first_imgRemember those late-October nightmares, courtesy of Michigan State and Ohio State?For the Wisconsin Badgers, now Big Ten Leaders Division champions and one of the two participants in Saturday’s inaugural conference title game, the memories from that pair of last-minute losses never faded. As expected, they were the driving force behind a four-game winning streak that has put them 60 minutes from a second-consecutive Rose Bowl berth.Along the way, Wisconsin dropped 62 points on a Purdue squad that was the Badgers’ first opponent after the harrowing loss at Ohio State and maintained possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the eighth straight year, but the most prized outcome from UW’s November was much simpler.After seeing their season dramatically transformed at the hands of Michigan State and Ohio State, Wisconsin is now playing its best football at the most crucial moment in the season.Plenty of attention will be heaped upon the Spartans and their own four-game winning streak, the latter half of which featured a pair of games won by a combined 66 points, but those came against Indiana and Northwestern – two Big Ten bottom-feeders. Meanwhile, Wisconsin enjoyed its first true road victory of the season – a resounding come-from-behind victory at Illinois, which has the nation’s No. 21 scoring defense. Then Saturday, the Badgers trounced the Penn State Nittany Lions, the nation’s No. 8 scoring defense, 45-7.“To go back to four weeks ago, that Sunday after Ohio State, we laid out a plan for these guys to get through the next four weeks,” head coach Bret Bielema said. “If they were able to concentrate on a daily plan, they would get through each week and take the next step forward to get to Indianapolis.”While Lucas Oil Stadium presents a neutral site for the Big Ten Championship Game, the Badgers surely feel much better having won on the road in Champaign Nov. 19. Sure, the now head coach-less Illini have sputtered to a 0-6 finish after opening the season with six consecutive victories. But once Wisconsin’s noted struggles on the road manifested themselves in the form of a 17-7 halftime deficit, it was same old, same old for UW.Of course, Wisconsin’s defense recovered in the second half, shutting out Illinois’ offense and forcing four turnovers. UW’s offensive line, which allowed two sacks in the first half, also came together to allow quarterback Russell Wilson to complete 10 of his 13 passes for 90 yards and one touchdown, as well as running back Montee Ball to rush for a career-high 224 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries.Saturday, back at home against Penn State, Wisconsin also mounted a comeback effort – though the Badgers trailed for barely more than five minutes in the first quarter. A miscommunication between safety Aaron Henry and cornerback Antonio Fenelus left PSU wide receiver Curtis Drake wide open behind UW’s defense, resulting in a 44-yard touchdown pass.But once Jared Abbrederis capped a 10-play, 76-yard drive with a 21-yard touchdown reception, the Badgers tied the game and never relinquished its share of the lead. Wilson and Ball had a hand in each of Wisconsin’s ensuing scores, as Wilson threw another touchdown pass just before halftime and Ball tied a career-high with four rushing touchdowns to complement his 156 rushing yards (6.2 per carry).The principal takeaway from the 38-point blowout was obviously Wisconsin’s berth in the Big Ten title game, but the matter in which the rout was constructed might be most beneficial moving forward. Against arguably the toughest Big Ten defense they faced, the Badgers set forth one of their most dominant efforts of the season. UW’s lone turnover came on a James White fumble with 1:04 remaining in the game and the score already at 45-7. Furthermore, through three quarters of play, the Badgers committed just two penalties for 10 yards. They finished with four penalties for 35 yards, a stunning number for a team that held the ball for 38:17 of the game – nearly 17 minutes more than its opposition.So as the Badgers approach their long-awaited rematch with the Spartans, the team that’s haunted them more so than perhaps any other in recent Big Ten history, they’ll do so playing their best football. As players and coaches, they’ll say there are things to improve on – namely the aforementioned miscommunications and also third-down defense, a critical area of weakness in the first MSU game. But in their two biggest tests since the pair of Michigan State and Ohio State road trips, Wisconsin won on the road, limited mistakes and took care of business. They were a winning team before these last two games, and now they’re one primed to take advantage of a season that once seemed destined to wither under the glare of intensely high expectations.Mike is a senior majoring in journalism. How confident are you as the Badgers head to Indianapolis? Let him know on Twitter @mikefiammetta and be sure to follow @BHeraldSports for all the latest Badgers news.He’ll also be on the broadcast for WSUM 91.7 FM for live coverage of the Big Ten Championship game, beginning with a live preview show from Indianapolis Friday afternoon and then the game itself Saturday at 7 p.m. CT. You can also listen live at wsum.org.last_img