Bielema criticized for making right call

RALPH D. RUSSO

Published: Sunday, Oct. 23 2011 3:10 p.m. MDT

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema talks to backup quarterbacks Joel Stave (2) and Nate Tice (12) during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011.

Carlos Osorio, Associated Press

AP College Football Writer — Bret Bielema made the right call but Wisconsin lost so many fans aren't thrilled with the coach the day after the Badgers' first defeat of the season.

Tommy Tuberville reverted to his Riverboat Gambler instincts a few too many times in Texas Tech's upset of Oklahoma, but his team won so the Red Raiders coach has far fewer critics.

Let's review.

The college football season finally had its first shake-up Saturday, with Wisconsin and Oklahoma slipping to the back of the pack in the national championship race. The Badgers lost 37-31 to Michigan State on a miracle 44-yard touchdown pass on the last play of the game. The Sooners fell behind by 24 points against Texas Tech and their rally fell short in a 41-38 loss.

Bielema is taking heat from some Badgers fans for his decision to call timeouts during Michigan State's last drive.

"The debate began in the press box, after Bielema called the second timeout with 30 seconds left and the Spartans facing third and 8 from their 36, and likely will continue until UW faces Ohio State. I understood the call," Jeff Potrykus of the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee wrote on his Badgers blog. "The reporter sitting next to me did not."

And the readers who posted comments were generally on the side of the reporter who did not, but Bielema should not be blamed.

Wisconsin stopped the clock with 42 seconds remaining after Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins fumbled and the ball was recovered by the Spartans at their own 24 for a 10-yard loss.

"We were going for the win," Bielema explained afterward.

And you can't win without the ball.

Knowing Michigan State was facing a second-and-20, calling the timeout forced the Spartans to try to get the first down. So Bielema accomplished two things: Michigan State now had to throw the ball deep in its own end, increasing the chances for a turnover that could set up the Badgers for a win. And if Michigan State couldn't convert, it would have to punt, giving Wisconsin a shot at a block or a big return.

There was no reason for Wisconsin to concede and let Michigan State control the last 42 seconds. Overtime in college, with each team taking possession 25 yards away from the end zone, is too much of a crap shoot and the odds were on the Badgers' side that the worst-case scenario would be overtime.

The second timeout came after a 12-yard pass to B.J. Cunningham set up Michigan State with a third-and-8 at the 36 with 30 seconds left.

Problem was Michigan State converted on the next play for a first down to its 47. The Spartans completed one more pass to get to the Wisconsin 44 and called their own timeout with 10 seconds left.

The next play was incomplete and the next ended up being the play of the season — a desperation heave by Cousins that bounced off Cunningham's helmet and into the arms of Keith Nichol, who barely pushed across the goal line for the winning score. Michigan State came away with a well-deserved victory because it had played a good game against a very good team, but the winning play was a fluke. Neither the Spartans nor the Badgers need to apologize for that.

Tuberville, however, would have had some serious explaining to do if his Red Raiders had lost.

With Texas Tech up 31-14 in the third quarter, Tuberville passed on a 23-yard field-goal attempt and went for it fourth-and-goal at the 6 when he should have been padding his lead.

Later in the third, with Texas Tech facing fourth-and-4 at its own 41 and leading 31-17, Tuberville called for a fake punt that didn't work. Again, the Red Raiders were giving the lagging Sooners life.

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