UW, Northwestern hoping to recover from Buckeye loss
MADISON—The ties that bind Wisconsin and Northwestern are plentiful and pronounced.
Unranked UW (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) is already one game off the pace in the Leaders Division.
First-place Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) has the look of a team capable of running through its league schedule unscathed.
Northwestern (4-1, 0-1), ranked No. 18 by USA Today and No. 19 by The Associated Press, is a game off the pace in the Legends Division.
The Wildcats are among four teams that appear capable of winning the division title.
Both UW and Northwestern are trying to regain momentum after losing to Ohio State, the Badgers on Sept. 28 in Columbus and Northwestern last weekend at home.
Although UW’s Gary Andersen and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald don’t appear or sound desperate, both coaches know their teams can’t afford to lose when the rivals meet at 2:30 p.m. today at Camp Randall Stadium.
“My mind-set all year is to win every single game you can,” UW junior tight end Sam Arneson said when asked to describe the mood in the Badgers’ locker room this week. “The odds of Ohio State losing…aren’t the greatest. But we’ve got to fight and claw every single game and hope for the best.
“We’ve got to control what we can control. And that is how we play every single day and how we practice every single day.
“Northwestern knows if they are going to play in the Big Ten championship game this is a big one for them.
“So they’re going to come out with everything they have. They’re still alive. We saw what kind of team they are on Saturday against Ohio State. They are very well-coached. They are smart players. It is going to be a heck of a game.”
The Wildcats held a 30-27 lead over Ohio State with 9 minutes, 10 seconds remaining but allowed an 81-yard touchdown drive and fumble recovery for a touchdown on the final play of the game.
After blowing fourth-quarter leads in their three losses last season, the Wildcats reverted to form against the Buckeyes.
“All the goals are still ahead of us,” Fitzgerald countered. “I think we showed everyone these young men can play, and we just have to coach them better. There are no moral victories.
“Our guys will come back….It is about coming back and responding to things when they get tough. It is about sticking together and believing in yourself and each other.”
UW’s players and coaches have had almost two weeks to absorb their 31-24 loss to the Buckeyes, study their mistakes in that game, evaluate where they stand in the league race and turn their attention toward Northwestern.
“I understand that Ohio State’s undefeated,” Andersen said. “But I think these kids are worried about themselves and they’re not chasing anybody, which, again, is a credit to them.
“At the end, it will all work out. We’re all going to be where we may be at the end of the year. I don’t think there’s anything in their mind-set saying, well, now we can’t go win the (Big Ten) championship.
“I don’t think we feel like that.”
In addition to the hours of game planning by both staffs, the mental toughness of the players on both sidelines should play a significant role in determining which team avoids losing its second consecutive game.
Northwestern’s players and coaches invested a significant amount of physical and emotional energy in trying to snap the Buckeyes’ winning streak at 17 games.
Northwestern linebacker Damien Proby didn’t sound emotionally spent.
“We’re excited for the opportunity to go and take somebody’s house,” Proby told the Chicago Tribune. “Hit somebody in the mouth every single play on their home field.”
UW senior linebacker Brendan Kelly was encouraged by what he saw during the team’s first meeting after the bye, early Monday morning.
“At 6:30 or 7 in the morning you can see a lot of guys looking sleepy,” he said. “I was looking around the meeting room and guys were taking notes. Guys were locked in. They were paying attention.”
UW needed the bye week to heal psychologically and physically. With players such as tight end Jacob Pedersen (knee), wide receiver Kenzel Doe (hamstring) center Dallas Lewallen (leg) and tailback Melvin Gordon (knee) back, the Badgers should be close to full strength.
“This is a team that knows that it is good and knows it can play with anyone,” defensive end Ethan Hemer of Northwestern. “They’re going to come in here expecting to win, and we’re preparing for a team expecting to win.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for what that team is…and it has made our preparation these last two weeks heightened. We know this is a must win for us as well.”