Badgers trying to forget collapses
By Genaro C. Armas
The Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. — A team that prides itself on not looking ahead, No. 3 Wisconsin must now avoid dwelling on its recent past at the Big Ten championship game.
The losses against Penn State last year and Ohio State in 2014 sting for different reasons.
The stakes are even higher going into this season’s title game, in which the Badgers again face the eighth-ranked Buckeyes on Saturday night in Indianapolis. Win and undefeated Wisconsin (12-0, No. 5 CFP) stands a pretty good shot at securing a spot in the College Football Playoff.
“I think the guys in that (locker) room, they understand that if we take care of this game, everything takes care of itself,” tight end Troy Fumagalli said after practice Monday.
All season long, the blue-collar Badgers have shrugged off the whispers about the turnover-prone offense and the questions about their strength of schedule. The team follows the lead of even-keeled coach Paul Chryst.
The moment to talk about the playoffs has finally arrived. Wisconsin had perhaps its most complete game in Big Ten play when beating Minnesota 31-0 last week.
The Badgers have won 13 straight games, counting the Cotton Bowl in January over Western Michigan. The last loss came at the 2016 conference championship, when Wisconsin blew a 14-point halftime lead and fell 38-31 to Penn State.
The 2014 trip to the title game was even more painful, a 59-0 loss to Ohio State. Fumagalli, a senior, is one of the few players left on the team that played in that game.
“I try to forget about it,” he said.
That’s exactly the mindset Chryst wants the rest of the team to take. The Penn State loss was Chryst’s first trip to the Big Ten championship game as the Badgers’ head coach. He said he didn’t think there was any “extra edge” to players because of that loss.
“No … each year, it’s a different team. I think you always draw on all your experiences,” Chryst said. “But I think our team’s got a great focus. They’ve had it all year long and I believe they’ll continue to have that. But it’s about this year, this moment.”
A moment that will most likely include trying to contain the Buckeyes’ J.T. Barrett. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Monday that his star quarterback was probable to play this weekend after leaving last weekend’s victory over Michigan in the third quarter with a knee injury.
But it’s too early to tell whether Barrett’s mobility might be limited enough that Meyer will have to think about using backup Dwayne Haskins again.
“That’s what this week’s for. But those are all things we’ve taken into consideration,” Meyer said.
At Ohio State (10-2, No. 9 CFP), a win over rival Michigan is always a big deal. Now Meyer’s team must retrain its sights on the Badgers following the 31-20 victory at the Big House.
“Yeah, that’s a concern. Every team’s different. You can’t just say this is the way we’ve done it in the past because every team is different. This happens to be somewhat a mature team,” Meyer said. “And the term around here is ‘laser focus.’ And they’ve been good. And I put a lot of reliance on my older guys, because they’ve earned that right.”
It’s something Chryst would say, too.
Wisconsin’s defense got outplayed in the second half against Penn State last year, with the Nittany Lions’ skill players dominating with their speed and athleticism. The Badgers’ defense this year could be even better.
They are determined not to repeat mistakes.
“Last year we just kind of were not able to forget about the play,” senior linebacker Garret Dooley said. “If you have a bad play, you have to forget about it. I think this year we’ve done a really good job of forgetting about last season and moving forward, preparing every single week.”