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October 31, 2011MADISON - As Bret Bielema intercepted the impending question with a trite 'thank you,' the first question about UW's upcoming game against Purdue was finally asked at the sixth-year head coach's weekly press conference.
It just took about 15 minutes.
That's what happens when the same thing (essentially) happens for the second time in as many weeks, inevitably causing the Badgers their own conference title destiny.
"You're within a play or two in each game of winning them," Bielema said when asked if this season is going to be defined as one full of lost opportunity. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out 8-0 sounds better than 6-2. For whatever reason and however the things came about we're going to take these things.
"It's going to define who you are and what you're going to be."
In the span of eight days Wisconsin went from being a legitimate national championship contender. They were headed into Michigan State, a place it still hasn't won in since 2002, with an opportunity to not only exact revenge from last season's only loss but to also position itself for a Big Ten divisional title.
Then a series of sloppy special teams plays, a flurry of penalties and a truckload of bad karma swept the legs out from underneath UW's national ambitions just as soon as the tip of that somehow-caught Hail Mary crossed the plane of the goal line.
Even with that harrowing loss in play, Wisconsin still controlled it's path to Indianapolis. All it had to do was beat the worst, most one-dimensional Ohio State team in recent memory inside the fabled 'Horseshoe.'
Instead, UW took the lead and lost it in the final minute and a half.
Bielema, who said there isn't a person out there that's taking the past two weeks harder than he is, attempted to spin something positive out of the web of negativity suddenly casting a shadow over the season.
"It's not like we embarrassed ourselves the past two weeks," Bielema said. "There are plenty of teams around the world of college football that were higher ranked than we were that got pounded pretty good by teams that weren't ranked or weren't good teams.
"We didn't make a fool out of ourselves. We lost a couple of games on heart aches that will last for a lifetime."
Still a Rosy outlook?
The picture is much more muddled than it was a week ago. Entering the Ohio State game, Wisconsin would have clinched the 'Leaders' division by winning the rest of its games. Even though the loss against Michigan State put a damper on things, UW still had its destiny in its control simply because the Spartans line up in the 'Legends' division.
Now, considering what happened against divisional rival Ohio State, Wisconsin will need some help.
Here is the scenario:
1.) Wisconsin must win its remaining four games (vs. Purdue, at Minnesota, at Illinois, vs. Penn State).
2.) Ohio State must lose one of its remaining games (vs. Indiana, at Purdue, vs. Penn State, at Michigan)
3.) Penn State must lose at least one of its remaining games before coming to Madison two days after Thanksgiving. The Nittany Lions play Nebraska, at Ohio State and at Wisconsin to close out their regular season.
So, there's still a chance things could fall in Wisconsin's favor.
"They know it's out there and people are going to talk to them about it," Bielema said in reference to his players. "For us, to get where we need to be we need to take care of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Then take care of Saturday. Purdue is our challenge.
"The more you can focus on the task at hand it just helps the picture become clearer overall."
Changes in punt protection coming?
Considering UW has been burned by very similar punt block outcomes in each of the past two weeks, one would have to assume some changes are going to be made. Bielema didn't necessarily guarantee as much, but he did say things need to be re-evaluated.
"It was basically the same area that got hit," Bielema said. "Obviously we didn't get it done on that particular play. I think we have to be guarded, not to get into the details of what we do, but you definitely look at the protection, the scheme, the call and the personnel."
Both Ohio State and Michigan State blocked a punt attempt in those respective games. Both the Buckeyes and Spartans scored touchdowns as a result. It's fair to say that punt protection and execution will be a mainstay in practice this week.
-Wisconsin junior defensive end David Gilbert suffered a broken foot in preparation for the Badgers much-anticipated game with Nebraska. Though he's been making solid progress he still hasn't been cleared to return to practice.
Bielema did say there's a chance he could return later this week, though.
-Bielema didn't mention any other specific injuries, instead he focused on the fact that several players arrived at Sunday meetings with various nicks and bruises.
"Guys are always banged up a little bit more after a loss than a win," Bielema said. "We had a number of guys come in with some bangs and bruises but nothing that should withhold anybody from Saturday."
-Senior quarterback Russell Wilson was named a finalist for the Maxwell Award, given annually to the nation's most outstanding player.
-Senior punter Brad Nortman is one of the nominees for the Ray Guy Award, given annually to the nation's best punter.
Bret Bielema on his message to his team Sunday afternoon:
"I kind of went around the room and talked about taking things personally. As a man, a lot of times guys take things to heart with what they really believe to be a big part of who they are and what they are. I pointed out certain guys around the room and stressed for us to get where we need to be, whether you played good ball or didn't play well, whether you played 80 snaps well and five wrong, take it personally. Try to carry that forward to help the team."
The following is Bielema's audio file from Monday's presser:
The following is Russell Wilson's audio from Monday afternoon: