Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Rose repeat offers redemption for Badgers
By Brian Bennett
Wisconsin defensive end Patrick Butrym couldn't watch "SportsCenter" for about a week last January. He stayed away from any websites that covered college football.
Butrym was so upset by his team's 21-19 loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day that he just had to ignore any mention of it.
"I really had a difficult time coping with it for a long time," he said. "I never did really put it behind me. It still bothers me. It bothers us."
Luckily for him and the Badgers, they have a chance to do something about it on Jan. 2. Rarely does a Big Ten team reach consecutive Rose Bowls. Since 1980, only four other teams have done so -- Michigan 2004-05, Wisconsin 1999-2000, Michigan 1992-93 and Michigan 1989-90.
Last season's Rose Bowl loss to TCU is a painful memory to the Wisconsin Badgers.
Back in Pasadena for a second straight year, this Wisconsin team vows to do things differently this time around against Oregon. It wasn't so much that the Badgers played terribly against TCU; they had a chance to tie the game in the final two minutes, but Scott Tolzien's pass on a two-point conversion try was batted down. Some players just felt as if they could have focused a little harder in bowl preparation, and maybe that would have put them over the top.
"Nobody really knew what to expect last year," safety Aaron Henry said. "A lot of us were going to L.A. for the first time, and there were a lot of distractions. It's Hollywood. We were living in Beverly Hills in an extremely nice hotel. When we got off the plane, I'm sure some guys were in shock."
Remember that even though TCU was the odd duck in last postseason's game as a non-AQ team, the Horned Frogs had played in a BCS game the year before. None of the Badgers had ever been on that stage before. The Rose Bowl is the mecca for Big Ten players, and with all the events and eye candy associated with the game -- Henry gushed this time last year about meeting actress Meagan Good -- it's easy to see how concentration can lapse.
That shouldn't be as much of an issue this year.
"Being there a second time has kind of eliminated that deer in the headlights effect," offensive tackle Josh Oglesby said. "We've seen all the lights. We've seen all the glitz and glamour that goes on with the Rose Bowl. It's more of a been there, done that mentality now. It's more of a business-trip attitude and we're not just happy to be there."
The Badgers will still try to enjoy the experience. They will do the usual events, like the Beef Bowl at Lawry's and Tuesday's arrival trip to Disneyland. Coach Bret Bielema said he'll take a group of players to a Lakers-Knicks game. Bielema is also altering the team's uniforms for this game as a reward.
Bielema said he's going to hold shorter, crisper practices in California to better hold the players' focus.
"With the second trip coming back to back, you try to change up a few things that maybe we did from a year ago, not only practice-wise but also some of the stuff we did away from the field," he said. "We're staying at a great hotel, get a lot of neat opportunities that come about just from being able to be in L.A., so you try to maximize that for the kids as well. ... But when it's time to work, I need you to work."
Bielema said running back Montee Ball is one of the team leaders, making sure that everyone maintains a business attitude. Ball, who was tackled from behind on a 40-yard gain in the game's first play last postseason, used the Rose Bowl as motivation for his offseason workouts. He lost about 20 pounds and responded with a monster season that included a Big Ten rushing title and 38 touchdowns.
A lot of Wisconsin players have stories like that. Butrym remembers turning to a teammate immediately after the TCU loss and saying, "We have to get back here next year." When the team lost back-to-back heartbreakers to Michigan State and Ohio State, the goal of getting back to the Rose Bowl helped keep spirits up.
Oregon has similar motivation after coming up short in the 2010 Rose Bowl against Ohio State and losing the national title game last postseason to Auburn. Some Wisconsin upperclassmen have experience with postseason atonement. The Badgers lost the 2008 Champs Sports Bowl to Florida State before returning to the same game to beat Miami a year later.
They hope to repeat that history in a bigger bowl. Or else they could be facing another long offseason of regret.
"Any time you're right there in reach of having success and then it slips away, it's a feeling you don't want to go through as an athlete," Henry said. "Winning this game would be the icing on the cake for us. And it's no good to eat a cake with no icing on it."