July 29, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
CHICAGO -- Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland was on familiar turf -- rhapsodizing about his home turf -- when prodded into detailing the advantages of playing in front of 80,000-plus at Camp Randall Stadium, a topic that has come up before during his college football career.
When it came up again during last week’s Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, he was quick to point out that the game day atmosphere in Madison is “probably underrated nationally and teams come in here sometimes not appreciating it.’’ To which Borland suggested, “They should.’’
Prior to losing consecutive home games in overtime to Michigan State and Ohio State last season, the Badgers had won 21 straight at Camp Randall, what was then the second-longest active streak in the nation (behind LSU), including 12 straight victories against Big Ten opponents.
“It’s the best environment I’ve played in and I’m not even being a homer,’’ pleaded Borland, a fifth-year senior from Kettering, Ohio. “I truly believe we have the best fans I’ve seen or played in front of. The atmosphere is unlike any other.
“I’ve never been to a stadium where 80 thousand people sing a song (‘Build Me Up Buttercup’) in unison for a minute-and-a-half. They don’t do ‘Jump Around’ anywhere else. They don’t do the 'Fifth Quarter' anywhere else. So it’s a huge advantage to get to play there seven times a year.’’
Quizzed on how Camp Randall compares to other Big Ten stadiums, Borland observed, “Ohio State is a big place and it has rowdy fans. Penn State can be challenging. I haven’t had a chance to go to Iowa yet, but I’ve heard that’s a difficult place to play.’’
Borland will get a chance to find out for himself Nov. 2 when the Badgers and Hawkeyes resume their series at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Northwestern is also cycling back on to the 2013 Wisconsin schedule after a two-year absence. The Badgers will play host to the Wildcats on Oct. 12.
When the Big Ten expanded to 12 schools with the addition of Nebraska, some rivalries were interrupted in 2011 and 2012; the result of the conference’s new divisional alignment which had Wisconsin in the Leaders Division and Iowa and Northwestern in the Legends Division.
With the addition of two more schools, Maryland and Rutgers, in 2014, the conference will realign geographically into East and West divisions with Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern all in the West; restoring scheduling continuity between “neighbors’’ -- the Badgers, Hawkeyes and Wildcats.
The fans are delighted, so are the players, so they said in Chicago. “Once you stop playing a team, you almost forget their identity,’’ admitted Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, a fifth-year senior from Wautoma. “It will be good to play Iowa and Northwestern again.’’
• • • •
The last time Iowa and Wisconsin played -- Oct. 23, 2010 at Kinnick Stadium -- UW punter Brad Nortman had one of the most critical runs of the day (a 17-yard scamper on a fake punt from his own 26 on fourth down) and Montee Ball came off the bench to ignite a late scoring drive in a 31-30 win.
Ball did not even play the week before in the upset of No. 1-ranked Ohio State at Camp Randall. Against the Hawkeyes, he was UW’s leading receiver with five catches for 41 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown on a clutch 8-yard run with 1:06 left.
“I’ve never gone to Kinnick, but I’ve heard some awesome things about it,’’ said Borland who took an injury redshirt in 2010 and missed the Iowa trip. As a true freshman (2009), he was the leading tackler in a 20-10 loss to the Hawkeyes in Madison. He had 2.5 TFLs and a forced fumble.
“I think Wisconsin-Iowa is a natural rivalry that should be played every year, especially with it being a trophy game,’’ said Borland, alluding to the Heartland Trophy, a brass bull the schools have battled over since 2004. The overall series is deadlocked, 42-42-2.
|Battle for the Bull
|The two-year hiatus in the Wisconsin-Iowa rivalry came immediately after the Badgers tied the teams' all-time series 42-42-2 with their dramatic win in Iowa City in 2010. Here's a look back at the past five meetings between the teams:
2010: #10 Wisconsin 31, #13 Iowa 30
2009: #11 Iowa 20, Wisconsin 10
2008: Iowa 38, Wisconsin 16
2007: #9 Wisconsin 17, Iowa 13
2006: #16 Wisconsin 24, Iowa 21
“It’s good playing against them (the Badgers),’’ said Hawkeyes linebacker James Morris, a senior captain from Solon, Iowa, “because in a lot of ways, I think they are a program that looks a lot like us, right? From a fan’s perspective, we’re more alike than we are different.
“There’s some familiarity there even though we haven’t played them in a couple of years. It’s also a trophy game, a rivalry game. We share a border with them, at least one corner of the border, and it’s good for us and good for Wisconsin that we’re playing again (on a regular basis).’’
Borland agreed that the programs have accented many of the same things. “Iowa likes to do what Iowa likes to do and we were the same way -- run the ball and play great defense and special teams,’’ he said. “Coach (Kirk) Ferentz has been there for awhile and they haven’t changed much.’’
But he does see the Badgers evolving under first-year coach Gary Andersen.
“I do think we’re going to be a little bit different,’’ Borland said. “We’ll provide different looks. There are things that are obvious, like switching the defense to 3-4. But we can be more versatile than we have in the past and I think we’re going to be as an entire team, not just on defense.
“That said, we’ll always run the ball and we’ll always be physical. It’s still like looking in the mirror when we play Iowa because they do a lot of the same things.’’
Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey had the same take. “Every time we face Wisconsin, it’s always a hard-nosed game,’’ said Kirksey, a senior from St. Louis. “Just watching old film, you see the toughness and the competitiveness in the game. There are a lot of similarities.’’
That definitely resonated with Abbrederis, who had a limited role in the 2010 victory. “I just remember how physical they were the last time we played,’’ he said. “It reminded me of us.’’
The Hawks were 4-8 last season, 2-6 in the Big Ten. But the Badgers will get their best punch. “We all know we had a bad season so we have to put it behind us,’’ Kirksey said. “Playing Wisconsin this year, it’s one of those games where you put your cleats in the ground and go play football.’’
• • • •
The last time Northwestern and Wisconsin played -- Nov. 27, 2010 -- the Badgers claimed a share of the Big Ten championship, their first since 1999, with a crushing 70-23 win over the Wildcats in the final game of the regular season at Camp Randall. Ball rushed for 178 yards and James White added 134.
“I don’t think you can ever forget a game where you defense gives up 70 points,’’ said Northwestern defensive end Tyler Scott, a senior from Warren, Ohio. “I do remember it was back and forth for a couple of years then they had our number for that one year. It was a pretty bad loss.’’
Over the last 22 games, the series is tied, 11-11.
“It’s definitely going to be a cool experience and a good atmosphere (at Camp Randall),’’ said Scott, the co-leader in the Big Ten with nine quarterback sacks last season. “Their fans come to us (Evanston) and our fans go up there (Madison). We’re definitely looking forward to it.’’
Scott played sparingly in the 2010 rout. So did quarterback Kain Colter, who took over for starter Evan Watkins, the replacement for the injured Dan Persa. Colter failed to complete a pass in three attempts while rushing eight times for 28 yards.
“The last time we went up to Madison, I remember it was really cold,’’ said Colter, a senior from Denver. “Dan Persa just got hurt and our season was kind of going downhill. I feel like when we play them this year we really want to redeem ourselves for that poor performance.
|Clashing with the Cats
|The Badgers and Wildcats will meet for just the seventh time in 13 seasons when they battle in Madison on Oct. 12, but the series has been split down the middle (3-3) over the teams' last six meetings -- including UW's Big Ten title-clinching win in 2010:
2010: #5 Wisconsin 70, Northwestern 23
2009: Northwestern 33, #17 Wisconsin 31
2006: Wisconsin 41, Northwestern 9
2005: Northwestern 51, #14 Wisconsin 48
2004: #6 Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 12
2003: Northwestern 16, #20 Wisconsin 7
“It was my second game ever playing and I didn’t get to play that much actually,’’ he continued. “I played probably 10 plays in that game. It’s a little bit different now and I’ll have a little bit more say in this game than I did the last one, so I’m excited for it.’’
Colter is a triple threat: throwing, running and receiving. Against Indiana last season, he rushed for 161 yards and caught eight passes for 131 yards. He also tied a school record with four touchdowns.
“I just think I’m a dynamic athlete, a dynamic player,’’ Colter said last week. “I do some things that a lot of players can’t do, and that’s being able to throw the ball, being able to run the ball and being able to catch the ball. Rarely do you see that. I offer a different type of dynamic to the offense.’’
Asked what he prefers to do, Colter said, “I like playing quarterback the best. But I don’t know if that’s what I’m best at. I think I’m really good at all three. We’ll see how it goes.’’
Borland didn’t play against the Wildcats in 2010. Instead, it was former UW defensive end J.J. Watt who disrupted the Northwestern offense. Watt had three TFLs, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick. Abbrederis didn’t have any catches, but he did have a 52-yard kickoff return.
Northwestern tailback Venric Mark noted in Chicago that the Wildcats didn’t have an answer for Watt. Neither did the Badgers for Mark, who returned seven kickoffs for 273 yards, including a 94-yard TD. Last year, Mark expanded his game and rushed for 1,366 yards. He was second team All-Big Ten.
Borland still remembers the 2009 loss to the Wildcats in Evanston. It was painful because the Badgers had rallied from a 10-0 first-quarter hole only to fall short, 33-31. Borland had five tackles and one fumble recovery. He also had two kickoff returns, one for 27 yards.
“I have a lot of respect for Northwestern and Coach (Pat) Fitzgerald,’’ said Borland, well aware that Fitzgerald was an All-America linebacker for the Wildcats. “Obviously I know of his career. They’re just a very well-coached team and intelligent team that likes to throw it around. They’re dangerous.’’
After a two-year hiatus from playing Northwestern and Iowa, Borland hinted that nobody really has an edge now that they’re back on the schedule. “It’s a benefit that they haven’t seen you,’’ he said. “But at the same time you haven’t seen them. These will be challenging games.’’