first_imgFor the past month, all the Wisconsin Badgers asked for was another chance. Saturday night in Indianapolis, they’ll get it.In the Big Ten’s inaugural conference championship game, the No. 15 Badgers (10-2, 6-2) will get a rematch against No. 13 Michigan State (10-2, 7-1) at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.After its 45-7 win over Penn State last Saturday, Wisconsin wrapped up the Big Ten Leaders Division. Michigan State had clinched the Legends Division a week earlier after routing Indiana 55-3, and followed that up with a 31-17 win over Northwestern.But the principal theme of Saturday night’s rematch will be the Badgers’ quest for redemption after losing one of the most exciting games of the entire college football season Oct. 22 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. The Badgers trailed 31-17 entering the fourth quarter but managed to build a furious comeback, tying the game with 1:26 remaining after an eight-play, 87-yard drive.That was ultimately enough time for Michigan State’s offense, as quarterback Kirk Cousins led the Spartans down the field after a short kickoff, and with four seconds remaining, chucked a 44-yard Hail Mary to Wisconsin’s goal line. The pass was deflected in the endzone back toward the one-yard line, where MSU wide receiver Keith Nichol caught it and fought his way back over the plane. Nichol was initially ruled down at the one-yard line, but an officials review determined he had indeed scored as time expired.The loss ruined Wisconsin’s perfect season, and after another last-minute loss the next week at Ohio State, its national title hopes were shot. Since those two losses, though, the Badgers have trounced their four opponents by a combined score of 177-54 and put themselves in position to gain vindication Saturday night.“I think about it every day, probably,” middle linebacker Chris Borland said of the MSU loss. “I think about the Ohio State loss every day, too. Those things stick with me. It’s a motivator for our preparation, and we don’t want to go through that again.”Michigan State also lost the week after the Wisconsin game, falling on the road to Nebraska 24-3. Since then, the Spartans have won their last four games.Both teams, naturally, will bring slightly different teams to Indianapolis this weekend. The Badgers will likely go up to kickoff without knowing if starting center Peter Konz will play as he continues to recover from a dislocated ankle suffered Nov. 12 at Minnesota. Konz hasn’t played since, and Travis Frederick, who slid over to center from left guard in the second half of the Nov. 19 game at Illinois, will do the same if Konz is unable to play.“I could play right now, and it would just be discomfort,” Konz said. “But I want to be 100 percent. Every day, I’m hoping it loosens up a little bit.”Although the final Hail Mary ultimately was the game’s defining moment, the Badgers suffered several other miscues that erased their early lead and dug a hole too deep to overcome in the second half. Beginning early in the second quarter, Wilson dropped back to pass inside Wisconsin’s own endzone, was pressured and threw the ball away. Intentional grounding was called, however, giving Michigan State a safety.Two minutes later, wide receiver Keshawn Martin took a double-reverse 35-yards for a touchdown that brought MSU to within 14-9. After a 35-yard pass from Cousins to wide receiver B.J. Cunningham on a 4th-and-2 at the 1:20 mark, Michigan State’s special teams unit blocked Wisconsin’s Brad Nortman’s punt and recovered it in the endzone for a touchdown with 37 seconds left in the first half. That gave MSU its 23-14 halftime lead and began what would become a season-long struggle on special teams for UW.“The reverse they scored on, the fourth-down pass they scored on and the blocked punt all stand out to me,” Borland said. “I think a lot’s made of that Hail Mary, but if we didn’t make those mistakes, it’s a different game. Give credit to them, they capitalized.”Wisconsin also struggled mightily on third downs, allowing Michigan State several chances to keep its offense on the field and wear down the Badgers’ defense. The Spartans held the ball for only three minutes longer than the Badgers, but MSU converted eight of its 16 third downs (UW was 4-for-9), a mark that was heavily aided by the six penalties committed by Wisconsin that resulted in 40 yards.“First off, you’ve got to give credit to them,” defensive end Brendan Kelly said. “They’re one of the best third-down conversion teams in the league right now. Secondly … as far as D-linemen go, we personally have to do a better job of getting to the quarterback. We had four sacks that game, but we’ve got to one-up that to win. If four’s not good enough, we need five. If five’s not good enough, we need to get six.”So despite dropping two of their first four Big Ten games, reaching the conference championship brings the Badgers to within one game of returning to the Rose Bowl, where they lost to Texas Christian 21-19 last year.First, though, they’ll have to conquer the Spartans. In the 10 games the two teams have played since 2000, each has won five games. On neutral territory at Lucas Oil Stadium, it seems only fitting that tie will be broken.“They’ll be ready for us, and we’ll be ready for them,” Borland said. “It’s not going to be tricks and gadgets this game, it’s going to be bone-on-bone, Big Ten football.”last_img

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