Badgers to lean on veteran Wilson at MSU

October, 19, 2011
10/19/11
9:00
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Russell Wilson might be rewriting the record book at Wisconsin, but the most important chapters about the quarterback have yet to be drafted.

Here's the deal: A lot of Wisconsin players look really good at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers are 48-4 on their home field since 2004, with most of the wins coming in blowout fashion. While Wilson's historic and virtually flawless start to his Wisconsin career should be celebrated -- the nation-leading 210.9 passer rating, the 14-to-1 touchdowns-to-interception ratio, the 74.2 percent completions -- he's not the first player to sizzle while wearing a red jersey.

This is the week when we'll learn about Russell Wilson. Wisconsin brought in Wilson to lead the Badgers in games like this, against opponents like Michigan State, and in settings like Spartan Stadium.

Great teams need great quarterbacks to step up on the road. Wilson's legacy as a Badger largely will be defined by how he fares away from Madison -- beginning Saturday night in East Lansing.

It's a situation where Wilson's experience -- even more than his ability -- comes in handy.

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Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson will be counted on to lead his team in a crucial road game against Michigan State.
"From my freshman year to my junior year at North Carolina State to now, I know I'm a lot more composed and all that, just from experience," Wilson said. "Not to say I wasn't my freshman year, but more than anything, the more games you play, the more venues you play in, the more comfortable you are."

Wilson hasn't been to Spartan Stadium, which might not be a bad thing, as many of his Badgers teammates have lost two games there since 2008. He hasn't played in a true road game for Wisconsin, as the team's only contest away from Madison was a neutral-site affair in Chicago against Northern Illinois.

But Wilson has played in some raucous settings -- Florida State's Doak Campbell Stadium and Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium among them -- and prepares himself for what to expect on Saturday.

"I'm a big visual person, so I try to visualize myself playing away, in a tough crowd, against a tough team," he said. "It's a great opportunity for our football team, and we just have to execute our offense, stay in the now and, more than anything, we know there's going to be some storms.

"We have to weather those storms."

Wilson has weathered storms in the past, although like many players, he's been rained on, too.

In 2010, Wilson threw seven of his 14 interceptions in six road games for NC State. He completed just 53.2 percent of his passes away from home, as opposed to 63.1 percent at Carter-Finley Stadium. His two lowest passer ratings came in games at Central Florida (73.7 rating, 10-for-30 passing) and East Carolina (96.8 rating, 3 INTs).

As a sophomore in 2009, Wilson had 22 touchdown passes and only five interceptions in eight home games, versus nine touchdowns and six picks in four road games. The Wolfpack went winless on the road that year.

His road highlights for NC State included two wins against archrival North Carolina, a brilliant performance last year in a win at Georgia Tech (368 pass yards, 3 TDs), and a five-touchdown performance at Florida State in 2009, albeit in a losing effort.

Wilson's biggest road game with the Wolfpack came last November at Maryland, as a win would have given NC State an Atlantic division title. He completed 31 of 60 passes for 311 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, and added a rushing touchdown, but NC State lost 38-31.

"It was back and forth," Wilson said.

Despite Wilson's mixed results on the road, his overall inventory should help him heading into Saturday. He's not a stranger to hostile environments. He has performed on the national stage, most recently in Wisconsin's 48-17 win against Nebraska.

"Because of those experiences, that's why you really don't expect to see him rattled," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "Now will he have his awareness? Absolutely. Will he have his head on a swivel? I would guess yes. Will he have his game plan down to the tightest execution possible? I would say yes."

Added Badgers receiver Nick Toon: "He has proven himself up to this point, and I don't have any doubts of his ability to go into that environment and get the job done."

Bielema has raved about Wilson's poise from the moment Wilson arrived on campus through his early success amid building Heisman Trophy hype.

Saturday brings a new challenge, as Bielema said Wilson will face "11 Spartan guys chasing you down with great passion, and it's already been expressed that they love to get after quarterbacks." Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson took a beating in last week's loss to Michigan State. Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Joe Bauserman both struggled against a Spartans defense the leads the nation against the pass, ranks second nationally overall and eighth in sacks with 21.

But Bielema remains confident Wilson is up to the task.

"He's very, very good at communicating with his offensive linemen, his wide receivers, running backs," Bielema said. "Obviously, the road game we had at Northern Illinois, in Soldier Field, isn't going to be anything compared to what we're going to see at Michigan State, but the indicators that he's given me are ones that will make it very favorable for us."

Wilson thinks his top responsibility in road games is preparing the offense for the inevitable ups and downs. The senior knows his teammates will turn to him, and he's willing to guide the ship.

"More than anything, in terms of playing quarterback, you have to trust what you see and just realize it's another opportunity," he said. "A hundred yards is a hundred yards. There may be 80,000 people rooting against you, but that has no effect on what we do and how we execute our offense.

"The main thing is we have to play great, focused offense and great, focused football."

No one will need to be greater and more focused than Wilson for Wisconsin to beat Michigan State.

Russell Wilson and Wisconsin will be featured on tonight’s episode of “Depth Chart,” which airs on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET.

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