After a Big Ten title followed with the stunning departure of former head coach Bret Bielema only three days later, there is no denying that the Wisconsin football team has had an emotional week.
But emotions aside, the Badgers still have to get back to work as they prep for the Standford Cardinal and their third-consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl.
With Bielema carving out a new home in Arkansas, the team reached out to current athletic director and Wisconsin coaching legend Barry Alvarez to lead the team to what it hopes will be it’s first Rose Bowl victory since 2000.
“The biggest thing that Barry has done clearly in the time that he’s taken over … is he’s an unbelievable leader,” co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge said Saturday. “Our kids already feel his juice, they feel his energy, they feel his passion. And it’s all about these kids. These kids are who got us to the Rose Bowl.”
While Alvarez wasn’t initially going to serve as the interim head coach, the coaching staff wasn’t surprised when he changed his mind after the players personally reached out to him.
“Honestly, when the whole thing went down, it’s not a surprise he chose to do that,” co-defense coordinator Chris Ash said of Barry’s decision to coach. “Right now he wants us to focus on putting together a gameplan … but it’s a positive reaction – coaches and players alike – and we’re out here to support the cause and make this happen.”
And after only one practice, the players have already started to express their support for the legendary coach. Tight end Brian Wozniak tweeted after the first practice with Alvarez, “Man that was the best practice of the year #BarrysBack.”
The assistant coaches also noted that coaching under Alvarez doesn’t change much of the Badgers game plan. Ash in particular noted that he is already familiar with Alvarez’ philosophy after working with Bielema, Alvarez’s prot?g?.
Despite winning the Big Ten Championship game in dominant fashion, 70-31, the Badgers have faced plenty of criticism from the national media. The criticism stems from the Badgers’ lack of ranking and 8-5 record as many believe Stanford deserves to play a team with a better record.
Partridge noted that this team won’t be able to avoid those comments, but with everything this team has been through, the Badgers’ season has the makings of a riveting novel.
“Really you could write a book from walking out of the locker room at the Rose Bowl a year ago to this moment right now,” Partridge said. ” … There’s a lot of things out there that people don’t really see or understand. But it goes back to the kind of young men that we recruit here – intelligent, high character kids that bought into hook, line and sinker 1-0.”
With the loss of their head coach just as they began to prepare for the bowl game and all the criticism and the adversity they have faced all year, the Badgers aren’t lacking for motivation.
Partridge noted that prior to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis he felt the Badgers wouldn’t be denied, that undoubtedly his team would win. He believes that if Wisconsin can use the same mindset against Stanford, it will at least put up a good fight.
Stanford looks familiar
On Jan. 1, 2013 Wisconsin will face off with No. 6 Stanford. But instead of a fast-paced Oregon team, Stanford has the look of a Big Ten team – a bruising defense and a balanced offense.
“They are very, very talented,” offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “… They’re an extremely smart football team, well-coached. They’re where they’re supposed to be, very good players, linebackers make a lot of plays.”
The assistant coaches admitted they haven’t been able to break down Stanford in detail just yet, but from what they have seen the Cardinal bring a lot of familiar looks. With a mobile quarterback in redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan, Partridge noted there’s an extra boost of confidence – if they remain healthy – due to the recent success UW has had against mobile quarterbacks like Braxton Miller and Taylor Martinez.
Ash, who has been rumored to be heading to N.C. State to join and former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, also pledged his commitment to the program through the Rose Bowl and said he expects all the assistants to remain with the team through the bowl game.