Last Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium, the overtime session was electric. When Nebraska was lining up on 4th and 8 from the Wisconsin 23-yard line, sideline reporter, Patrick Herb, said off air that it was as loud as he could remember.
I believe him. As one of the nation’s best defenses was about to close out a thrilling victory, the joint was jumping. When D’Cota Dixon broke up Tommy Armstrong’s pass in the end zone, the crowd erupted into a wild celebration.
It was a blast. Another memorable game in a season that is becoming full of such theatre.
Now, it is on to the next game. The atmosphere will not be the same. However, the game’s importance will be every bit the same as what the Badgers just went through with the Huskers.
For those who believe the Badgers completed the gauntlet, think again. Northwestern is good. It gave Ohio State all it wanted. Quarterback Clayton Thorson is putting together a very good season. Receiver Austin Carr is putting together an exceptional year. Through eight games, he has 58 catches for 878 yards and nine touchdowns.
Recently on the Big Ten Network, Carr impressed viewers with his singing voice. On the field, he has defenses singing the blues.
For the last decade and a half, the Wildcats have had the Badgers doing the same thing all too often. The most recent Wisconsin victory in Evanston? 1999. That is correct. 1999. Ron Dayne’s Heisman Trophy season.
Since then, the Badgers have made four trips to Ryan Field. They are 0-for-4.
In fact, since Wisconsin’s last happy trip home from Chicago’s north side, the Badgers are 4-6 against Northwestern, including last November’s 13-7 heartbreaker in Madison.
Usually, coach Paul Chryst spends little time recapping past games in a series. Perhaps the coach and his staff will make an exception this week. Then again, his players are pretty smart. They know what happened last year. They know there remains plenty of work to do this season.
They also know they are guaranteed a 13th game. With last weekend’s result, the Badgers became bowl eligible. Around here, six wins might not thrill the masses, but it is a good idea to pause and think about what this group has accomplished so far this fall.
It is unwise to take a bowl game for granted, but the Badgers have turned it into an annual event. This is the 15th-straight season Wisconsin will play in a postseason game, extending the Big Ten’s longest current streak.
It is no small accomplishment.
Consider the transition this program has gone through lately. From Bret Bielema, to Gary Andersen and now Paul Chryst. All are good coaches, but even before Bielema departed for Arkansas, the staff was changing. While Andersen’s teams were good, there were some philosophical differences in certain areas, such as recruiting and the strength and conditioning program.
Such change can lead to a bad year. Not bad as in a seven-win season, but bad as in a 3-9 mark. It happens. It just hasn’t happened here. Not in a long time.
It speaks to Chryst and his staff for getting the players to understand what they are teaching, and what they consider to be important. It speaks to the players, who obviously are listening to the message. Then they put words into action.
No doubt part of the message this week is that another difficult challenge is in front of them. My guess is the Badgers will do what they have done all season — they’ll embrace the opportunity.
Of course it will be difficult. This team would not have it any other way.