November 18, 2010

Big House brings bad memories

MADISON -- When he woke up on Sept. 27, 2008, Aaron Henry saw his team come out of the locker room, in front of a crowd of 109,833, leading 19-0 on the road at Michigan.

Henry watched for a few minutes before turning the game off for most of the third quarter. When he tuned back in, things weren't going so well for Wisconsin.

"I thought, 'this game's over,'" Henry said of his first reaction. "When I turned it back on, man, the game was really, really close. It was very, very frustrating and I was a little disappointed to see how things turned out.

"I was very surprised. We were doing everything well as far as our defense goes, and our offense was pretty much doing what they wanted to. But their offense is a big play offense, and they had a couple of big plays. That woke that crowd of 110,000 people up."

Just minutes before Henry turned the game on, that same crowd was awake and fired up, but not in a way the Wolverines were accustomed to hearing.

"I remember their fans were giving us a pat on the back, telling us we were doing a good job, and they were booing their own team," Culmer St. Jean recalled. "That was probably a first, but that's what happens when you get up 19-0 going into the half on the road."

With such a commanding lead through two quarters, the Badgers had plenty of confidence going into the locker room at halftime. Perhaps even too much.

That's not too surprising, though, when you consider that Wisconsin outgained Michigan 202 yards to 21 in the first half, while running nearly twice as many plays offensively. Add in more than 20 minutes in time of possession, and the Badgers certainly had quite the half.

Unfortunately, out of five scoring drives, four ended in field goals. Wisconsin went just 1-for-10 on third downs in the first half, and only once punched it in the end zone for a touchdown.

"It was terrible," Bill Nagy said. "It was just one of those games where we had so many opportunities in the first half, and the defense played their tails off in the first half, but the offense, we just couldn't capitalize. We got some field goals and it ended up catching up with us in the second half because they had some big plays. That was just a terrible feeling watching that slip away."

At halftime, leaving the Big House with a loss was the farthest thing from the minds of Badgers as they sat in the visitors' locker room.

After all, in their minds, they had already won.

"All our guys were piping off in the locker room, we thought it was over, but obviously it wasn't," senior safety Jay Valai said. "They came out and they showed that to us."

"We felt good about ourselves. We were definitely feeling good and I think that's what killed us," St. Jean added. "We went in and I don't think we had the same attack mindset in the second half. We thought they were just going to be flat coming into the second half and they definitely did the total opposite."

Fortunately, the lesson of that 2008 debacle has not been lost on the 2010 Badgers.

They've shown an ability to win on the road already this year, knocking off Iowa at Kinnick Stadium and winning at Purdue earlier this month. Perhaps more importantly, though, they also have shown they're not afraid to keep their foot firmly on the gas pedal.

With a 21-0 early lead against the then-No. 1 Buckeyes a month ago, the Badgers didn't get complacent. Even when Ohio State cut the lead to three points in the second half, Wisconsin answered with a couple scores to seal the game.

More recently, UW made national headlines by putting up 83 points against Indiana last week. Even after leading 38-10 at the half, Bret Bielema's squad stayed aggressive.

"You just learn from your lessons," Valai said. "Don't ever feel satisfied when you're on the football field, you just keep playing hard. We've got to learn from it and make sure it doesn't happen this year.

"Keep playing. Don't count your eggs before they hatch, because that's what we did at halftime."

For those that might worry the team is too focused on the revenge factor and is not concerned enough with the 2010 Michigan Wolverines, don't worry.

As the fifth-ranked team in the nation, Wisconsin is well aware of the situation at hand.

"We definitely learned from that game, but it's not like we're sitting here thinking about it every single day," said defensive end J.J. Watt. "We're the 2010 Wisconsin Badgers, not the 2008 Wisconsin Badgers."


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