If senior Badgers Nick Greisen and Wendell Bryant can take anything away from Wisconsin, it’s pride.
Although that pride was seriously threatened Saturday after UW’s 63-32 loss to Indiana, the seniors have been around long enough to know that big losses can be overcome. Flashback to the 1999 season. “The Badgers, highly touted and aiming for their second consecutive Rose Bowl, had their pride threatened by a loss to lowly Cincinnati and a tough loss to rival Michigan.”
The 2-2 Badgers then had to play a tough game at Ohio State looking for their first Big Ten victory.
Down 17-6 at halftime, Wisconsin dug deep and dominated the second half for a 42-17 victory. The Badgers righted their Rose Bowl hopes with the win, and the rest is history.
Now fast forward to 2001. The Badgers have a chance to regain their pride by winning at Ohio State in a case of history repeating itself.
Many Wisconsin players know that this is the perfect game to jumpstart the season.
“I think it has to [jumpstart the season],” senior defensive tackle Bryant said. “I think this is one of those games where you have to want to go out and play. You want to go out and play every game, but this is one of those special games. This is one of those games you circle on your schedule. [You] go out to Ohio State, go to the Horseshoe [Ohio Stadium], it’s on ABC, there’s nothing better than that. Those are the types of games that, as a football player, if you have any kind of competitive spirit or fire in you, you love to play.”
Greisen is also looking for redemption this weekend.
“You never know how things are going to work out, but we can’t think back to we need this for the rest of our season,” Greisen said. “We’ve got to take one game at a time, one first down at a time, one stop at a time, one tackle at a time. We just have to start all over again.”
However, the Buckeyes have different ideas. Last Saturday, they routed the then No. 14 Northwestern Wildcats by a score of 38-20. The win was good enough for Ohio State to move from being unranked to No. 21.
The key to that game for Ohio State was its dominant rushing performance.
Senior tailback Jonathan Wells punished the Wildcats by rushing for 176 yards and three touchdowns, while sophomore tailback Sam Maldonado added 60 yards on the ground.
Much-maligned senior quarterback Steve Bellisari continued to struggle, however, going just four-for-10 with 109 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. Despite last week’s performance, Greisen made it clear that Bellisari is still a threat and is not much inferior to Antwaan Randle El.
“(Bellisari’s) a good player too,” Greisen said. “I can’t really say that he’s as quick as Randle El, but [the Buckeyes are] all great players. It’s Ohio State. They’re a pretty good team, too. They beat Northwestern pretty nicely.”
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, who sport a 3-1 record on the year (2-0 Big Ten), they don’t need passing if they can run for 287 total yards in a game like they did against Northwestern.
“We just have to get back to our style of defense,” said Greisen on stopping OSU’s running attack. “We have to strap it up tighter, become a little bit more physical, because that’s what Ohio State is: a smash-mouth team. As a defensive player, this is our kind of game, I guess. As long as we tackle well and make sure we’ve got our responsibilities, we’ll be all right.”
Greisen felt poor tackling and being simply outplayed were what led to the disaster against Indiana.
“When you are running the ball well, as Ohio State is right now, your driving force is your offensive line. That is certainly true with the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s line averages a solid 309 pounds per player and an incredible near-6-foot-4 per player.
Senior center LeCharles Bentley, a 6-foot-2, 300-pound Outland Trophy candidate, who Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel feels is the best in the nation, leads the line, along with left tackle Tyson Walter.
Bryant, having played defensive tackle for four years for the Badgers, is certainly no stranger to Bentley.
“He’s a good player,” said Bryant. “You always want to play against the best. Playing against a guy like that can do nothing but make you better.”
Three sophomores, left guard Adrien Clarke, right guard Bryce Bishop and right tackle Shane Olivea, round out OSU’s offensive line.
The stats for Ohio State’s offensive line are solid; the Buckeyes have ran the ball for 210.3 yards per game and have only been sacked a modest 10 times.
But for the Wisconsin defense, the goal this Saturday in Columbus is not just to win, but to gain back some respect and show some pride after the devastating loss to the Hoosiers.
National respect is something that senior leaders and nationally recognized players like Greisen and Bryant have become accustomed to in their incredibly successful college careers here in Madison.
National embarrassment and criticism is something they want to dispel.
“That pisses me off,” said Greisen about garnering disrespect from national college football followers. “Stuff like [the Indiana loss] happens, and there’s just days [like that]. That’s why there’s 12 games in a season, and it only counts as one loss for us. It’s behind us, we’re going to move on. We just need to play well and come away with a ‘W’.”
Bryant is also looking for some respect.
“If you show your best against the best and come out on top, hopefully people give you nothing but respect,” added Bryant.
For the Wisconsin defense to regain respect and right its season, a big win over Ohio State at raucous Ohio Stadium is needed.
And the best way for the defense to do that is to stoke up the competitive fire shown by two of its senior leaders, Bryant and Greisen.