Nov. 30, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin defensive tackle Beau Allen has a haunting memory from the inaugural Big Ten championship game. But it doesn’t haunt Allen to the extent that it does Michigan State’s Isaiah Lewis.
On fourth-and-3 from the UW 26, Allen ran on to the field as part of the punting unit. The Badgers were protecting a 42-39 lead and the Spartans burned their timeouts to get the ball back.
A month earlier, Allen replaced Robert Burge on the right wing of the three-man shield in front of Brad Nortman. This was after blocked punts in back-to-back losses at Michigan State and Ohio State.
Now, as Nortman was lining up in punt formation, Allen was thinking, “Everything is on the line and we have to get defensive stop after we punt the ball.’’
This is where there was a plot twist. The ball was snapped sooner than Allen expected. In fact, it wasn’t supposed to be snapped at all. “So I was looking over to the sidelines when it was,’’ he said.
Jacob Pedersen wound up blocking the “R-4,’’ which was Allen’s assignment.
“I looked off the edge and he (Lewis) was coming,’’ Allen said. “So I gave him a shot to make sure that he doesn’t block the punt. I pushed him half-heartedly and he went off-balance.
“Then I heard the crowd going crazy. I figured that he (Lewis) got close to blocking it, but I knew that he didn’t because I saw the ball get off.
“Being the right shield, I’m responsible for keeping everything contained (on the punt return) inside of me on the right side (of the field).
“I see the guy (Michigan State’s Keshawn Martin) coming down the right side and I’m sprinting to contain him when out of nowhere some DB cracks me -- he just drilled me.
“So he (Martin) got outside of me and I’m watching him run down to our 3-yard line. At that point, I didn’t realize there was a penalty, so I thought I had lost us the game because I didn’t do my job.
“I’m in despair. When I saw Brad (Nortman) take the guy down, I’m thinking, ‘All right, at least, we’ve got a shot for a stop.’ Then I saw everybody jumping for joy on our sidelines.
“I remember seeing coach Coach (Charlie) Partridge hugging Coach (Bret) Bielema, and the first thing that I thought was, ‘This can’t be right?’ Then I saw the penalty flag.’’
Lewis was called for roughing Nortman and the Badgers kept the ball. Russell Wilson then dropped to his knees three times to run out the clock; sealing another trip to the Rose Bowl.
Reflecting on that punt sequence, Allen said, “The thing that I remember the most was all those emotions going through me in 10 seconds or so. Honestly, I’m surprised that I didn’t overload.’’
He remembered something else, too. “It was awesome to be part of that first Big Ten championship game,’’ he said. “That’s something that everyone is going to brag about to their kids.’’
In time, of course. “When I’m an old gentleman,’’ Allen agreed with a mischievous grin.
Earlier this week, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini discounted any notion that the Badgers might have an advantage over the Huskers because they played in last season’s league title game.
“Different time … different teams,’’ Pelini said.
Besides … been there, done that … Pelini suggested.
In 2009, Texas edged Nebraska, 13-12, in a controversial Big 12 championship game. The controversy revolved around Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy and time management.
When McCoy fired a pass over the Huskers bench, it was presumed that the game was over when the clock hit zeroes. But after the play was reviewed, it was determined one second was left.
Hunter Lawrence then proceeded to kick a 46-yard field goal for the Texas victory.
In 2010, Oklahoma rallied from a 17-point deficit for a 23-20 win over Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game. Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez put the ball on the turf four times.
“We’ve been in this situation before and we’ve come up short,’’ Pelini said of his team’s championship game experience. “Hopefully that’s some extra motivation for us.’’
Allen, meanwhile, feels like there is an extra benefit to having experienced the Lucas Oil Stadium environment, along with having dealt with the logistics of traveling and playing in Indianapolis.
“We’ve been there, we’ve won the game, I think it gives us an advantage,’’ said Allen, a junior from Minnetonka, Minn. “We know how to handle our business in Indy.
“I think it’s one of the intangible things that can be important.’’
On losing the Big Ten opener to the Huskers on their home turf,’’ Allen said, “That’s a game we definitely could have won. It’s like the situation last year with Michigan State.
“We lost a game we should have won, or could have won (in East Lansing), and we got them a second time around and got some redemption.’’
Although he would like to read from the same script on Saturday night, he knows it won’t be easy. Allen had nothing but praise for the Nebraska offense, especially tailback Rex Burkhead.
“I like watching him run on film, he runs really hard,’’ he said. “I know that he has been dealing with some injuries, but he’s a football player. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.’’
Allen and his tag-team partner, Ethan Hemer, each received honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team. The defensive tackle position has never been deeper in the conference.
“I love playing with Hemer,’’ said Allen. “It’s awesome to line up with a guy inside that you know is going to take care of his gap. We have so much confidence and trust in each other.’’
Wisconsin will beat Nebraska, if ….
“It’s a cliché answer,’’ Allen said, “but takeaways. That will be the biggest thing for us.’’
Travis Frederick had a pretty good idea that the Badgers would draw Nebraska in Indy.
“I felt there was at least an opportunity for that,’’ said the UW center, “knowing the way they play and the way they played against us, and knowing we wanted to be there from our side.’’
Frederick saw the matchup as being a “good opportunity for us to play them again because we knew at the end of the game that we didn’t handle our side of the ball as well as we needed.’’
In the first half, the Badgers rolled to 20 points and 205 total yards on 38 plays.
In the second half, they were held to one touchdown and 90 yards on 31 plays.
“We just didn’t play the way we needed to,’’ Frederick said. “I don’t think we were flat in the second half. They just made some better adjustments.
“Once they got the momentum, their crowd played a really big part in it. They just played really well, and we didn’t play our best.’’
In the first half, the Badgers converted on 3-of-8 first downs.
In the second half, they were 1-of- 7.
“You can’t when games when you do that,’’ Frederick said.
As part of the formula, he noted the Badgers need to be more efficient in “winning’’ first down.
“If you get four yards on first down, it puts you ahead of the chains,’’ Frederick said. “Four yards on first down, four yards on second down and third-and-2 becomes pretty manageable.
“But when you play behind the chains -- when you get a zero gain or a negative,’’ he said of negative yardages plays (Nebraska had 12 TFLs in the first game), “you certainly can’t win.’’
As far as who should be favored when teams play for a second time in the same season, he said, “They have 12 games of film to watch on us and we have 12 games of film to watch on them.’’
Thus, it’s about offensive execution. Like it was last season against Michigan State. Although the Badgers were just 6-of-14 on third downs, they were five-for-five in the red zone; five touchdowns.
“What I remember most is that it was a dog fight,’’ said Frederick, who started at center for the injured Peter Konz in the Big Ten title game as well as the regular season finale against Penn State.
“I remember thinking near the end of the game, ‘This isn’t working out like we hoped.’’’
With 8:28 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Spartans took a 39-34 lead. But the Badgers had a counter-punch: an eight-play, 64-yard scoring drive capped by Montee Ball’s 7-yard touchdown run.
Wisconsin hung on for the win despite getting outrushed, 190-126, by Michigan State. It’s reasonable to assume that 126 rushing yards won’t get the job done Saturday against Nebraska.
Throughout the 2012 season, the Badgers have struggled to move the chains on the ground against the better defenses; a trend that Bielema knows the offense must break to beat the Huskers.
Consider: they rushed for 35 yards on 23 carries vs. Oregon State; 56 yards on 41 carries vs. Nebraska, 19 yards on 37 carries vs. Michigan State; and 158 yards on 43 carries vs. Penn State.
The exception to the rule was Ohio State when Ball, alone, had 39 carries for 191 yards.
Last Saturday was frustrating for O-line coach Bart Miller. “We did not play very well up front; it’s the plain and simple truth,’’ he said. “We didn’t play very well and I didn’t coach very well.’’
Overall, though, the Badgers have made great strides under Miller, a Bob Bostad disciple.
“We certainly wouldn’t be where we are today without his input and coaching,’’ Frederick said. “He’s done a tremendous job of moving us back into the things that we were doing.
“I always respected him (as a graduate assistant). And the day that I found out he was going to be the O-line coach, my respect jumped. He was prepared for the day when it would happen.
“He told us, ‘We’re going to do this together.’ He was on the chopping block as much as we were. The thing that he gives us is a good leader.
“We really believe in the things that he’s telling us and we believe in the system that he’s teaching us. This is the system that we grew up in -- the same system that he grew up in as well.’’
Miller also played for Bostad.
“Our communication has gotten much better,’’ Miller said of the offensive line’s progression under his tutelage. “We’ve been growing as a staff and a unit.’’
That growth, he implied, must continue against Nebraska for the Badgers to be successful.
“They made some pretty good adjustments in the second half of the first game and we didn’t execute,’’ Miller said. “They brought a lot of pressure, and we expect to see a lot of pressure again.’’
Wisconsin defensive end David Gilbert was not credited with any pressures at Penn State even though he twice had his hands on quarterback Matt McGloin, who pulled out of potential sacks.
“It’s a lesson you learn about finishing,’’ Gilbert said. “Just finish.’’
On one pass rush, he reluctantly admitted that he lunged at McGloin and came up empty-handed. “What can I say?’’ Gilbert posed. “You’re going to miss a lot more sacks than you make.’’
At the very least, he was getting “home’’ -- he was getting to the quarterback.
“Beating an offensive lineman is a huge part of it,’’ said Gilbert, adding with a twinkle in his eyes, “If you don’t beat the tackle, you really don’t have to worry about getting a sack.’’
Gilbert had a sack and forced fumble at Nebraska. The takeaway led to a UW touchdown. Gilbert has some familiarity with the Huskers starting tackles, Brent vale and Jeremiah Sirles.
“Football is a muscle memory game,’’ he said. “You’ve got film on yourself going against the same people, so you can eliminate things that didn’t help you and do more of the things that helped.’’
Maintaining the “integrity’’ of the pass rush lanes will be critical against Martinez.
“You just can’t run around the corner and leave an open gap,’’ Gilbert said. “Wherever you start out from, you’re basically responsible for that area.
“You can’t leave it to make a play. You can’t leave it, and leave the defense vulnerable; especially when you feel like you have somebody beat.
“So you not only have to worry about beating the offensive tackle, but you have to be on the lookout and worry about him (Martinez) seeing you.’’
This time around, you won’t be hearing anything from Gilbert on Martinez’s mechanics. “He’s a good athlete,’’ he said. “He did some great things to beat us. Thankfully we get another chance.’’
Given his pointed remarks on Martinez -- which cost Gilbert a chance to start the first game against the Huskers -- Pelini was asked about Gilbert on Sunday’s teleconference.
“Let’s face it,’’ Pelini said, “guys say things all the time. David Gilbert was just trying to motivate his team or whatever. We don’t pay any attention to that the same way if somebody on our team was going to say something (about the Badgers).
“That’s not going to affect Wisconsin. There are all kinds of things that are going to be said or not said (leading up to this game). That doesn’t affect the football game. It’s going to come down to execution and what happens between the white lines.’’
Gilbert wasn’t in Indianapolis for last season’s Big Ten championship game. Because he was injured, he watched his teammates celebrate the win over Michigan State on television.
“I was happy for them that they were able to do it,’’ he said. “But it was hard (not to be there).’’
Gilbert wants to finish what he started. So far, so good.
“It means a lot to me to just complete a season by playing in every game,’’ he said. “To finish a season after not being able to in the past is a feeling that I’ve missed out on.
“When I was injured, it was not like I didn’t feel like I was part of the team. But to compete and play in every game means a lot more.’’
There can be no more meaningful game, Gilbert, said, than a championship game, particularly with so much at stake. Nobody expressed that better than UW linebacker Mike Taylor.
While there has been endless speculation on where the loser might go bowling, the winner can plan on the Rose Bowl. “There’s really only one option,’’ Taylor said. “To win.’’