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Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Badgers aim to end Big House blues

By Adam Rittenberg

It's somewhat ironic that Wisconsin has been criticized this week for the relentless way it finished a game.

Badgers coach Bret Bielema and his players would rather be called out for running up the score than letting up on the gas. After all, they remember what happened the last time they visited Michigan Stadium.

"It was one of those games where everything seemed to be going our way in the first half," said Wisconsin senior quarterback Scott Tolzien, then a sophomore reserve. "And in the second half, it was the exact opposite. The lesson you take from that is you can't ever ease up.

"You always have to have your foot on the gas pedal."

After running over Indiana to the tune of 83 points last Saturday, the Badgers hit the road this week to face Michigan. The stakes couldn't be higher for No. 7 Wisconsin, which finds itself in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten standings with No. 9 Ohio State and No. 12 Michigan State.

Wisconsin vs. Michigan
Wisconsin's last trip to Michigan Stadium ended in a heartbreaking 27-25 loss.
Given the likelihood that at least one of the three teams wins its final two games, a loss likely eliminates a squad from the race.

Unfortunately for Wisconsin, losses have been the norm at Stadium and Main.

Wisconsin hasn't won at Michigan Stadium since 1994, a span of five games. The Badgers' only losses during the 1998 and 2006 seasons took place at the Big House. Their troubles actually extend beyond Ann Arbor. Wisconsin hasn't won a game in the state of Michigan since 2002, when it recorded a 42-24 victory at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

Two years ago, Wisconsin came to Michigan at 3-0 and ranked No. 9 nationally. The Badgers built a 19-0 halftime lead before a Michigan squad that would go on to win only three games mounted the biggest comeback in stadium history to prevail 27-25. Wisconsin never truly recovered from its Big House collapse, finishing 7-6 that season.

"It got away from us," Tolzien said.

Many Wisconsin players have said the same thing after leaving Michigan Stadium.

"It's been a struggle for a lot of people," Bielema said. "I was talking with [former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez] about his time here and the amount of victories he got up there. I know the only time that we beat Michigan at Michigan when I was a player at Iowa was the only year we went to the Rose Bowl.

"So if you do it, is usually means you're having a pretty special year."

Wisconsin's season certainly qualifies to date, and it will be extra special if the Badgers can finish strong.

The Badgers already have recorded their first win against the nation's No. 1 team since 1981, beating Ohio State on Oct. 16. A week later, Bielema recorded his first road win against a ranked Big Ten opponent when Wisconsin rallied to beat Iowa 31-30.

Wisconsin now takes aim at another milestone.

Although five of Wisconsin's last seven losses have come on the road, including an Oct. 2 defeat at Michigan State, it boasts a senior-laden team that knows what to expect.

"Early on, you might have those big eyes and you’re caught up in the moment," Tolzien said, "but as you get older, you realize it's not too much different than a home game, aside from the communication element. The field is still same size and the game is still played the same way."

Bielema anticipated the struggles at Michigan would be brought up this week, so he discussed it briefly with the team after the Indiana win and again on Sunday.

"The biggest thing is that part of our history happened in the past," he said. "We embraced it and learned from it. Moving forward, this is a different team."

One that hopes to get a different result in Ann Arbor.