In front of the home crowd, the Wisconsin Hodags could not get the job done and advance into quarterfinals – thanks to the mistake-free play of the UC-Davis Dogs. It wasn’t that the Hodags played poorly, but that the team from California played at their best. Even in front of a giant group of fans, including the Wisconsin Badger mascot himself, the Hodags would fall 15-11 to the Dogs. What exactly went wrong, and how do the Hodags change?
The biggest question I kept wondering to myself after the game was finished: where did the Hodags defense go? We had heard earlier in the year, and in years past, that defense was the redeeming quality of this team; that even if their offense was having troubles (it wasn’t this game) their defense would come through. They didn’t break the Davis offense once though, even with a few chances. They were certainly throwing their bodies around, looking to get a layout D or two, but it just wasn’t close enough. Without a strong defense, the Hodags were lost.
Other mental miscues were also present. The most surprising were the handler movements that didn’t work when they had the disc. These were what most stopped any Hodag break chance, and even led to a few of the Davis breaks. It didn’t seem like the Wisconsin team was all there at times. After two early observer up/down calls didn’t go their way, the sideline mentality instantly changed. That mentality never improved over the course of the game, as Davis would improve on one break lead they established after those observer rulings.
Give the credit to Davis though; it wasn’t just that the Hodags didn’t play to the level of play that we expect, they played above and beyond where we had seen them play all weekend long. On offense, this meant very few turnovers – I counted 3 all game long. They were extremely patient with their decisions, and didn’t let the crowd get to them at all. Defensively, their lines remained open and even with Colin Camp continuously going deep, the focus was on scoring offensively and not pushing their luck on defending the Hodag strategy. When a break chance presented itself for the Dogs, working it up wasn’t the main focus but helped set up a lot of the hucks for scores that the Dogs used. Players like Eli Kerns, Ben Hubbard, Nathan White, and others were key in these points – but the entire team truly stepped up for this game.
How do the Hodags improve? They’ve had two straight years were they haven’t had the results they wanted. Mentally would be the first place to look. Even in their pool play game against Florida State DUF, the team didn’t look all there as they stormed back in the second half for the win at the end of it. On the field, there were still the moments that made me think they could come back, and take the game from Davis. They had the players, the throws, the strategy – everything but the mental aspect of the game. It reminded me of the scenes in Chasing Sarasota where Rhino consulted a sports psychologist – a team wondering what else they can do to ensure the result they don’t want, happens.
For the Dogs, they get Oregon Ego tomorrow morning. From what I saw so far this weekend, namely the Ego vs. Colorado game, in which a last second Mickle-led comeback was foiled by Freechild and co., Ego is firing on all cylinders. They were vulnerable for a second, and had a complete breakdown late in that game. But if UC-Davis could cause a second straight breakdown, and advance to semi-finals, I’m not sure. As the Davis Coach Kevin Cissna told me after the win, “We get to play one more point of ultimate now,” I’m not sure winning is their primary focus.