Coaches don’t get fired after two games. It just doesn’t happen. Excuses are made, scapegoats are blamed, but no one loses his job after just two games. Right?
Well apparently nobody ever relayed that message to head coach Bret Bielema, who canned offensive line coach Mike Markuson after just 120 minutes of gameplay with the Wisconsin Badgers.
Whatever it was that Markuson was trying to do with this offensive line, it’s clear that it wasn’t working. With arguably the best stable of running backs in the nation, Wisconsin has only been able to run for 203 yards this season.
To put that number in perspective, the Badgers ran for more than 203 yards in 12 of their 14 games last season. So far this year, 29 different individual players have run for 203 or more yards. UCLA’s Jonathan Franklin has more than doubled the Badgers’ production (431 yards) on just 41 carries.
This type of production is simply unacceptable.
“We weren’t getting any push at the line of scrimmage,” Bielema said after UW’s 10-7 loss to Oregon State. “I know that there weren’t any clean holes for [our running backs] to run through.”
Wisconsin’s offense is, and always has been, built around a mammoth offensive line that imposes its will on smaller defensive linemen. Despite losing three starters from last season, this line still averages around 6-foot-5, 320 pounds. It should have no problem handling D-linemen who it outweighs by 40 or 50 pounds apiece—but it does.
There is no excuse for the offense’s poor production thus far, and to his credit Bielema isn’t trying to sweep it under the carpet. He’s embracing it and is doing what he feels is necessary to turn things around.
“I’m not in this profession to lose football games,” Bielema said. “Any loss absolutely disturbs me to no end.”
The message being sent here by Bielema is clear: Wisconsin will not accept losing.
The Badgers went through a total revamp of the offensive coaching staff this offseason, hiring six new coaches on that side of the ball. With Markuson’s firing, the rest of the staff has now been put on notice.
Fans and experts alike were critical of new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s play calling through the first two games. Canada leaned on the passing game to dig the Badgers out of their hole on Saturday, and it backfired. He let redshirt junior quarterback Danny O’Brien throw the ball 38 times and only gave senior running back Montee Ball 15 carries.
That’s not Wisconsin football.
On a key fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter, the Badgers ran a QB sneak with O’Brien, who gained zero yards, instead of handing it off to Ball.
That’s not Wisconsin football.
If the offense comes out next week against Utah State and lays another egg, it could be Canada who is shown the door next.
It is refreshing to see a coach who is not afraid to make the changes needed to turn a struggling team around. Too many in that profession are all too willing to accept the status quo or all too scared to make a change.
Some may see this as a panic move by a scared coach—I don’t see it that way. This season is not over. A Big Ten Championship and a third straight trip to the Rose Bowl are still completely within the Badgers’ grasp. If this firing puts Wisconsin even one step closer to reaching that goal, then I am all for it.
Do you think Bret Bielema made the right move in firing Mike Markuson? How will Wisconsin fare the rest of 2012 with Bart Miller running the O-line? Email Matt at email@example.com.