Fiammetta: Enthusiastic postseason hopes simply illusions

first_imgCOLUMBUS, Ohio – Wisconsin’s first trip to Ohio Stadium since 2009 was so cruel to the Badgers that you’d have to wonder if some sort of karmic revolt conspired to shatter the hearts of Bret Bielema & co. one more time.In the span of one week, the Badgers have plummeted from a team with national title aspirations, and a quarterback with Heisman Trophy hopes, to one wondering how far it can sputter with the wheels fallen off and the season having taken the worst possible turn.But for all the misery that, for whatever reasons, struck a team and a fan base so gosh-darn happy to finally have a seemingly elite squad that would once again carry Wisconsin to the BCS promised land, there are very clear reasons why it was all a flash in the pan. The Badgers, for all their sheer brilliance through the season’s first six games, are simply not as good as everyone thought.It was absolutely so exciting for Wisconsin to get behind Russell Wilson and drive the RussellManiaXVI Heisman campaign, and the fact that a Rose Bowl berth was suddenly designated as Plan B is a resounding testament to the progress this program has made over the past two years.And while a return trip to Pasadena remains scarcely feasible, the Badgers’ first two true road tests of the season proved that this team just wasn’t ready for actual upper-echelon status. Calling them “fraudulent” is likely a bit excessive – they did fall by a combined 10 points in two of the toughest environments in the country – but the Badgers showed over the past two weeks that all the illusions of grandeur envisaged in Madison really were just illusions.The statement reeks of clich? over-simplification, but to a great extent, it’s true – legitimately great teams win on the road. Squads “destined” for postseason greatness do not allow two blocked punts in back-to-back weekends, on the road in the heart of the Big Ten schedule. Teams that finish atop conference standings and computer rankings follow up on quick starts; they don’t get outscored 26-0 in the second quarters of two games after opening the first quarters with 21 unanswered points.The realizations discovered Saturday night in Columbus are harsh, and the numbers only bolster their sting. Wilson finished 20-of-32 for 253 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, but he missed more throws than he had in any game (as a Badger) to date. Montee Ball, despite finishing with a 5-yards-per-carry average, was held to just 85 yards and one touchdown rushing and receiving respectively. Wisconsin’s rushing attack as a whole mustered only 89 yards, the first time the Badgers have failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark since Nov. 21, 2009, at Northwestern.Wisconsin even exited Ohio Stadium with a plus-one turnover margin, though its greatest miscue – the blocked punt in the third quarter – proved more critical than any negative play from Ohio State. The blunders committed by the Badgers over the past two games have been so monumental that it’s a wonder they were able to mount desperate comebacks not only once, but twice.That speaks to the unmistakable talent on this team, but it also highlights a sizable void that, until it’s filled, will bar Wisconsin from maximizing its potential. The Badgers lost so much following the Rose Bowl – J.J. Watt’s mesmerizing ability to produce in the biggest moments and his sheer willpower, as well as the aggressive leadership on and off the field of Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt – that it’s kind of a wonder national title hopes once seemed so genuine.The abrupt fall from grace normally would provoke questions regarding the leadership on this team, but even the most brief look at Wisconsin’s four captains seems to debunk them. Wilson, though far from perfect against the Buckeyes, put the Badgers firmly in the national title picture and very nearly avoided this midseason collapse with two stellar late, late comebacks on the road. Bradie Ewing, reliable as ever, played one of his finest games in Columbus, providing a tremendous safety blanket for Wilson in the passing game in addition to usual well-rounded contributions. Aaron Henry and Patrick Butrym continue to lead as necessary and produce without much fanfare, though they’ve clearly anchored their respective positions.Perhaps a different picture has unfolded behind the scenes, in the locker room, than the one that’s been painted under the spotlight of the media. Speculating any further is an injustice to a team that nevertheless has put itself in position to have something to play for in November and December. With some help – and/or further chaos in the Big Ten – a trip to the conference title game in Indianapolis is indeed still possible, though the Badgers absolutely must win the remainder of their games.So many questions were born Saturday night, and a few more answers likely would provide a little relief for a fan base that is aching for some. With that said, the most concrete takeaway from this weekend is obvious. For all the promise this season appeared to hold, the Badgers were just not for real.Mike is a senior majoring in journalism. Where does this team go from here? Share your thoughts with him on Twitter @mikefiammetta and be sure to follow @BHeraldSports for all the latest Badgers news.last_img read more

Forward places up for grabs as Spain take on Argentina

first_imgThe supporting trio of Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria could reunite in Russia but they have disappointed together before, when all were younger and arriving in better form.Meanwhile, Paulo Dybala, one of the game’s most exciting young forwards, faces a fight for inclusion after being left off Sampaoli’s latest list, and Mauro Icardi is expected to find his 26 goals for Inter Milan this season insufficient to make the squad.Argentina may have to continue their search at the Wanda Metropolitano without their key component as Messi has been struggling with pain in his hamstring and adductor.He trained on Sunday but is unlikely to be risked.“Spain already has its team and knows how it will play at the World Cup,” Sampaoli said. “We have to find that certainty.”But for Spain and Julen Lopetegui, there is also uncertainty in the final third where it is less a question of too many choices but too few as Diego Costa, Rodrigo Moreno, Alvaro Morata and Iago Aspas all jostle for the lead striker role.Costa was the clear favourite after starting five of Spain’s opening six World Cup qualifiers but his fall-out with Chelsea, that led to five months stewing in Brazil, prompted Lopetegui into a rethink.“The coach was always very clear with me,” Costa said on Friday.“He told me: ‘If you do not play, you cannot come’. But he also told me that when I played again, if I did it right, I had the doors open.”In the last seven games, four of them qualifiers, Costa is yet to start while Morata has been picked twice and Moreno three times.It would seem too late now for Aspas but, unlike Morata, he is in the current squad and has the benefit of form, having hit 16 goals for Celta Vigo in La Liga this season, more than any other Spanish player.Costa, however, is back playing for Atletico Madrid, which makes him the likeliest choice when Spain open up against Portugal on June 15, while Morata still has three months to spark a revival.“Morata still has a lot of possibilities to go to the World Cup,” Lopetegui said last week.But it is Moreno who has momentum, on the back of two consecutive starts and a sharp finish in the draw against Germany on Friday, which means he now has three goals in five international matches.“It has been a great night both individually and collectively,” Moreno said after his goal against Germany. “The next squad is the most important and everything will depend on what happens from here to the end of the season.”There is still time, but the selection against Argentina will be instructive given they represent Spain’s last elite test, with Tunisia and Switzerland their final friendlies in June.Lopetegui has now overseen 17 matches without defeat and a bold performance against the world champions has increased the sense his team are ready to challenge.Victory over Argentina, regardless of who he picks up front, would swell that confidence further.“These games are important to know what we will find later in the World Cup,” captain Sergio Ramos said. “We have our feet on the ground and we know there is much to improve. You can never be complacent, only convinced of what you do, and we are. We are on the right way.”0Shares0000(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today) 0Shares0000Argentina’s forward Lionel Messi attends a training session in Madrid on March 25, 2018 ahead of an international friendly football match between Spain and Argentina © AFP/File / GABRIEL BOUYSMADRID, Spain, Mar 26 – Two of the World Cup’s leading contenders will meet in Madrid on Tuesday but neither Spain nor Argentina have yet settled on a forward line for this summer.For Argentina and Jorge Sampaoli the question is who best to stir Lionel Messi, with the two-time winners again boasting an embarrassment of riches up front, while showing little indication they know how to deploy them.last_img read more