Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It’s a Trap! Michigan 27, Wisconsin 25

By Admiral Ackbar (John Sears)

“It’s a trap!”, Admiral Ackbar warns the Rebel Alliance that is planning an attack on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi. In retrospect, this notable quote and scene becomes and interesting descriptor of what transpired at the Big House on Saturday. Coach Brett Bielema of Wisconsin warned that their Big Ten opener against Michigan could be a “trap game”. Is this the type of battle that can make or break a Badger team on the losing end?

I saw it with my own eyes and I still don’t believe it or understand how the trap happened. Maybe that’s because the only time I left my seat was when the Badgers attempted a quick pass deep in their own territory that was tipped, intercepted by weak-side linebacker John Thompson, and returned for a lead-changing touchdown. The stadium started to erupt because the home team somehow took the lead, and I was ignorant - jamming a soft pretzel in my mouth behind section 42.

I am compelled to give an eye-witness account and feel for the roller-coaster transgressions that culminated in the second largest comeback in the Big House…ever (amazing considering Michigan was also celebrating their 500th game in Michigan Stadium). To start, the loudest cheer from the 109,000+ during the first three hours of attendance came when gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps was introduced just before kickoff. Surprisingly, the crowd didn’t crescendo to this level again really until said interception described above, which gave Michigan the lead for good.

The loudest booing prior to halftime was offered to the Wisconsin marching band just before kick-off…ironically while the band stood in block M formation respectfully offering their rendition of The Victors. Strange. Possibly afflicted by this bad karma the Maize and Blue closed out the first half horribly (down 19-0, 10 possessions netting 17 yards, five punts, three fumbles and two interceptions), They received a meteor shower of boos from a sea of maize exasperated and salty - reinforcing this is not how they envisioned their Big Ten campaign starting.

Fast forward to 2:27 left in the third quarter, out of nowhere (obviously in response to a mind-bending motivational half-time speech by none other than Yoda) and within 12:33 of game clock, the Wolverines rattle off four touchdowns, rack up 242 yards of offense and take the lead. In that same time period, the methodical power rushing attack of Wisconsin sunk in to a black hole, yielding three punts, one interception, one fumble and zero points.

And if that weren’t enough to make all of us feel like we’ve come out of a three hour cycle of being frozen in carbonite and standing toe-to-claw with the Rancor, the Badgers regroup and find themselves within Michigan’s red-zone thanks to some nifty passing by quarterback Allen Evridge. The Wolverines’ defensive line stepped up again as junior defensive end Brandon Graham took down Evridge, causing a fumble that Michigan recovered. Game in hand? Hardly: A three-and-out later, Evridge and company start a last-ditch effort out of the shotgun with just 1:19 left on the clock, down eight. With the sudden emergence of tight end Travis Beckum off the bench, the Badgers march down field and Evridge finally connects with David Gilreath in the end zone over cornerback Morgan Trent to come within a two-point conversion of a tie. And they convert! No, wait, penalty (illegal procedure). Do over fails and the trap game has come to fruition just as Coach Bielema warned.

So if there was a move script that seemed to recap all that transpired, it would sound something like this: The Galactic Empire (Michigan) is struggling on rebuilding its Death Star (rebuilding off of last year’s loss to the Badgers). Meanwhile the Rebel Alliance (Wisconsin) are trying to overcome the deadly power of an operational Death Star (not winning in Ann Arbor since 1994) with a full frontal attack force (power rushing attack). The Rebel attack seems to be primed for success and has all its pawns in place (19-0 lead at half-time) when Admiral Ackbar (Bielema) realizes they have fallen in to a trap (four unanswered Wolverine touchdowns). The fleet tries to withstand the onslaught (late touchdown pulls them within two to tie), but succumb to the power of the Empire (lose 27-25).

This sounds like a movie with a lot of potential, but it lacking the storybook ending. In Return of the Jedi, the Rebel Alliance persevered in the end by the leadership of their Jedi Master. As the Big Ten story continues to unfold, will the Badgers find a way to persevere after losing a battle to win the Big Ten war? Bucky would say, “The force is strong with this one.”