Oct. 17, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- When Lee Evans, the honorary captain for Saturday night’s game, addressed the UW football team, he needed no introduction. Evans, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the 2003 upset of Ohio State, is the school’s all-time leading receiver and a No. 1 draft pick of the Buffalo Bills.
What was his message to the players?
“For anyone who doesn’t know Wisconsin football, this was their time to introduce themselves to the nation,’’ Evans said. “Prime-time game. Everybody watching. What better stage?’’
Evans smiled and added, “This is their time to shine.’’
The Badgers literally took his words to heart during a convincing 31-18 win over Ohio State. The loudest statement was made by the UW offensive line, in particular, the tag-team combination of left tackle Gabe Carimi and left tackle John Moffitt.
“The O-line overall was really, really good,’’ UW coach Bret Bielema said Sunday after breaking down the film. “But those two (Carimi and Moffitt) stood out. And Pete Konz played a really good game, and Lance Kendricks was battling his tail-end off. They were clean and covering up guys.’’
And they were the aggressor at the point of attack. “They lined up toe-to-toe and beat us,’’ said Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle. “They lined up and beat us. That’s it.”
Carimi needed no introduction to all of the NFL scouts who were in the press box. He has been on their radar since the start of the season. Carimi is projected as a first round draft choice. And that’s why his dual with Ohio State’s defensive end Cameron Heyward drew so much notice.
“I definitely heard that,’’ Carimi said of the pre-game build-up for his matchup against Heyward, also a projected first-rounder. “I don’t think he got any pressure (on quarterback Scott Tolzien).’’
Heyward had zero sacks, zero hurries. “It’s a smash-mouth game,’’ Heyward said afterward. “It’s our defensive line versus their offensive line. And we didn’t do a good of controlling the line. They were getting up and down the field on us.’’
Carimi has the utmost respect for Heyward. At the same time, he was motivated by the competition. “I always seem to play better when it’s a better opponent,’’ Carimi said.” I had a plan to attack hm. He’s a great player. A helluva athlete. And he gave me my money’s worth.’’
Moffitt, meanwhile, introduced himself to any pro scouts who haven’t been following his development. In the process, he may have also increased his draft stock.
“I think we all knew the importance of this game,’’ Moffitt said. “And I think we all knew the meaning of playing Ohio State. Gabe played great. I played pretty good and the running backs did their job. Everything has to come together in a win like this.’’
John Clay and James White combined for 179 rushing yards. “They’re a great tempo change,’’ said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. “A big power guy (Clay) and then the quickness of White.’’
Carimi and Moffitt credited the team’s preparation for the results.
“We were on fire all week,’’ Carimi said.
“We had a great week of practice,’’ Moffitt added.
How does practice translate into performance?
“It’s all about preparation,’’ Moffitt insisted. “We got to know their defense. We got to know what they did and we tried to maximize our possessions. It’s part of the learning process from the loss at Michigan State, where we didn’t have many possessions in the second half.’’
The Badgers had only one possession (five plays) in the third quarter against Ohio State. And that added to the magnitude of their first series in the fourth quarter, especially after the Buckeyes had moved within three points (21-18) of tying the game.
“We knew that might be our last drive,’’ Carimi said. “Honestly, we only get one or two possessions per quarter with our style of offense. And we thought we’d get this one, plus maybe one more in the two-minute (drill). That’s why we felt, ‘It’s on us now.’’’
The Badgers responded by marching 73 yards on 10 plays for the clinching touchdown. “We did things right all week,’’ Moffitt said, “and that shows up in the game. That’s just football.’’
What impact, if any, did the crowd have on the outcome?
“You heard the volume in the stadium, it was ridiculous,’’ Carimi said.
Does it affect one side of the ball more than the other?
“From my own personal experiences at places with heavy crowd presence,’’ Moffitt said, “it’s tough to play for offenses. The (Buckeyes) came alive in the second half, but it took them awhile to get going. The crowd definitely makes a difference. But you have to play good football, too.’’
That will be the case Saturday when the Badgers play Iowa in a hostile environment at Kinnick Stadium. Bielema liked what he saw out of his players Sunday afternoon.
“The kids have a hop in their step,’’ he said. “But I bumped into some upperclassmen in the halls and they’re already very diligent in putting together another week of work to get ready for Iowa.’’
Bielema believes the players who left the Ohio State game with injuries (Nick Toon, Lance Kendricks, and Mike Taylor) will be available for the Hawkeyes.
“Every year you put on the film and, even though it’s a different year, it’s still the same thing on offense and defense,’’ Bielema said of Iowa. “They stick to what they do. Offensively, what really jumps out at you, though, are the wide receivers.’’
Bielema had over 100 text messages waiting for him after the Ohio State game. Many of them expressed how touched they were after watching ESPN’s feature on Jaxson Hinkens, a cancer survivor, who was befriended by quarterback Scott Tolzien and has since become an inspiration for the team.
Jaxson and his parents were in the locker room following the game. “He’s such a special kid,’’ said Bielema, who broke down emotionally while being interviewed for the piece by Tom Rinaldi, one of ESPN’s top storytellers. “The more involved I’ve become with the Children’s Hospital, I realize that some of the stories haven’t had such positive endings.’’
This one has.