After successfully defending the coveted Paul Bunyan’s Axe
with a 41-23 victory over Minnesota, the Badgers are honing in on an even bigger
task: taking down the No. 1 team in the country
The matchup with Ohio State has been anticipated since
before the season started, and a Badger victory would undoubtedly be the
biggest triumph of the year so far.
“To go against an opponent at the level that Ohio State’s
been able to hold for so long is going to be a nice measuring stick, and I
think our guys will have that in the back of their minds and move forward and
hopefully everybody will be in a position to be at their best on Saturday,”
head coach Bret Bielema said at his Monday press conference.
With ESPN’s College Gameday airing from Madison and the game
slated for a primetime, national television slot, the anticipation, energy and
hype surrounding the matchup is palpable. Bielema recognized this, prompting
him to say that it is critical that his team shows focus and concentration this
week as it prepares for battle.
“You’re going to have a million different people trying to
pull you away from the focus of what we need,” Bielema said. “A team that’s
focused well usually handles their business on Saturday, and hopefully that
will be the case.”
Being overly excited and energized as a player is not the
issue, Bielema explained; the key is for his team to maintain its focus.
The Badgers lost to the Buckeyes in each of the past three
seasons, falling 20-17 and 31-13 in the past two contests.
“Each game has been a little different but the common
denominator in all of them was we weren’t able to hold together what we needed
to for 60 minutes … The game is a 60-minute game … It’s 60 minutes of reactions to
what happened, and we need to handle it better and for longer than we have in
the past,” Bielema said, referencing his team’s general performance against the
Buckeyes in recent seasons.
Bielema also noted that the Badgers have been in “a position
to win the game” in past contests, but simply haven’t been able to play
consistently well enough to win.
Bielema used Scott Tolzien’s two interceptions in last
year’s game as an example of something his team can learn from.
“During the course of the game it’s not what happens, it’s
how you react to what happens,” he said. “[Tolzien] learned how to turn those
situations from negatives to positives,”
Offensive Line Recognized
The success of John Clay and James White in the Badger
rushing attack this season has overshadowed the impressive performance of the
offensive line. Despite the fact that Clay was recognized as one of the Big
Ten’s Offensive MVP’s for his performance against the Gophers, the team itself
selected its offensive line, collectively, as its MVP.Bill Nagy, a fifth-year senior and
backup offensive lineman who has been lining up at tight end in running
situations, shared MVP honors with the offensive line because of his overall contributions
to the team.
“I give credit to those five guys and Billy for a lot of
what James and John are going through now with the success they’re having, and
even throwing the ball, it all starts with those guys up front,” Bielema said.
Despite all the accolades Clay and White have received,
Bielema recognizes that their ability to rack up yards hinges on the play of
the offensive line.
“People don’t understand how important those guys in front
of [Clay] are … I read the demeanor of our lineman just as much as anything about
whether we’re going to have success,” Bielema said.
Lastly, Bielema confirmed that senior safety Jay Valai will
play on Saturday. Bielema labeled
him as “full go.”