Oct. 24, 2011
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- UW fullback Bradie Ewing exited the visitor’s locker room at Spartan Stadium wearing a coat and tie -- mandatory for all players on the trip -- and one dress shoe. An ice bag was taped to his bare foot.
As physically challenging as the game was itself, it was more emotionally taxing afterwards.
“I know that I’ve learned something from this,’’ Ewing said of Saturday night’s loss to Michigan State, “and I hope that some of the other guys have, too.
“It’s a good life lesson. But it’s over with now. We can’t let this loss hurt us the rest of the season. We have to bounce back and look forward to Ohio State.’’
Offensive guard Kevin Zeitler shared those sentiments with Ewing, a team captain.
“We can’t retreat after a loss like this,’’ said Zeitler, who, like Ewing, is a senior. “It was pretty somber in the locker room and it really hurts to lose that way. It’s going to hurt -- it’s supposed to hurt.
“There are no moral victories here. But we have to learn from it and keep going forward.’’
Another senior leader, Antonio Fenelus, expressed some of the same thoughts.
“Of course, everyone is down right now,’’ Fenelus said. “But we were kind of in this position last year after losing to Michigan State and we finished off strong the rest of the season.
“You definitely don’t want to lose on a ‘Hail Mary.’ You’d rather get blown out than let a team win on a last-second play. But it is what it is, and we have to correct what we messed up on.
“We can’t sit here and dwell on the loss and wonder what the season is going to be like now. We have to look forward and stay positive.’’
Those words were echoed by senior quarterback Russell Wilson.
“The main thing is that we have to regroup and realize that there are a lot of games left to play,’’ Wilson said. “We have to watch the film, see what positives we can get from it and grow from it.
“Our ability to fight back -- our ability to believe -- is going to come up again. In terms of adversity, we have to keep facing it and keep believing that we can be successful.’’
UW defensive coordinator Chris Ash had a simple message for his players.
“Whether it’s a win or a loss, I talk to the guys about a 24-hour rule,’’ Ash said Sunday. “You can celebrate for 24 hours after a big victory and you’ve got 24 hours to sulk after a big loss.
“Once that timeframe is up and we put that game to bed (Sunday), it’s over. It’s out of our system. We have to learn from our mistakes and we have to apply them to the next opponent.
“We can’t sit there and cry about it and be babies about it. We have to be men and shake it off and go back to work. We were in this situation a year ago and the season ended up pretty good.’’
Ash will not ignore the bad plays, but he will build on the good ones.
“We played a lot of good snaps in that game,’’ he said. “Probably 59 of the 64 snaps we thought were good enough to give us a chance to win.
“But it’s the three or four snaps that really hurt us that we have to clean up and point out that the margin for error in these big games is very small.
“Having guys play with effort and fundamentals and pursuing and the leveraging the ball is so important. Getting guys in one position is one thing.
“But getting guys who can finish when they’re in position is a whole different thing. It comes down to the fundamentals of tackle. Guys were in the right spot to make plays and we’ve got to tackle.’’
Defending Hail Mary more preparation than prayer
Ash admitted early Sunday afternoon that he had watched the tape of the Hail Mary pass “probably too many times to count right now’’ and “it’s still a tough one to look at.’’
The Badgers work on the play every week.
“When you do it on air in practice it always looks pretty good,’’ Ash said.
What are some of the points of emphasis in defending a Hail Mary?
“First and foremost, you have to get jams and re-routes on the receivers who are trying to get down the field,’’ said Ash. “Then, you have to have guys protecting the goal line.
“The most important thing is you have to time up the jump right and you have to get the ball knocked down. You can’t tip it and let it bounce around. You’ve got to get it down on the ground.’’
Fenelus re-routed Keith Nichol out of bounds but he got back into the play and made the catch. “It took an awkward bounce off the receiver’s helmet,’’ Fenelus said. “It’s just one of those things.’’
Wisconsin’s co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge just shrugged when asked about it.
“It’s an all-timer for me,’’ he said, “losing on the last play of the game from a ball that bounced off a guy’s (B.J. Cunningham) facemask. I’ve never experienced anything like that before.’’
Not getting the bounces
It would not have come down to a Hail Mary had the Badgers recovered a fumble earlier on that series when UW defensive end Brendan Kelly knocked the ball loose from quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Michigan State’s left offensive guard, Joel Foreman, fell on it first but the ball squirted loose and left tackle Dan France got there a split-second before Badgers linebacker Chris Borland could.
Last season, France was a backup defensive end for the Spartans, and perhaps his aggressive instincts from that side of the ball were a factor in the fumble recovery. Who knows?
There were multiple plays that “could’’ have been made. “Where if we had done this or we had done that,’’ Partridge said, “the outcome could have been different. But we made too many mistakes.’’
Badgers must move on
The players’ resiliency will be measured Saturday night at Ohio State.
“The biggest thing is that we continue to live our process,’’ Partridge said. “We can learn from the bad and we can build on the things that were good because there were good things on film.’’
Offensively, the Badgers rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter.
“I think we just realized it was ‘go’ time,’’ Zeitler said. “We were running out of time and opportunities. Our defense was making stops and we had to take advantage of them.’’
“Maybe it was a sense of panic or urgency. We had to execute our jobs.’’
Added Wilson, “We talked about facing adversity -- don’t shy away from it. And we kept believing that we could come back and we kept pushing and we came up with some big plays.’’
After drawing into a tie, Wilson said, “I was definitely preparing for overtime. I was talking to coach (Paul) Chryst on what we were going to try and do. They just came up with a play at the end.’’
Not just any play, a deflected pass off a facemask; a Hail Mary, no less.
“You can’t lose to Michigan State twice,’’ Chryst said. “You have to turn the page now.’’