Nov. 28, 2011
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- UW quarterback Russell Wilson had just taken part in Saturday’s postgame celebration -- which included the Fifth Quarter -- when he was prodded into hitting rewind to Oct. 22.
That was a game crying out for the equivalent of a “Fifth Quarter’’ -- or overtime.
“I was glad that we came back and we kept competing,’’ Wilson said of the Badgers’ fourth-quarter rally from a 31-17 deficit at Michigan State.
“I was able to take the team down the field and the defense came up with some big stops and we scored and scored again and then when they came up with that Hail Mary, it hurt.
“There’s no other way to explain it.’’
He was not grimacing as much as he was gritting his teeth; figuratively if nothing else.
“I always kept the faith that we would keep working hard and come through it,’’ Wilson said, “because we have so many great leaders on this football team.
“We came back the next week at Ohio State and the fact that we could come back the way we did in the fourth quarter (from a 26-14 deficit) to take the lead showed the character of our guys.
“We ended up losing, but that’s football. If you love the game of football, all you want to do is be able to compete at a high level. We’ve done that all season and now we have more work to do.’’
His eyes were now fixed on Indy and the Big Ten championship game.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,’’ Wilson said.
The winner between Wisconsin and Michigan State will go to the Rose Bowl.
“Hopefully we can go out with a bang,’’ Nick Toon said.
As such, the UW wideout was speaking for the seniors who put an exclamation point on another undefeated home season with a 45-7 win over Penn State at rain-swept Camp Randall Stadium.
“Everyone watched that game,’’ Toon said of the first meeting with Michigan State which the Spartans pulled out by executing a Hail Mary pass. “Fortunately we get another shot.’’
With the dawning of the inaugural Big Ten championship game, there’s no escaping the uniqueness for most of these coaches of playing a conference opponent twice within six weeks.
“I think you do take a hard look at anything that hurt you in the first game,’’ said UW defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, “and you do everything you can to address those things.’’
But, he stressed, it still comes down to “being the best at what you can be with what you do.’’
Wisconsin offensive line coach Bob Bostad was of the same mindset.
“You’re going to use it (the first game) as a reference point,’’ he said. “But I don’t know if you can add or take away things based on everything that happened.
“I just think you have to be ready for what they do, and what they do well.’’
In sum, Bostad said, “They do what they do, and we do what we do.’’
Part of the intrigue of such a rematch is the unknown.
“There are challenges for both sides -- it’s that cat-and-mouse game,’’ said UW defensive coordinator Chris Ash. “What worked the first time? What didn’t work? What do we have to adjust?
“Both teams are going through that. There were a lot of good things we did in that game and we’re going to have to identify which things we want to continue to do.
“We also have to look at what we didn’t do so well and improve. Sometimes it’s a lack of execution. Sometimes it’s a scheme. Those are the things we have to decide the next couple of days.’’
On a Sunday teleconference hyping the Big Ten title game, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio suggested that “it’s a new era’’ in the league because “the standard names aren’t here.’’
Missing are the “brand’’ schools: Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Penn State.
“I get where people are saying that,’’ said UW coach Bret Bielema, noting conference realignment fell along the lines of balancing divisions with those programs with national championships.
“You can’t erase the history of those four schools,’’ Bielema said. “But history is in the history books. We try to focus on the now, and what’s in the newspapers today.’’
Regarding the similarities between the Badgers and the Spartans -- both have won 21 of their last 24 games -- Bielema said, “It’s true that we’re both kind of mirror images of each other.’’
But each program goes about its business in different ways, he added.
The end product, Bielema emphasized, reflects that “neither of us is confused as to what we think we should be. We know what our identity is as a program.’’
They do what they do, and we do what we do.
Whoever does it better Saturday will wind up in Pasadena.