MADISON — On a day when the Wisconsin offense put up 70 points, it was defensive end J.J. Watt that stole the show. Quite easily, too.
Watt showed off his relentless motor Saturday, wreaking havoc on the Northwestern offense as the Badgers won 70-23 to clinch a share of the Big Ten title. Anyone who watched would have had a tough time not being impressed by the Pewaukee, Wis., native.
“He’s good football player, he’s a great football player,” said NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald. “I know how you want me to expand on some superlatives, but he’s a tremendous football player.”
For the game, Watt recorded seven tackles. All seven were solo tackles, as he did not record and assist and any tackles in the game.
Watt was credited with one sack, for a loss of 12 yards, while recording three tackles for loss, for a total of 19 yards. He also added three quarterback hurries. With his performance, Watt easily put his name in the conversation for Big Ten defensive player of the year.
“J.J., at his position, with what he’s done for our defense, I can’t say there’s anybody in our league that’s been comparable,” head coach Bret Bielema said.
“He’s got great instincts. He has the ability to anticipate plays, knocking down balls, running down plays from behind. He plays 100 miles an hour with a huge heart. One of four finalists for the Lott award, and if anybody’s playing better than him, I’d like to know.”
Watt showed those instincts and his ability to anticipate throughout his dominating performance on Saturday.
In the first quarter, NU quarterback Evan Watkins was intercepted by Jay Valai on the Wildcats’ second play from scrimmage. Watt had one of his three quarterback hurries on the play, forcing a bad throw from Watkins.
On the Wildcats’ next drive, following a three-and-out by the Wisconsin offense, Watt sacked Watkins, while also stripping him of the ball. Tyler Dippel recovered the fumble for Wisconsin, and the Badgers punched it in for a touchdown on two plays.
When Northwestern got the ball for the first time in the second quarter, trailing 21-3, quarterback Kain Colter was intercepted by Mike Taylor at the Wisconsin 32-yard line. Taylor picked up 47 yards on the return.
Once again, Watt forced the bad throw as he picked up a quarterback hurry on the play.
Late in the first half, Watt tackled Watkins following a 21-yard pickup, separating the quarterback from the ball, which allowed Aaron Henry to recover the football with 2:55 to go in the second quarter.
“I was just trying to have some fun,” Watt said of his performance. “It’s the last game of the year in Camp Randall, I’ve got to give our fans a little bit of a show. Our offense obviously put on a big show, so on defense we had to put on a show as well.
“We did that in a big way.”
Watt capped things off in the second half with one of the plays of the game.
In the third quarter, Northwestern scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 40 points at 63-23. On the extra-point attempt, Watt came up with the block, his third of the season.
“We’re always taught to give 110 percent every single play,” Watt said. “If they’re going to kick an extra point, that’s a point on the board that we don’t want to have.
“I’m going to give 110 percent effort on that play, I’m going to give 110 percent effort on my last play of the game and whenever I have a chance to be on that football field, I’m going to give every single thing I’ve got.”
MADISON — When he woke up on Sept. 27, 2008, Aaron Henry saw his team come out of the locker room, in front of a crowd of 109,833, leading 19-0 on the road at Michigan.
Henry watched for a few minutes before turning the game off for most of the third quarter. When he tuned back in, things weren’t going so well for Wisconsin.
“I thought, ‘this game’s over,'” Henry said of his first reaction. “When I turned it back on, man, the game was really, really close. It was very, very frustrating and I was a little disappointed to see how things turned out.
“I was very surprised. We were doing everything well as far as our defense goes, and our offense was pretty much doing what they wanted to. But their offense is a big play offense, and they had a couple of big plays. That woke that crowd of 110,000 people up.”
Just minutes before Henry turned the game on, that same crowd was awake and fired up, but not in a way the Wolverines were accustomed to hearing.
“I remember their fans were giving us a pat on the back, telling us we were doing a good job, and they were booing their own team,” Culmer St. Jean recalled. “That was probably a first, but that’s what happens when you get up 19-0 going into the half on the road.”
With such a commanding lead through two quarters, the Badgers had plenty of confidence going into the locker room at halftime. Perhaps even too much.
That’s not too surprising, though, when you consider that Wisconsin outgained Michigan 202 yards to 21 in the first half, while running nearly twice as many plays offensively. Add in more than 20 minutes in time of possession, and the Badgers certainly had quite the half.
Unfortunately, out of five scoring drives, four ended in field goals. Wisconsin went just 1-for-10 on third downs in the first half, and only once punched it in the end zone for a touchdown.
“It was terrible,” Bill Nagy said. “It was just one of those games where we had so many opportunities in the first half, and the defense played their tails off in the first half, but the offense, we just couldn’t capitalize. We got some field goals and it ended up catching up with us in the second half because they had some big plays. That was just a terrible feeling watching that slip away.”
At halftime, leaving the Big House with a loss was the farthest thing from the minds of Badgers as they sat in the visitors’ locker room.
After all, in their minds, they had already won.
“All our guys were piping off in the locker room, we thought it was over, but obviously it wasn’t,” senior safety Jay Valai said. “They came out and they showed that to us.”
“We felt good about ourselves. We were definitely feeling good and I think that’s what killed us,” St. Jean added. “We went in and I don’t think we had the same attack mindset in the second half. We thought they were just going to be flat coming into the second half and they definitely did the total opposite.”
Fortunately, the lesson of that 2008 debacle has not been lost on the 2010 Badgers.
They’ve shown an ability to win on the road already this year, knocking off Iowa at Kinnick Stadium and winning at Purdue earlier this month. Perhaps more importantly, though, they also have shown they’re not afraid to keep their foot firmly on the gas pedal.
With a 21-0 early lead against the then-No. 1 Buckeyes a month ago, the Badgers didn’t get complacent. Even when Ohio State cut the lead to three points in the second half, Wisconsin answered with a couple scores to seal the game.
More recently, UW made national headlines by putting up 83 points against Indiana last week. Even after leading 38-10 at the half, Bret Bielema‘s squad stayed aggressive.
“You just learn from your lessons,” Valai said. “Don’t ever feel satisfied when you’re on the football field, you just keep playing hard. We’ve got to learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen this year.
“Keep playing. Don’t count your eggs before they hatch, because that’s what we did at halftime.”
For those that might worry the team is too focused on the revenge factor and is not concerned enough with the 2010 Michigan Wolverines, don’t worry.
As the fifth-ranked team in the nation, Wisconsin is well aware of the situation at hand.
“We definitely learned from that game, but it’s not like we’re sitting here thinking about it every single day,” said defensive end J.J. Watt. “We’re the 2010 Wisconsin Badgers, not the 2008 Wisconsin Badgers.”
MADISON – No matter how good your offense may be, it is tough to score 83 points without a strong defensive performance.
After giving up 10 points in the first 16 minutes of the game, Wisconsin’s defense stepped up and put together one of its best games of the season. Unfortunately, it will not make as many headlines as the team’s record point total.
“It just allows us to play looser,” said Aaron Henry. “When you know you’re beating a team like that, man, you really want to go out there and make some plays. It may not be a tight game, but you can just go out there and play free.”
That freedom defensively allowed the Badgers to look better against the Hoosiers offense as the game went along.
After an IU field goal tied it at 10-10 just under a minute into the second quarter, UW allowed just 10 more points the rest of the way while tallying 73 more of their own. In the fourth quarter, Henry added six points of his own.
Henry, who scored his third touchdown of the season, picked a great day to do so.
“Aaron Henry, kind of a special day for him,” head coach Bret Bielemasaid. “His mom was here for the first time and I kind of grabbed him last night and made a big deal of it. There’s such good karma and I thought this would be a special day for him. Lo and behold, he gets the pick six, so it’s kind of a neat thing.”
The defense made its presence felt in the second quarter, following the missed field goal from 52 yards by Indiana kicker Mitch Ewald. The long distance attempt was set up by Devin Smith‘s big tackle, which held the Hoosiers to just four yards on 3rd-and-10.
After the Badgers converted for a touchdown on a two-play drive, the Hoosiers next drive was even shorter.
As backup quarterback Edward Wright-Baker took the first snap of the drive, replacing an injured Ben Chappell, fumbled the ball away to defensive end J.J. Watt, who recovered it at the Indiana 29-yard line.
That set up another Montee Ball touchdown, giving UW a 31-10 lead. On the next drive, Wisconsin forced a three-and-out, setting up a fifth touchdown in the half.
When Indiana got the ball with 17 seconds remaining, Watt put the exclamation point on the first half with a tackle in the backfield for a four-yard loss.
“I was pretty jacked up,” Watt said. “I got down to the locker room and I was dead tired. That was a mistake, I should not have run that far. But I was pretty jacked up, they gave the call that was obviously advantageous to me, I got a great TFL and really captured a lot of momentum going into the half.”
With that second-quarter performance the defense gave the Badgers the opportunity to extend the game from a 10-10 tie to a 38-10 lead at the half. Coming out of the locker room, Wisconsin continued to stifle the Indiana offense.
Though they allowed Chappell to connect on 8-of-14 passes early for 63 yards and a touchdown, the Badgers shut down the Big Ten’s leading passing offense, giving up just 63 yards through the air.
IU was slightly more successful on the ground, picking up 90 yards on 14 attempts. With 90 rushing yards compared to 63 passing, Saturday marked the first time this season Indiana picked up more yardage on the ground than in the air.
“It was tremendous,” Henry said of shutting down the passing game. “Just coming into this year, knowing the challenge that we had ahead of us, it was just real exciting for us to go out there and perform the way that we did.
“This is a high-powered offense. They really rely on big plays, they really rely on their wide receivers, and we did a tremendous job in executing the game plan and really shutting their offense down.”
MADISON – It’s been four weeks since Wisconsin knocked off top-ranked Ohio State in front of a raucous crowd of Badger fans at Camp Randall Stadium.
Finally, after a pair of road wins sandwiched around a bye week, the Badgers return home Saturday to host the Indiana Hoosiers and the Big Ten’s top passing attack.
“It feels like it’s been a month since Lerner’s helmet got taken and we were running around the field,” said safety Jay Valai, referring to the postgame celebration and backup kicker Alec Lerner. “It’s exciting to go back out there, it’s going to be a good atmosphere and I can’t wait.”
One of the highlights of Wisconsin’s last home game was the opening kickoff, which David Gilreath took 96 yards for a touchdown, setting the tone for what was to come. Thanks to the evening start, the stadium was already packed, compared with the thousands of empty seats typically associated with the first quarter at Camp Randall.
With Ben Chappell and Indiana’s vaunted passing attack coming to town, head coach Bret Bielema – who sent a special message out Thursday to student season ticket holders – and the Badgers hope to see fans arrive on time once again.
“If you’re not in the seats before the first couple minutes against Ohio State, you never would have saw David Gilreath’s kickoff return,” Bielema said. “If we could get the student section going [from the start], I think it would be a very, very special thing to close out the rest of the year.”
Following the team’s practice Wednesday, defensive end J.J. Watt echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“We can’t wait to get in front of the home fans, hopefully they’re as rowdy and they were against Ohio State,” Watt said. “It would nice if they could show up on time this week, and it would be much appreciated.”
Aside from asking students to arrive more promptly for the final two home games, the focus this week for Wisconsin, at least on the defensive end, is shutting down the pass.
In the Badgers’ 55-20 victory at Indiana in 2008, Chappell tossed for 126 yards and a touchdown, completing 11-of-20 passes in the first half before missing the remainder of the game due to injury. Following a Chappell touchdown run that put Indiana within one point at 21-20, Wisconsin scored 34 unanswered points over the game’s final 34 minutes.
Last year, playing at Memorial Stadium once again, Chappell connected on 25-of-35 attempts, passing for 323 yards and three touchdowns.
Wisconsin’s defense came up with two interceptions and a sack, all three of which played a major role in the Badgers’ 31-28 victory. This season, interceptions have been easier for opposing defense to come by than sacks against Indiana.
Chappell, who has attempted 378 passes, has been intercepted eight times, which equals the number of sacks allowed by the IU offensive line through nine games.
“They’re an extremely efficient passing offense,” Watt said. “Their quarterback gets the ball out very quickly, so it’s going to be tough to get a lot of sacks on him. I believe they have 380 passing attempts on the year and he’s only given up eight or nine sacks. So he gets the ball out quick and he knows how to avoid the rush.
“We need to get after him. We definitely need to get after their quarterback and try to rattle him.”
If Watt and his fellow defensive linemen are unable to get much pressure on Chappell, the pressure to stop the Hoosiers offense, which averages 27.6 points per game, will fall primarily on the secondary.
Indiana averages nearly 44 passes per game, as opposed to 29 rushes per game. Comparatively, the Wisconsin offense rushes 42 times with 22 passes per game.
Facing an increased workload this week, the secondary looks forward to the challenge.
“Schematically it changes our approach, but defensively it really doesn’t,” safety Aaron Henry said. “We’ve got to go out there and do what we’ve been doing the whole season. This is just another challenge for our secondary to go out their and showcase our abilities. They are the No. 1 passing attack in the Big Ten, but it’s an opportunity for us, so that’s how we’re approaching it.”
MADISON – In football, things often are described in militaristic terms, with the game frequently described as a war or battle. In reality, the sport and its players pale in comparison to those that dedicate their lives to service in our armed forces.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the major hostilities of World War I formally ended with the Germans signing the Armistice. Since 1919, Nov. 11 has set aside to remember the nation’s veterans.
On this Veterans Day, several members of the University of Wisconsin football team will honor their family members that are serving or have served their country in the military.
“I’ll be thinking of my grandpa for sure,” running back Montee Ball said. “Last year, against Wofford, he passed away and that was really rough, so I’m most definitely going to think about him.
“I think he was in the Air Force, in the Korean War, but he didn’t really talk about it much. It was rough for him. I miss him a lot, and I’m definitely going to be thinking of him.”
Ball missed that game last year against Wofford as he dealt with the loss of a beloved family member. This week, he’ll be playing with his grandfather in mind.
A common theme among the Badgers was grandfathers who served in various wars, but who did not talk much about it with their grandchildren. Among those are linebacker Mike Taylor whose grandfather served in the Air Force during World War II, but died before Taylor was born, and safety Aaron Henry whose grandfather dropped out of high school to serve his country.
Another is running back James White, who was not sure which branch of the military his grandfather, who passed in 2005, served in. White’s cousin recently joined the Marine Corps, giving him another family member to honor on this day.
Like White, quarterback Scott Tolzien has a close relative currently serving in the military.
“My brother is currently at an Air Force base in Biloxi, Miss., right now,” Tolzien said. “He flies the C-130, a big cargo plane.”
Tolzien’s grandfathers each served during World War II, his paternal grandfather in the Navy, and his maternal grandfather in the Army.
With three close family members having ties to the armed forces, Veterans Day is important one for Tolzien.
“It’s close to my heart,” Tolzien said. I think it’s important and it should be that way for everyone really. We’re pretty blessed to have it the way we have it because of the people that are serving and protecting our country.
“Hopefully everyone will take a second out of their day at least to think about it. I think it would be a shame if you didn’t take some time to think about it on Thursday just because there’s so many people that have served our country.”
Safety Jay Valai has two cousins currently serving, one in the Coast Guard and another in the Marine Corps.
When asked which branch he would choose if he had the chance, Valai debated a few before going with the Air Force, though he would also consider the Army and Marine Corps.
“If I could swim, I’d do it all like a Marine, but I can’t swim, little known fact about me,” Valai said. “So, I guess I’d go with the Air Force. If I got to fly an airplane, I’d do Air Force.”
Defensive end J.J. Watt was one of the few whose grandfather had told him stories of his time in the military, but Watt still was unsure which branch he served in. What he did know was that his grandfather served in the Korean War, and fought in the Battle of Porkchop Hill.
Beyond that, Watt said he has told him plenty of good war stories, despite never specifying which branch of the armed forces in which he served.
“I’m definitely going to give him a call and thank him. And I’m going to put on my Twitter a thank you to all the veterans,” Watt said. “I’m thankful to have him around still obviously and thankful for everything he did. We wouldn’t be doing what we do if it weren’t for those people, so we need to thank them every chance we can.”
MADISON – As stadiums go, Ross-Ade Stadium is never going to be mistaken for one of the great, historic venues in college football. Even so, Purdue has won 254 games there all-time against just 149 losses, including the Boilermakers’ 3-1 home record this year.
In fact, just last year Purdue knocked off then-No. 7 Ohio State at home, 26-18, in a stunning upset. That win came on the heels of a five-game losing streak for the Boilermakers, who have lost each of their last two games, on the road, in blowout fashion.
Add the Badgers’ recent success, and Wisconsin looks to be headed into a classic trap game.
“We’re well aware of it,” quarterback Scott Tolzien said. “I think the main thing is that it’s just another Big Ten game. You just look at last year, they knocked off Ohio State.
“Every year there seems to be that game where someone gets nipped from behind. We need to approach this game like any other game. The second you take your foot off the gas pedal and start relaxing, that’s when you start to get some adversity.”
Unfortunately for the Badgers, they don’t have any past experience to lean on against Purdue. While they shutout the Boilermakers last year, 37-0, the last time Wisconsin traveled to Purdue was in 2006, when Bret Bielema was a first-year head coach and UW’s current fifth-year seniors were in their redshirt seasons.
Junior defensive end J.J. Watt will be making his second appearance at Ross-Ade, having played there once in his career at Central Michigan.
As such, they’ll need to rely on their experiences in other Big Ten stadiums, rather than recall past games as Ross-Ade.
“I think anybody can beat anybody,” said John Moffitt, who redshirted in 2006. “You have to respect teams and you have to especially respect teams at home. I think we’re doing that with our preparation and we need to continue to do that.”
Not only has the team not played in West Lafayette in four years, they’ve also not made a bus trip as long as the one scheduled for this weekend. A 271-mile drive, the drive from Camp Randall to Ross-Ade is said to take five hours and six minutes, according to Google Maps.
On a bus, that easily translates to at least a six-hour drive. And that’s assuming the buses make it through the Chicago area without significant delay.
“That’s something that I don’t like at all,” free safety Aaron Henry said. “I understand we’ve got to do it, but six hours man, I can’t sit in a classroom for 50 minutes, let alone on a bus for six hours.
“It’s something we’ve got to do, so I don’t really have a choice in that, and we’ve just got to roll with it. I’m not really a big fan of bussing for six hours, though. Hopefully, if we take care of business, we won’t be bussing back.”
Confined to seat on the bus for the length of nearly two football games, the Badgers will need to find some ways to occupy their time. Homework, music, movies and sleep are among the most popular time-wasters for bus trips.
Of course, they’re typically more like three to four hours, such as is the case with the trip to Iowa City.
“I’m going to probably be doing a ton of things,” Henry said. “Probably on the phone listening to music, going over some of my notes, writing up some of my interests on the blog that I have. There’s no telling what I could be doing, man.
“Once you focus on one thing, that thing is going to die out eventually. And me, I’m always trying to find what’s new. But hopefully sleep will be my biggest friend on that trip.”
Running back John Clay had a simple answer to what could make the bus trip better for him.
“Having my own seat,” Clay said with a laugh. “If I can sit in the back and have my own seat, I’ll just be thinking about the plays that are going to get called and thinking about making a big play every time I get a chance.”
MADISON — Pandemonium.
That was the consensus description of the scene on the field at Camp Randall Stadium after the Badgers’ 31-18 win over No. 1 Ohio State. And why shouldn’t it have been?
Despite repeated warnings not to do so, fans poured onto the playing surface as the clock wound to zero, mobbing the 18th-ranked Wisconsin football team as it secured its biggest win in recent program history.
Within minutes, the green field turf was replaced by a sea of red.
“I’ll remember how quickly that thing can fill up,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “Mark Taurisani, my office guy, told me, ‘If they rush the field, go out the far tunnel,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, you better tell everybody else the same thing.’ We hadn’t exactly gone through an evacuation plan.”
Without any briefing on what to expect after such a momentous victory, a number of players found themselves in precarious situations, surrounded by classmates and alumni.
With the Badgers defeating the nation’s No. 1 team for the first time since 1981 and the fourth time in school history, everybody wanted to be a part of the big moment.
“It’s so much excitement and so much joy,” free safety Aaron Henry said. “Coming into this game, we knew what to expect. I know a lot of people on the outside looking in, they didn’t really give us a chance, and that’s fine. As long as the core group of guys in that locker room believe in each other man, the sky’s the limit.”
Before the game, the Badgers were a picture of quiet intensity, according to Bielema and other players who recalled their teammates showing a surprising, but intense, calmness.
Afterward, as Camp Randall exploded in excitement, the Badgers celebrated their first win over Ohio State in the Bielema era.
“That was nuts,” said linebacker Blake Sorensen, who had a big late-game interception. “It was a big win for the team and the fans as well. That was huge. The last I saw the goal post was rocking back and forth when I left. It was awesome.”