Sept. 27, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
Wisconsin defensive lineman Pat Muldoon is not fond of “rating” losses. Do you blame him?
“They’re all terrible in our minds,” said Muldoon, speaking for his teammates.
Nonetheless, he was willing to compare and contrast the last two losses to Ohio State. Sort of.
Oh, by the way, both were gut-wrenching. He really didn’t have to say a word, did he?
Last season, the Badgers lost, 21-14, in overtime at Camp Randall Stadium.
In 2011, they lost, 33-29, on a blown coverage in the final 50 seconds at Ohio Stadium.
Muldoon still hasn’t been able to completely flush that one from his memory.
“I remember people rushing the field (afterward) so it was kind of like, ‘Let’s just get out of here,”’ he said. “It was terrible in the locker room.”
Then it got worse.
“Having the long trip back to Wisconsin was pretty hard,” he said of the return flight to Madison. “It was like sitting in a graveyard. You think back to random plays.”
Plays that might have made a difference in a four-point loss.
“If you had one bad play,” he said, “it’s the one you remember.”
What made the defeat at Ohio State even more challenging to deal with was the fact that the Badgers had lost the previous Saturday on a Hail Mary pass in the final seconds at Michigan State.
“Going back-to-back like that,” Muldoon conceded, “was pretty hard on people mentally.”
The canvas will be wiped clean Saturday night when the Badgers go back to the Horseshoe. For one, the head coaches have changed since that 2011 game -- Bret Bielema is at Arkansas and Luke Fickel is the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator.
It will be a sentimental trip home for a fifth-year senior like Muldoon, who’s from Mason, Ohio; 22 miles from downtown Cincinnati and a 90-minute drive from Columbus.
Muldoon anticipates an adrenaline rush when he walks out to midfield for the coin toss as one of the UW’s designated captains, along with Chris Borland, Brian Wozniak and Jeff Duckworth.
All are seniors, fifth-year seniors, no less. All are Ohioans: Borland is from Kettering, Wozniak is from Loveland and Duckworth is from Cincinnati.
“It will be awesome,” said Muldoon, who had this game circled in August.
Coming out of St. Xavier -- the oldest high school in Cincinnati and the largest private school in Ohio -- Muldoon was the Defensive Player of the Year in the state.
Among his scholarship offers was one from Ohio State.
“I kind of took my time during the process, I wasn’t ready to make it (a choice) right away,” he said, noting the Buckeyes didn’t want to wait on a commitment. “I just told them they made my decision easier.”
Muldoon expects to cross paths with a few offensive linemen Saturday night that were part of that recruiting process when he made his visit to Ohio State.
Left tackle Jack Mewhort, center Corey Linsley and right guard Marcus Hall are all starters and fifth-year seniors for the Buckeyes. Muldoon played against left guard Andrew Norwell in high school.
There’s no shortage of familiarity between these players, and programs.
There are also blood lines to consider in Muldoon’s case. Two of his uncles played at Ohio State. Bill Lukens was a starting guard in the mid-’70s. Joe Lukens, Jr. was a starting guard in the early ’80s.
Uncle Joe has a suite at Ohio Stadium.
“They cheer for me every game except when we play Ohio State,” said Muldoon. “Both are coming to Madison later this year for the Indiana game (Nov. 16).”
What about the Lukens’ sister, Muldoon’s mom, Colleen?
“She’s definitely a big-time Wisconsin fan now,” Muldoon said.
Given this family backdrop, it was only fitting that Muldoon’s first career sack came against Ohio State in the Badgers 2010 upset of the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes at Camp Randall.
Muldoon tackled quarterback Terrelle Pryor for a 4-yard loss.
Last Saturday, he sacked Purdue’s Rob Henry, one of Wisconsin’s four sacks.
“He (Muldoon) has been having a great year so far,” said Wisconsin senior nose guard Beau Allen. “He’s showing some athleticism that he hasn’t shown in the past.”
To get to this point in his career, Muldoon has had to overcome a string of injuries.
“Before I got here,” Allen recalled, “he had a torn ACL in practice and something else weird happened with his knee and it set him back for at least a year and probably more than that.”
After the original surgery on one knee, Muldoon needed surgery on his other knee from an old high school injury. In addition, he had two screws inserted into the lower portion of his femur.
There was also a shoulder issue; it kept popping out of joint. He dealt with all of this during his first 10 months or so on campus. Since then, he has dislocated his right elbow and broken his left hand.
“I’ve always been confident in my ability to come back from injuries and still play at a suitable level if not the highest level,” said Muldoon, who has bulked up to 270 pounds.
“My biggest thing is that I’ve never been physically overpowering. It has been more about knowing the playbook. I’ve felt as long as I can run and use my hands some, I’ll be able to be out there.
“When healthy, I feel like I can make plays.”
Being sidelined opened his eyes to the role that football plays in his life.
“It makes you realize when you’re away from it, how much you like to play it,” he said. “Sometimes you take it for granted. Sometimes near the end of the season people get sick of practicing.
“When you’re sitting out a practice, you realize how much you do want to play, even if it is just a practice. The injuries make you appreciate it more.”
Muldoon’s spirit and dry wit -- “He’s hilarious,” Allen said -- is appreciated by everyone.
“He’s a really smart football player and a really smart guy in general,” Allen went on. “He always knows the offensive formations and pre-snap keys. He’s kind of like another coach.
“I think he’s going to make a great coach someday; we’ll see what happens.”
Muldoon is more than willing to see if coaching might be a career fit.
“I’d like to try it, at least, when I’m young,” he said. “Coach (Charlie) Partridge always told me that I was one of the smartest players he had ever coached and he told me that I should try it.”
For now, he’s trying to enjoy his senior year and his final trip to Columbus.
“It’s going to be loud and there’s going to be a lot of energy,” Muldoon said. “We can’t get too high, we can’t get too low. We have to stay the course and stick to the plan.”
• • • •
After Tuesday’s practice, Dan Voltz was thinking about shooting a text to Travis Frederick. “I talk to him every now and then,” he said. “He’d probably have some good advice.”
A year ago, Voltz listened and learned from Frederick, UW’s starting center. As the backup, Voltz said, “I still prepared like there was a possibility that I could play.”
Going into the 2012 Ohio State game, he prepared for John Simon and Jonathan Hankins. “I remember everyone bringing a new whole new sense of focus and energy to practice,” he said.
There had been a couple of near misses for Voltz where the Badgers almost burned his redshirt. But they wound up not playing him at all and preserving his four years of eligibility.
On Saturday night, Voltz will finally make his first career start for the Badgers. Voltz will be taking over for Dallas Lewallen, who was injured against Purdue after starting the first four games.
All of this helps explains why Voltz was so interested in getting ahold of Frederick. “He was in this situation just like me,” Voltz said, “and he’s pretty successful right now.”
Frederick actually started four games as a true freshman in 2009. Now, he’s starting as a rookie for the Dallas Cowboys. “I’ll probably reach out to him at some point,” Voltz said.
There’s probably not a lot that Frederick can tell Voltz that he doesn’t already know.
“He’s a mature kid,” said Wisconsin offensive line coach T.J. Woods. “He doesn’t act like a freshman. There are a lot of kids that do, but he’s not one of them.”
Asked if he feels like a redshirt freshman, Voltz said, “No, I can’t at this point.”
Keep in mind that he has been in the program since the spring semester of 2012. Voltz, like Frederick, jump-started his UW career by graduating from high school at mid-term.
Prior to enrolling for the second semester, he had never lined up as a center, never snapped a football competitively. Voltz had played guard and tackle at Barrington (Ill.) High School.
Everybody took notice of his play, too, including Ohio State, one of the schools that recruited him. “Throughout the whole recruiting process,” he said, “Wisconsin was always number one.”
What did the Badgers have that the others didn’t? “The tradition of the O-line,” he said. “The other schools had great O-linemen, too. But nothing compared to Wisconsin.”
Nobody made him feel the same way, either. “Just the way people treat O-linemen here,” he said, “and the way the coaches put a priority on us is unmatched across the country.”
Voltz looked up to former UW All-Americans like Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler. In fact, he’s wearing No. 70 -- Zeitler’s number with the Badgers. Konz and Zeitler are both starting in the NFL.
Voltz was introduced to Zeitler’s sense of humor that first spring on campus.
“He told me that he wanted to see me practice with it on (No. 70) to make sure I was worthy,” Voltz said. “He came to our first day of pads and afterward he said, ‘It’s OK.’ That was my initiation.”
The real initiation will come Saturday night. What will give him a chance to be successful?
“Number one, aptitude,” Woods said. “He’s a really smart kid.”
Woods like what he saw, or didn’t see, out of Voltz in relief of Lewallen against Purdue.
“I don’t think you noticed that he was in, which I think is a huge positive,” he said. “He came in and we didn’t miss a beat. He gets limited reps all week in practice, but he’s a competitor, he’s focused.
“He approached the game the right way and he was ready to go when his number was called.”
At the start of training camp, Voltz was No. 1 on the depth chart before getting injured.
“If you want to be a great player, you can’t let your preparation fail,” he said, explaining how he stayed ready as the No. 2. “Even if you’re not starting, you have to prepare like you’re going to start.”
Expecting the Buckeyes to turn up the heat, the Badgers turned up the volume in practice.
“The music was louder and we had crowd noise also,” Voltz said. “We were trying to get used to playing in that type of noise environment. It’s going to be crucial to be successful Saturday.
“We do a lot of stuff with motions and shift and a lot of our line calls are adjusted during the cadence. Being able to communicate with loud noise is going to be one of the keys to success.”
How focused was Voltz this week?
“Honestly,” he said, “I couldn’t tell you one song they played.”
It’s the type of focus the O-line will need against the Buckeyes, according to Woods.
“We have to lock into things that matter,” he said, “and drown out the things that don’t.”
Despite Ohio State’s graduation losses, Woods said, “They’re athletic, they’re fast, they’re physical, they’re not afraid to mix it up, they’re not taking the easy way out of blocks.
“They’re going to give you everything you want in a physical battle. The guys they have are darn good and they’ll be as good or better than any front seven we’ve faced.”
As a true freshman, Voltz may not have been as ready for this assignment as he is today.
“Yeah, definitely, I’m pretty comfortable at center right now,” he said. “I’ve been playing for a full season and two springs. This is my second fall. Coming in early (as a freshman) has been huge.
“Hopefully it will pay off Saturday. But I can’t think of myself as a freshman. I have to go out there with confidence and believe in my abilities if I want to be successful.”
Frederick couldn’t have said it better.
• • • •
“What I remember is that it came down to the end,” said Wisconsin cornerback Darius Hillary, “and two DBs were on different pages with different coverages.”
The result was a 40-yard touchdown completion from Braxton Miller to Devin Smith, the back-breaking, game-winning play in 2011. Smith is averaging 41.5 yards on 14 career TD receptions.
Hillary will now see Miller and Smith in a different light than he did when he was redshirting as a freshman. While there was no intention to play him, Hillary accompanied the team on all of the trips.
“Traveling helped a lot,” he said, “because now you know what to expect (on the road), how things are going to go during a game day, things of that nature; how to handle their home crowd.”
Hillary’s mom and dad, Cassandra and Ira, will be in the Ohio Stadium crowd. Ira Hillary, a South Carolina grad, knows his way around big venues. He played in the NFL with the Bengals and Vikings.
Growing up in Cincinnati, Darius Hillary was more of a fan of the University of Cincinnati than THE Ohio State University. He never got a scholarship offer from the Buckeyes; so he moved on.
Just like he has since the UW’s first road game of the season at Arizona State. As painful as it may have been -- Taylor Kelly threw for 352 yards -- what did he take away from that experience?
“There are definitely some things that I can clean up with my techniques,” said Hillary, a redshirt sophomore from Sycamore High School in Cincinnati. “I felt I got away from some things.
“Now I’ve learned from it as far as being able to play the next down and not letting one play get you down to where you’re down for the rest of the game.
“You may get frustrated, but you have to play the next play.
“You have to learn from your mistakes and correct them.”
The Badgers struggled covering the back shoulder fade. It can be a vicious cycle that way.
“Some teams will test you to see if you have learned,” Hillary said. “If you have, then they’re going to go on to something else. If you haven’t, then they’re going to keep coming back to it.”
Does it matter whether Miller or Kenny Guiton is calling signals? Hillary doesn’t think so.
“We expect challenges (either way) with some deep balls being thrown up from what we’ve seen on film,” Hillary said. “We’re definitely expecting some shots (down the field).
“Their receivers are really precise in running their routes,” he said, singling out Smith and Corey “Philly” Brown specifically. “We have to read our keys and play with what our eyes see.”
It won’t take long for Ohio State coach Urban Meyer to see that the Badgers are starting one true freshman, Sojourn Shelton; and baptizing another, Jakarrie Washington, as a backup.
“It’s definitely tough coming in as a freshman,” Hillary said, “and taking everything in as a whole in adjusting to new calls and a new style of defense. But he (Shelton) is a great athlete.”
So is Tanner McEvoy, a converted quarterback. “Once he gets his mechanics down at safety, he’s going to be pretty good,” said Hillary, adding it becomes easier “once you learn what to expect.”
UW head coach Gary Andersen has his own expectations; higher than most.
“We always just try to get the best 11 kids on the field,” Andersen said. “We’re not in the business of having kids play because they’ve played before. They’ve got to produce.
“I think Tanner will allow us to do a lot of things from an athletic profile as a true free safety. But it’s got to become natural to put him out there …
“You’ve got to have a kid back there that can run and cover the middle of the field and run a redirect and react … so there’s a lot of things that are going to be factors.”
Poise and resiliency are at the top of Andersen’s wish list for all of his players; so much so that he’s asking them “to be nice and steady regardless of what happens and regardless of the situation.”
It will be Saturday’s focal point on both sides of the ball.