Coming into Saturday’s game against Illinois, the Wisconsin football team (5-2 Big Ten, 9-2 overall) had struggled on the road. However, a second half comeback helped exorcise the Badgers’ road demons and sets up a do-or-die matchup with Penn State (6-1, 9-2) Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
Defensively, the Badgers were able to come back on Illinois thanks to timely interceptions by seniors Antonio Fenelus and Aaron Henry as well as another by junior defensive back Shelton Johnson. Sophomore linebacker Chris Borland was again able to make an impact by recording double-digit tackles (18) for the sixth time this season in addition to forcing a fumble. Offensively, Bielema credited senior fullback Brady Ewing as well as junior running back Montee Ball with the offensive surge in the second half.
“Montee Ball was our offensive MVP, as well as Brady Ewing. [Brady] had his best game of the year, he was always at the point of attack clearing space for the backs,” Bielema said. “A lot of times Brady is throwing the key block that the running back is able to read and go for yards.”
Runs by senior quarterback Russell Wilson and Ball capped a comeback win that set up a winner-take-all scenario against Penn State (6-1, 9-2) on Saturday where the victor will advance to the first ever Big Ten Championship game to be played Dec. 3 at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis.
“It’s going to be a great moment to play Penn State, to play to go to the first-ever Big Ten championship game,” Wilson said. “Our team is excited, and I know the fans are excited. But at the same time, you have to remember it’s 100 yards. You have to keep your emotions in check.”
Emotionally, the game Saturday comes with an unexpected twist for the Badgers as they take on a Penn State squad that is reeling from a sex abuse scandal that has devastated the university administration and football program, including beloved head coach Joe Paterno who was fired because of a failure to report alleged abuses.
“Obviously, from our standpoint, you would have to be oblivious to not know what was going on, and we feel for everyone at Penn State,” Bielema said.
“The students can sing Buttercup as much as they want to and Sweet Caroline also, as long as they give some respect to a group of seniors who have really earned it.” Bielema remarked about how he would like the students to handle the game Saturday.
On the field, the Wisconsin running game will be challenged by a defensive front seven for Penn State that ranks as one of the top group of linebackers and defensive linemen in the nation, allowing only 13.0 points a game which is third in FBS and leads the Big Ten.
“They have a unit that is tops in that nation, and we have the guys to go back and forth with them. It should be a great battle,” Wilson said.
The Badgers will have to account for Penn State senior defensive tackle Devon Still, who is considered the top defensive tackle in the conference and is expected to be a first round pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
“[Still] has been very impressive with his combination of size, strength, and the ability to shed blockers.” Wilson remarked.
Although Penn State has appeared anemic on offensive at times this season—their 20.9 points per game ranks 106th in the FBS this season—Bielema stressed the need to put pressure on senior quarterback Matt McGloin and cut off senior wide out Derek Moye who leads the team in receptions and receiving yards.
“McGloin is very accurate when given time and he has developed a real connection with the receiver [Derek] Moye.” Bielema said.
Despite these challenges, both Bielema and Wilson were confident the senior class would rise to the challenge on Senior Day.
“There’s just so much this group has accomplished both on and off the field. They have the chance to earn three-straight 10 win seasons and have earned multiple all-academic Big Ten honors,” Bielema said. “These guys really deserve to be treated as champions.”
“Madison has been a great experience and opportunity to continue my education and football career, and I will always remember the time have had with these guys,” Wilson added.