Seniors lit the fire under Badgers
And it may have happened—but maybe not where you think.
While the 37-0 shellacking of Purdue last Saturday was the in-your-face statement the Badgers wanted to make after back-to-back, gut-wrenching losses, the actual turning point could be traced back to Sunday, Oct. 18.
Coming in the next day after Wisconsin’s 20-10 loss to then-11th-ranked Iowa, a game in which the Badgers allowed the Hawkeyes to score last 20 points, UW coach Bret Bielema set the course.
“We’ve made strides, we’re a good football team, and I know we didn’t play well in the second half against Ohio State and Iowa,” he said. “Quite frankly, that really is disturbing to me, and I’ll never get it out of my system. We can’t let those two teams come up again.”
Not wanting his talented team to experience a long losing streak, similar to last year, Bielema told senior captains Mickey Turner and O’Brien Schofield they could do something to bring the Badgers together heading into the bye week.
Turner and Schofield did just that. But instead of talking to the entire team, they delivered their important message to the other 13 seniors.
“We weren’t in a panic mode, but we wanted to remind everybody of what we still had left, especially the seniors,” Turner said. “When you bring them in, they know it’s their last year, and they get it.
“They’ve seen what happens, and it could go either way. We told them that we’re the rocks of this team as seniors, and we need to lead the younger guys.”
But wasn’t all.
“The biggest thing we wanted to relay is this is all we have right here—a 5-2 football team,” Schofield said. It’s important for us to be leaders as a group of seniors and not accept the losing feeling and not allow guys on the team to accept that.”
Schofield was poignant in his remarks, urging his classmates to take pride in their individual jobs and not to tolerate individual mistakes, like missed assignments or dropped interceptions.
“Take pride in your job, and it will all come together as a team,” Schofield said.
That pride showed against Purdue. In the secondary, there was no blown coverage, as the defensive backs held Purdue to nine pass completions in 33 attempts, a season-low 81 yards passing and 2-of-16 on third downs.
“It was amazing to see it come together,” Turner said. “We all knew what we were capable of, but we just had to go do it on the field. You only get so many shots. A game like that gives you confidence.”
Looking at the next opponent, the Badgers (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) can’t help but have confidence. In facing Indiana (4-5, 1-4 Big Ten) on Saturday at Bloomington, the Badgers take on a team that ranks eighth in the conference in rushing offense (127.4) and eighth in rushing defense (145.9)
UW enters the weekend No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing offense (191.8 yards per game) and rushing defense (73.8 ypg) in conference games. If that keeps up, the Badgers would be the first Big Ten team to accomplish that feat since 1996.
It would be a testament to UW’s resiliency after consecutive losses, and a testament to a senior class that helped make a difference.
“We’re a good football team now,” Bielema said. “We’re all sophomores and freshmen, (but) we’ve got some really good seniors providing us with great leadership.”