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December 2, 2011
MADISON - As the ball so harmlessly floated through a rather mild October night in East Lansing, sophomore wide receiver Jared Abbrederis was finding his footing in preparation for a much needed defensive moment.
A slight deflection, a carom, a catch.
Just minutes after Keith Nichol - - more known for his positional change from highly touted quarterback than his career as a wide receiver - - was ruled short of the end zone he was granted what every Badger fan feared.
With it, Michigan State stunned the Badgers with a 37-31 win. Abbrederis hung his head for a moment.
"Obviously I mistimed the jump," Abbrederis, UW's second leading receiver, said. "The coaches said I should have knocked it down."
Replays do indeed show Abbrederis jumping earlier than he probably should have. He reached high for the ball that eventually skimmed his fingertip before bouncing off a Spartan facemask and directly into the hands of Nichol.
No excuses can be made for the way that play turned out and no Badger player, Abbrederis included, would try opt for that route.
There can, however, be an understanding.
"I have the mindset of going up and catching the ball every time," Abbrederis said. "I have a different mindset than to knock it down. I think I can keep the same mindset.
"I'll probably just catch it next time if I do the same thing."
That play, one that will surely live in infamy around Wisconsin's capitol, is one of the more daunting, unnerving and devastating plays to ever take place on a college football field.
Michigan State fans will salivate over that replay. Wisconsin fans will yearn for pain relievers.
It's a play that will be shown a number of times during Saturday's Big Ten title game and one that none of the Wisconsin players will ever forget. It was, after all, one of the plays that ended what could have been the best season in Wisconsin football history.
But it's not the only play that served UW wrong in that game.
"The reverse they score on," UW sophomore linebacker Chris Borland started. "The fourth down pass they scored on and the blocked punt all stand out to me. A lot is made of that Hail Mary, but if we don't make those mistakes it's a different game.
"Give credit to them."
Borland has a legitimate point.
Wisconsin doesn't normally give up blocked punts, but as this year has proven, it usually loses when it does.
Wisconsin usually doesn't get flagged for a number of penalties and Russell Wilson doesn't normally throw interceptions.
There were a bevy of uncharacteristic developments in that game that ultimately allowed Michigan State an opportunity to capitalize on a low percentage play. That doesn't discredit what the Spartans did.
But it does give hope to a Badger squad looking for redemption.
"We lost it," UW junior tailback Montee Ball said. "We did it to ourselves. Watching film after that game we noticed that we weren't playing how we normally play.
"We did it to ourselves."
Ball said he last thought of UW's loss to Michigan State nearly two weeks ago, when a number of the top teams in the nation fell victim to the upset bug.
"A couple of us players were talking back and forth saying we could be ranked No. 2," Ball said. "It's just stuff like that. That's the last time I thought about it."
Borland said he's thought about it every single day since it happened. The same can be said of the Ohio State loss.
"Those things stick with you," Borland said. "It's a motivator for our preparation and you don't want to do that again."
Junior safety Shelton Johnson, mired right in the thick of the melee following the Nichol catch, said he hasn't thought about the game since the Ohio State loss. At that time he coupled each of UW's losses together.
That was it.
"The coaches do a good job of really moving us on to next week," Johnson said. "You think about it Saturday night. But Sunday night when we come up for meetings it's all about the next week.
"After that everything else is just in the past, whether it's good, bad or ugly."
Since the loss to Michigan State, and the ensuing one inside the Horseshoe, Wisconsin has played some of its best football.
It smacked around Purdue, demolished Minnesota, snuck past Illinois and blasted Penn State en route to clinching a berth in the inaugural Big Ten title game.
In doing so, UW gets another shot at the same Michigan State team that caused it ridiculous heartache about five weeks ago.
"You don't really get second chances that much," Johnson said. "I'm definitely glad about that. On the same note it's not about Michigan State. It's about us playing in this Big Ten championship and trying to win a trophy.
"Second chances are wonderful."