field goals before the game winner, might very well have made the 44-yard field goal kick even if he and his team had had to rush the kick as time wound down. But why would a coach who has taken so much of the blame (unfairly, I think) for his team falling far below preseason expectations want to put himself in the cross hairs like that?

It wasn’t the first time in the game that Bielema and his coaching staff weren’t thinking. The decision to challenge an obvious touchback early in the fourth quarter cost his team a challenge and a timeout when it was predictably upheld. Later, twenty yards of penalties slapped on due to sideline interference and subsequent unsportsmanlike conduct (when Bielema later admitted telling a referee that he “wasn’t really doing a good job”) heavily aided Michigan State on their first of two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.

Telling off a referee? Really, Bielema? What were you thinking?

The head coach’s apparent lack of self-discipline on Saturday seemed to trickle down to his entire team, as the Badgers amassed a whopping 121 penalty yards — over a third of what Wisconsin’s defense allowed the Spartans to earn — on 12 calls. That total, that included eight penalties for 66 yards in the fourth quarter alone, could have been worse had the generous refereeing crew not let a couple of fairly obvious pass interference calls on Badger cornerback Niles Brinkley go. (Brinkley was tagged for two pass interferences, while Allen Langford was called on one. Brinkley also had a holding call go against him.)

But perhaps the biggest penalty came with 2:46 left to go in the game; nursing a slim 24-22 lead (Wisconsin never trailed until Swenson’s final field goal), John Clay rushed for a first down on a third-and-one, meaning that with MSU out of time outs, Wisconsin was set to run out the clock. But instead center John Moffitt was called for holding, negating the crucial first down. A false start penalty added insult to injury and Wisconsin was forced to punt. (Bielema elected to punt instead of trying for a 52-yard field goal, a fair decision given that Philip Welch had already missed a 44-yarder).  The Spartans took the ball 56 yards in eight plays for the winning score.

The pervasiveness of the penalties for Wisconsin was overall the most obvious reason for the head-scratching loss. Because outside of the flags, the Badgers played a good football game. Both units controlled the lines of scrimmage as both P.J. Hill (106 yards) and John Clay (111 yards) racked up triple-digit rushing yards, the first time the Badgers had two 100-yard rushers in the same game since 2005. In fact, the Badgers hadn’t had a single100-yard rusher since beating Fresno State in September. More impressively, the Badgers almost completely shut down the nation’s leading rusher, Javon Ringer, who had by far his worst game of the season with only 54 rushing yards on 12 carries (though he did pad his national-best TD total to 18 thanks to two short runs). Overall, the Badgers completely crushed the Spartans in total rushing yards, 281 to 25, a figure that allowed Wisconsin to win time of possession by over five minutes.

And while quarterback Dustin Sherer perhaps took a step back from last week’s improvement, his 14-of-28 for 149 yards performance wasn’t terrible (though admittedly several of his throws were). Worse than his 50 percent completion percentage, though, was a second-quarter fumble that resulted in Michigan State’s first scoring drive (a Brett Swenson 27-yard field goal). Sherer’s play was perhaps more acceptable because if anything he looked better than Michigan State’s Brian Hoyer, who only completed 19 of his whopping 44 attempts, although Hoyer was burned by several dropped balls, including a sure touchdown by B.J. Cunningham in the second quarter.

Like the rest of his team, Hoyer played his best football in the fourth quarter, connecting on seven of his 19 completions for 133 of his 252 total yards. And what is becoming a season-long theme, the Badgers most decidedly did not play their best football in the fourth quarter, losing for the third time this season after taking a lead into the final stanza. The first of those games was a stunner in Michigan at Ann Arbor. That was back when Wisconsin had thoughts of a Big Ten championship and possibly a BCS bid. Now, after losing again in Michigan and making it five losses out of six games, nobody is stunned. All the Badgers and their fans can muster are shrugs, sighs, and — particularly from the head coach — sarcasm.

Seriously, Bret, what were you thinking?

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