Badgers seek payback after painful loss to Spartans in 2010
“It was tough, really frustrating,” the University of Wisconsin’s sophomore middle linebacker said. “We didn’t play our best game defensively. It was a helpless feeling, personally, and I know how the guys must have felt there.”
Borland was talking about UW’s 34-24 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten football opener last season—a game he missed because his season had already been cut short by a shoulder injury.
Fourth-ranked UW (6-0,
2-0) returns to East Lansing for a showdown with the No. 15 Spartans (5-1, 2-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Although more than a year has passed since the 10-point loss, UW’s only regular-season misstep, the pain lingers for Bret Bielema’s players.
“I was devastated,” senior free safety Aaron Henry said. “I was completely devastated. I hadn’t been that mad and upset in a while.”
Michigan State rushed for 175 yards and converted nine of 18 third-down chances and two of three fourth-down chances. The Spartans’ clinching touchdown, a 1-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to B.J. Cunningham, came on a fourth-and-goal play with 2:43 remaining.
“They’d always convert,” defensive tackle Jordan Kohout said, “which was embarrassing.”
Talk to any UW player back from last season, and they’ll remind you Michigan State was an outstanding team. They’ll acknowledge the Spartans outplayed UW that day.
Yet, they’ll also acknowledge, grudgingly and sheepishly, that the practices leading to the game weren’t sharp.’
“We practiced so bad that week,” said senior defensive tackle Patrick Butrym, who is questionable because of an ankle injury suffered in the 59-7 victory over Indiana on Saturday. “The Thursday before the game it was just really sloppy. Walking off the practice field, it was like: ‘We’re going to lose this game.’
“That game really made us mad.”
Borland, who leads UW in tackles this season with 58, remembers seeing Michigan State’s offensive line open lanes for the running backs. He also recalls several mental errors on defense that resulted in big hits for Michigan State.
“We had some flat-out (mental) mistakes,” he said. “Those are the hardest things to deal with. If they beat you physically, that’sone thing. But when you give them stuff, which I think we did a little bit last year, that is really frustrating.”
After UW’s victory over Indiana, Bielema said he needed to share much of the blame for last season’s loss.
“I probably didn’t stress playing on the road in the Big Ten as much as I should have going into that game,” he said. “To win Big Ten games on the road, that’s when you win championships.
“I think our guys will embrace the opportunity. I think they’ll be excited about the challenge.”
That excitement was palpable in the comments by UW players after the victory over Indiana.
Tailback Montee Ball, who had fallen to No. 3 on the depth chart by the time UW played Michigan State last season, had two carries for 6 yards.
“We owe them,” Ball said. “We’ve got to make sure we practice hard and carry that practice into the game.”
The excitement and anticipation for this rematch doesn’t reside solely in Madison.
Shortly after Michigan State defeated arch-rival Michigan on Saturday, Spartans safety Isaiah Lewis warned UW would be facing one of the top defenses in the nation.
“Wisconsin should know we’re coming,” Lewis told ESPN.com. “They have a good offense, and that quarterback (Russell Wilson). But they should just know our defense is coming.
“And just like any other team, if they’re throwing the ball up, our DBs are going to go get it, our linebackers are going to go get it, and our lineman are getting after the quarterback. And they’re going to hurt him.”
UW’s players weren’t aware of Lewis’ comments on Saturday, but tailback James White couldn’t hide his excitement.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s going to be a hostile environment. That’s what we like.
“It’s just another game to prove to the nation that Wisconsin football is for real.”