Nov. 22, 2011
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler had no interest in any warm and fuzzy reminisces.
Yes, Saturday will be Senior Day at Camp Randall Stadium.
Yes, Zeitler is one of the seniors who will be introduced before the kickoff.
Yes, he has many fond memories of his career here.
"But we have a tough game,'' Zeitler said. "So I can't worry about all that other stuff.
"It's not like last year.''
Wisconsin crushed Northwestern, 70-23, on the 2010 Senior Day at Camp Randall.
Saturday, the Badgers will take on Penn State with so much more on the line.
"Toughest game of the year without a doubt,'' Zeitler said.
The winner will advance to the inaugural Big Ten championship game against Michigan State.
"So that's why I'm really not going to focus on it,'' Zeitler said of the Senior Day festivities.
Instead, the focal point will be Indianapolis, the site of the Dec. 3 conference title game.
Thirteen years ago, Wisconsin also faced Penn State in a "winner-take-all'' environment.
The focal point then was Pasadena, and the Rose Bowl.
On Nov. 21, 1998, the Badgers went into their final game of the regular season needing help from Ohio State and a victory over the Nittany Lions at Camp Randall Stadium.
With less than six minutes remaining in the first quarter, UW linebacker Chris Ghidorzi remembered looking up between plays to see what all the noise was about.
"All of a sudden the fans started cheering,'' said Ghidorzi who made eye contact with the scoreboard which flashed the final score: Ohio State 31, Michigan 16.
"You looked up and realized that you're playing to go to the Rose Bowl. It was awesome.''
Even though Ohio State coach John Cooper was only sporting a 1-8-1 record against the Wolverines, the Buckeyes had far too much firepower on this day to be denied in Columbus.
Joe Germaine threw for 330 yards, David Boston had 10 catches for 217 and Michael Wiley rushed for 120. The shocker gave Ohio State a slice of the Big Ten championship, along with Michigan.
By beating Penn State, the Badgers could make it a three-way tie with the tie-breaker going to Wisconsin (as long as the Buckeyes didn't finish first or second in the BCS, which they didn't).
"It helps to know what you're shooting for,'' said UW defensive end Tom Burke. "We needed help from them (the Buckeyes) and got it. So we just had to go out and help ourselves.''
That became more problematic when the Nittany Lions put themselves in a position to throw the first punch in a scoreless first period with a first-and-goal from the UW 4-yard line.
This was an important sequence because the Badgers were a much better team playing with the lead. By contrast, they were 12-30-2 under Barry Alvarez when the opponent scored first.
On first down, UW linebacker Dan Lisowski dropped tailback Eric McCoo for a 3-yard loss. A 15-yard personal foul penalty marked off from the point of the infraction pushed Penn State back to the 29.
On second down, defensive end John Favret held Mike Cerimele to a 4-yard gain on a draw. On third down, Jamar Fletcher broke up a Kevin Thompson pass intended for wide receiver Corey Jones.
On fourth down, the Nittany Lions were forced to settle for a 42-yard field goal attempt which Travis Forney missed, letting the Badgers off the hook.
"That was a huge defensive stand,'' Alvarez said, "because we started the game on our heels.''
With 26 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Nick Davis got everybody on the their feet with an electrifying 82-yard punt return for a touchdown. That ignited the crowd.
"The return gave us the momentum because of the energy that went through the stadium,'' Davis said. "It was contagious. The offense felt it. The defense felt it. The fans got involved.''
And the game opened up.
Less than five minutes into the second quarter, Wisconsin quarterback Mike Samuel found Chris Chambers on a 26-yard scoring pass. A Penn State turnover set up those points.
Before the end of the half, the Badgers converted another turnover into a Matt Davenport field goal to take a "commanding'' 17-0 lead -- commanding because the Nittany Lions had little on offense.
Their defense was another story.
Penn State was blessed with unbelievable skill at most spots on the field with linebackers like LaVar Arrington and Brandon Short and defensive linemen like Courtney Brown and Brad Scioli.
But the Badgers didn't have to take a backseat on defense; especially with Burke.
"I knew that I was going to have a good game because it was my last home game,'' said Burke, who was virtually unblockable while accounting for five TFLs, including four quarterback sacks.
"I'm not much of a talker but I got together with the seniors and I reminded them that every minute that goes by on the field is one less minute we get to play here at Camp Randall.
"I said, `Don't regret any minute.'''
Samuel, who had gotten the better of Arrington in a one-on-one collision, put the exclamation mark on the team effort by scoring a late touchdown, making the final score, 24-3.
Despite tearing his left pectoral muscle in the first quarter, Ron Dayne rushed 23 times for 95 yards, while Samuel added a career-high 89 yards on the ground running the option.
"These kids started two-a-day camp with one goal in mind and that was to go to the Rose Bowl,'' Alvarez said afterward.
"The two senior captains, Cecil Martin and Bobby Adamov, came up to me and said, `Coach, we came here not just to go to bowl games. We'd like to go to the Rose Bowl.'
"I told them, `Enough said. That's our goal.'''
The winner of Saturday's game between Penn State and Wisconsin will not be guaranteed a trip to the Rose Bowl, just a trip to Indy. But they will take one step closer to Pasadena.