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Taking on No. 1

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Aaron Brenner/Special to the Gazette
November 3, 2007
— The University of Wisconsin football team prides itself on not getting too psyched out by opponents, feeling that no victory is more important than another.

But UW has a monumental opportunity today—a chance to knock off No. 1-ranked Ohio State on its home turf, which would send a shockwave through the national championship picture and possibly put Wisconsin back in the running for the Big Ten title.


Make no mistake: The Wisconsin players know how big this is for them as they take a 7-2 overall record and 3-2 conference mark against Ohio State's 9-0 and 5-0.


"A win would be really big for us," wide receiver Paul Hubbard said. "Coming off those two losses (at Illinois and Penn State), you want every single game after that."


After back-to-back victories against Northern Illinois and Indiana, in which UW outscored its opponents 77-6, Hubbard said: "The confidence level is up there."


History might be on Wisconsin's side against the Buckeyes. The Badgers have won in their last three appearances at Columbus, Ohio, but they are 16-point underdogs this time.


The Badgers may have to play without their top offensive weapon, running back P.J. Hill, who suffered a leg bruise against Indiana. UW head coach Bret Bielema said Thursday it would be a "game-time decision."


"All week, he's gotten better every day," Bielema said. "Hopefully, he'll continue (that progress)."


Since backup Lance Smith is ineligible to play road games, third-stringer Zach Brown would be Wisconsin's featured back today if Hill can't go or is limited. The true freshman said he practices every day as if he's going to be the starter, and knows he's got what it takes to carry the load.


"It's a great opportunity, and I'm looking forward to taking advantage of it," Brown said. "If the coaches didn't believe in me, they wouldn't put me on the field."


While it's uncertain how much Brown will play, there's no doubt that another true freshman on offense—wide receiver Kyle Jefferson—will be a big factor in UW's upset bid.


Jefferson has shined in relief of injured Luke Swan and may have added motivation at Ohio Stadium. He's played Glenville High School in Cleveland and grew up watching the Buckeyes.


"It feels good to go back home and showcase my talent in front of my home state," said Jefferson, who has 21 catches for 374 yards, both third-best marks on the team. "It gives me a lot of motivation, not just because it's the team I wanted to go to (as a kid), but I have rival high school friends (at Ohio State)."


Meanwhile, it's been a tumultuous season on the defense for Wisconsin, but the Badgers may be peaking at the perfect time. Giving up just a field goal in each of the last two games, the UW defensive unit would love to keep that rhythm going against an Ohio State offense that has had its own inconsistencies.


"We're starting to hit our stride a little bit, starting to play like we know we're able to play," UW defensive end Mike Newkirk said. "It's a good feeling."


Linebacker Jon Casillas, one of the emotional leaders of Wisconsin's defense, said the Badgers have taken that confidence from their two-game winning streak and used it as motivation to believe UW can unseat the Buckeyes.


"The intensity level in practice has definitely picked up," Casillas said. "We all know what lies in front of us."


It's a great team, but I think the way the guys approached practice this week is how we should approach it."


Those who say the Badgers' season was lost during that two-game slide would have to reconsider that position if Wisconsin did what few people outside of Madison think can happen—a fourth straight victory at Ohio Stadium.


"It's all about opportunity," Wisconsin quarterback Tyler Donovan said. "This is a great opportunity for our team.


"It's just another game, but it is a big game because we put ourselves in a position to make it a big game."


UPSET FORMULA

The Badgers are 3-1 against Jim Tressel-coached Ohio State teams. In those four games, the Buckeyes have:


-- Averaged 14.8 points per game, with a high of 19 in 2002 and a low of 10 in 2003.


-- Averaged 281 total yards per game.


-- Averaged 115.8 rushing yards per game, including a modest 3.7 yards per carry.


-- Averaged 165.3 passing yards per game on a completion rate of 52.6 percent.


-- Converted only 35.1 percent (20 of 57) of their third-down chances.


Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel



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