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Badgers excited to compete on big stage

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Jeff Potrykus
September 27, 2011
— Montee Ball’s eyes opened wide.

His smile, a mix of excitement and anticipation, spread from ear to ear as he pondered the question.


You excited to face Nebraska this week?


“I’m expecting it to be a huge game,” Wisconsin’s junior tailback said. “Big stage. That is what players love to play on. I am very excited.”


The Big Ten Conference opener was set last September. That it would be Nebraska’s first Big Ten contest assured the game would receive national attention.


Now with UW (4-0) No. 7 in the Associated Press top 25 poll and Nebraska (4-0) at No. 8, and with the 7 p.m. game set for ABC-TV and ESPN’s College GameDay crew to visit Madison, the pregame hype no doubt will build throughout the week to a crescendo Saturday.


“You think?” senior defensive tackle Patrick Butrym asked.


Consider that the last game at Camp Randall Stadium featuring top-10 teams took place on Nov. 24, 1962. The third-ranked Badgers defeated No. 5 Minnesota, 14-9.


“I feel like for the fans it is going to be pandemonium,” UW defensive tackle Ethan Hemer said. “It’s going to be a huge, awesome experience for them.”


Nebraska officials received more than 20,000 ticket requests for the game. That is at least 17,000 more than the allotment visiting Big Ten teams receive.


“Nebraska is similar to us,” Hemer said. “They have a great following.”


Not long after UW dispatched South Dakota on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, Nebraska rolled to a 38-10 victory at Wyoming.


And not long after that victory, the Cornhuskers turned their attention toward UW.


“We knew going into the year it was going to be a challenge, and it’s staring us right in the face right now,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “We’ll see how our guys react. I think everyone is looking forward to it. We’ll find out a lot about our football team.”


Nebraska entered the weekend No. 2 in the Big Ten in rushing at 252.3 yards per game and rolled up 333 rushing yards against Wyoming.


Wyoming focused on slowing quarterback Taylor Martinez, but I-back Rex Burkhead ran wild with a college-high 170 yards on 15 carries.


“We’re going to have to game-plan very well for them,” Hemer said. “It’s going to take a lot of focus and preparation on our part in order to come in there and feel confident in our ability.”


Nebraska’s defense, which has given up big plays in three of its four victories, will have to contend with UW quarterback Russell Wilson.


Through four games, Wilson has completed 75.8 percent of his passes (69 of 91 attempts) for 1,136 yards. He has 11 touchdown passes and one interception and is averaging 6.8 yards per carry.


Wilson, who always appears in control of his emotions, is eager to get back onto the field.


“That’s one of the reasons I came here—great games, great atmosphere, big-time football,” he said. “We’re definitely excited. We have a great team coming in. We just have to make sure we prepare in the right way.”


Several UW players, including Butrym, anticipated an atmosphere similar to last season when No. 1 Ohio State visited Camp Randall Stadium.


“Those atmospheres are hard to describe,” Butrym said. “I’m glad we have the experience of last year, that kind of media attention. We know what to expect.


“We just need to follow the blueprint, prepare well during the week … and hopefully come out of here with a win on Saturday.”


In talking about the matchup, Ball noted that the tension the night before the game is remarkable.


“It is unbelievable,” he said. “Laying in bed Friday night, knowing that tomorrow is the big day, you’re like: It is time.


“The atmosphere. The tradition. Everything. … Night game. Television. Nebraska. What more can you ask for?”


What more indeed.


“I love when the competition is up,” center Peter Konz said. “It makes you play your best. You’re going to really see what this team is about.”



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