Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


UM’s Walker has game like Evans

Wisconsin’s Saturday game against Michigan means many different things for the Badgers. A loss and bowl hopes evaporate. A loss to the Wolverines, and UW spends another year on the short end of the perceived Michigan-Wisconsin rivalry.

For two players, the rivalry and bowl-jockeying might take second stage to a classic battle of one-upmanship

Not that Lee Evans and Marquise Walker aren’t concentrating on the season that is very much on the line for both teams, if in varying degrees of intensity. But the matchup means another opportunity for the two to showcase their talents in the presence of another of the nation’s elite.

So far, neither Walker nor Evans has dropped the ball, literally and figuratively, before the same backdrop.

In a devastating loss to Michigan State Nov. 3, Walker was up against possibly the Big Ten’s best receiving tandem in the Spartans’ Herb Haygood and Charles Rogers. Despite the disappointment of the loss, which knocked off the Wolverines’ BCS hopes, Walker outperformed the receivers in green, totaling 150 yards on nine catches.

Over a month earlier, Michigan’s go-to guy was crucial in a 45-20 landmark victory over Illinois in Ann Arbor. The senior put up 108 yards as Michigan buried the Illini in the second half. Again, Walker was juxtaposed with another remarkable playmaker, Illinois’ Brandon Lloyd.

The story is the same for Evans, who posted 150- and 228-yard days in back-to-back losses against the Illini and Spartans. Producing during losses has been a black eye on Evans’ standout season — a difference between he and the Wolverines’ weapon, who has generally matched big games with big wins — but the Badgers’ junior superstar does not shy away from saying a big receiving day will decide the Michigan game.

“It comes down to who can make more plays,” Evans said. “We both have the ability to do so and have done so in the past.”

Walker caught the game-winner against Iowa, a spectacular fingertip grab in the corner of the end zone that put the Wolverines ahead for good. Evans’ 135 yards on four catches in the slippery rain in the season-opener against Virginia lifted UW to victory.

The Virginia game also set him on course for a remarkable 2001 season.

Evans leads the nation in receiving with 1,363 yards, powered by five 150-plus-yard Saturdays, and is easily within reach of the Big Ten record of 1,436 yards set by Ohio State’s David Boston in 1998. His nine touchdowns tie a school record, and he is 31 yards shy of Wisconsin’s career mark.

By contrast, Walker stands at fifth on the Michigan receptions chart, and is just 10th in yards at a school that has featured more high-octane offenses and a laundry list of NFL receivers, including Anthony Carter, Derrick Alexander, Desmond Howard, Tai Streets and, most recently, David Terrell.

Walker, who entered Michigan at the same time as Terrell, has already passed the Bears rookie in career receiving yards. The fact notes that, even as Walker steps out from behind Terrell’s shadow, he may never have been in it at all.

Nonetheless, replacing a marquee player is something Evans is certainly familiar with. Last season Chris Chambers, another first-round draft pick, led Wisconsin in receiving. Though Evans does not like to compare his on-field skills to other receivers, the parallel that both he and Walker both emerged from behind a former star is not lost on him.

“I’ve been in the position before, in high school and even up here,” Evans said. “You get used to it, you’ve got to develop yourself into being the top guy and then you’ve got to do it. It’s a lot of hard work.”

The hard work has paid off for Walker, who is praised by his coaches for tremendous dedication. The 6-foot-3 receiver out of Syracuse was labeled as slow, even as he consistently made huge plays, in high school and later in college. Now, with the spotlight off Terrell and 869 yards in his back pocket, Walker is beginning to lose the label.

Evans is one not fooled by the speed rap.

“He’s a tremendous athlete and a very good receiver,” said the Wisconsin flanker. “He goes out and makes plays, and he’s sometimes very exciting to watch.”

Evans, at just 5-foot-11, knows about battling perceptions too. He escaped the “too short” limitations and is known as one of the nation’s best at getting open and creating receptions over taller players.

From their star power to their statistics (both receivers have nine touchdowns in 2001; Walker’s 62 catches are one less than Evans’) to the players and reputations they played themselves out from under, Evans and Walker share a number of similarities.

Off the field the boisterous, excitable and youthful Evans seems much different than the quiet, somewhat shy and aged-looking Walker.

And on the field?

“It’s just a matter of who can pull the trigger the most out here on Saturday,” Evans said.

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