In many ways, Saturday’s game between Wisconsin and Michigan is the biggest game of the year for the Badgers, one that players have had circled on the calendar since the beginning.
One of those players in particular is senior captain and defensive end O’Brien Schofield, who mentioned the importance of the game following UW’s 31-28 win at Indiana.
Head coach Bret Bielema was not surprised when told the Michigan game has been on Schofield’s radar for a while, especially after the result against the Wolverines a year ago.
“To be in the situation we were at half(time) and to finish that game out the way it did, leaves a very bad taste, and then we all know what happened after that,” Bielema said. “We’ve battled our tails off to get to where we are right now, and Michigan is the next opportunity. And to have them here for senior day, I’m sure it is special for OB.”
Schofield is one of 22 seniors who will be honored at Camp Randall Stadium before Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff. As a fifth-year senior Schofield also is one of 12 players remaining from the Barry Alvarez era.
The other 11 fifth-year guys are: defensive lineman Dan Cascone, tight end Garrett Graham, defensive back William Hartmann, defensive lineman Jordan Hein, wide receiver Richard Kirtley, linebacker Jaevery McFadden, defensive back Prince Moody, quarterback Dustin Sherer, defensive lineman Jeff Stehle, wide receiver Elijah Theus and long snapper Drew Woodward.
“This fifth-year senior class is a little bit unusual from the standpoint when these guys came in, I was on staff, but I didn’t know, and they didn’t know, that I was going to be the head coach,” Bielema said. “And so they were brought in with the idea of playing for Coach Alvarez.”
On the field, Wisconsin hopes to avenge last year’s 27-25 loss in Ann Arbor, one that started the Badgers on a four-game losing streak to open the Big Ten season.
And while the Wolverines are just 1-5 in the conference and 5-5 overall, the importance of the game is no less than it usually is when the two teams square off.
“I’m excited; Michigan was one of my top choices before choosing Wisconsin,” wide receiver Nick Toon said of the game. “It’s always kind of a big game for me. I’ve got some friends on the Michigan side, so it’s a bit of a rivalry game for me.”
After last week’s 123-yard performance at Indiana, Toon hopes to continue such success in the Badgers’ final home game against the Wolverines.
Toon also is one player in particular who hopes for some redemption from last year’s game, in which he dropped what could have been his first career touchdown when he laid out for a ball that he believes he could have caught more easily had he run through it.
“Obviously, you know, we should have won that game,” Toon said. “We didn’t come out and do what we needed to do in the second half to win the game, but hopefully that tough loss can carry over as positive energy for us in this game this week.”
One of the biggest challenges for the UW offense will be defensive end Brandon Graham, who wreaked havoc in the Badgers’ backfield last year, especially in the second half.
Graham ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 6.5 sacks and is second behind Schofield with 17 tackles for loss.
“He definitely stands out on the field,” quarterback Scott Tolzien said. “The guy makes plays, he disrupts stuff, you know, it will be a little bit of a priority for us in the game plan. But I feel confident if everyone stays focused and is on their assignments that we can contain him.”
On the other side of the ball, the key of course is Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier.
The Wolverines’ freshman is 10th in the Big Ten in both passing yards per game and total offense with 163.6 and 188.2 yards per game, respectively.
According to Bielema, Forcier is a guy the Badgers are very familiar with.
“Tate Forcier, he came to our camp. I remember him being out there,” Bielema said. “When I watched him, I was like ‘this kid has got some ability.’ … I think he can make plays both with his feet, with his arm, and then all just mentally he’s one of those kind of guys.”