Stunned by 2 late losses, Badgers hope to rally
If Wilson is tempted to let that disappointment linger, though, he thinks about his late father.
"More than anything, I think my dad taught me something about perseverance," said Wilson, whose father, Harrison, died in 2010 after a long illness. "No matter what's going on in your life, no matter what's going on in the situation during the game, or during the season, you've just got to keep pushing and keep working."
That job suddenly looks much tougher than it did when the Badgers (6-2) were rolling to easy wins early in the season.
The Badgers have slipped to No. 19 in the latest Associated Press poll and are out of the national title picture. Wilson's Heisman Trophy chances are slipping away as well.
But the Badgers still have a chance to get back to the Rose Bowl, even if they now have to rely on other Big Ten teams to falter.
Wilson insisted he won't let the back-to-back gut-wrenching losses affect the way he prepares for Saturday's home game against Purdue — and made it clear that he expects the same from his teammates.
"It's got to be like that for every single player on this football team, and I'm going to make sure it is that way," Wilson said.
Badgers coach Bret Bielema called on players to be accountable for their mistakes, but also pointed out that his team is only a few plays away from being 8-0.
"I understand why people are upset," Bielema said. "Believe me, there's nobody more upset than me. But we didn't make a fool out of ourselves. We lost a couple plays, a couple games, on heartaches that will last a lifetime. But in the end, it makes all of us stronger."
The way those decisive plays unfolded made the losses even tougher to take.
Tied with seconds left against Michigan State, the Badgers allowed the Spartans' Keith Nichol to catch a deflection off a Hail Mary pass and wrestle it over the goal line for a stunning win on the last play of the game.
Then the Badgers rallied for a late lead against the Buckeyes, only to cough it up when a miscommunication in the secondary allowed Devin Smith to come wide open in the end zone and catch a 40-yard touchdown from quarterback Braxton Miller with 20 seconds left.
Bielema said that play was one of several defensive communication breakdowns in recent weeks. He also acknowledged that fatigue may have been an issue.
"We've got to be aware, as coaches, guys do fatigue," Bielema said. "We don't have a lot of depth."
Lost in the late collapses were two impressive comeback attempts led by Wilson. Even after Ohio State's late touchdown Saturday, Wilson said he and running back Montee Ball believed they could rally for another score in the final seconds of the game.
"Montee and I were both talking on the sideline, 'Hey, they gave us too much time. They gave us 20 seconds.' And we believed that," Wilson said. "We truly believed that. We had opportunities, and we almost got it there. It just didn't work out, for whatever reason."
As well as Wilson has played this season, Bielema acknowledged that his quarterback's Heisman stock has slipped.
"I know it's something fun to talk about, but the least concerning thing, I'll bet you, to Russell is that," Bielema said. "He's more concerned about wins and how he goes about it. Believe me, from what I've seen on the field and the way NFL people are coming through here, he's going to be duly rewarded for the way he's playing."
And while the Badgers still can go to the Rose Bowl, Bielema doesn't want them thinking beyond this week.
"Purdue is our challenge," Bielema said. "I think any time you're in this situation the more you can focus on the task at hand, it just helps the picture get clearer overall. I understand it, and I know there's a lot of scenarios out there, and I think that's something that's on their radar. But it's not something we openly discuss."
Last updated: 6:37 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012