Then the Badgers brought 2010 and their supremacy over the Wolverines back into sharp reality.
UW pounded the UM defense into the ground, rushing 58 times for 357 yards as Wisconsin went on to win 48-28. The Badgers called running plays 28 straight times to finish out the game, imposing their will on an overwhelmed defense and keeping the quick-strike Wolverine offense off the field for 36:59 of game time. It was Wisconsin's first win in Michigan since 1994 and their first win in the state of Michigan since 2002.
The most important date, however, remains ridding the memory of 2008.
"Right off the bat I definitely thought about it," UW captain John Moffitt said of the Badgers blowing a 19-0 halftime lead two years ago in the Big House. "It is unnatural to not think about it, it is too big not to. Last time I was here I remember a lot of it vividly and so we know what we had to do, I think this team learns from history and the past. We have changed it and done things the right way."
So what are the changes between 2008 and 2010?
You can go with leadership. Or maturity. Perhaps focus.
Whatever buzzword cliché you choose to use, it cannot completely describe the intangible difference throughout the Badgers roster that has led to some very tangible results.
Moffitt, a fifth-year senior who has been with Bielema since Day One, offered up his opinion after the game — a simple attitude change.
"I think the great thing is that the older guys, the juniors and seniors understand it," Moffitt said. "And they are good at reminding the young guys who need it a little bit more. Because it is a lot, it is a lot to go on. We maintain our focus."
That focus was readily apparent throughout the third quarter. With the Badgers leading 24-0 at intermission, Michigan came out ready to make a game of it in the second half. Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson got things going with a 10 play, 71-yard drive to open the quarter culminating with a 24-yard touchdown strike.
Wisconsin wide receiver Isaac Anderson fumbled to give Michigan the ball in Wisconsin territory one drive later, and it took all of two Robinson plays to score a touchdown and send hideous flashbacks in the mind of every Badger supporter.
None of it came to fruition though, with the Badgers running seven straight times before James White burst through the left side for a 23-yard touchdown.
Like they have all season, Wisconsin thrived on the adversity.
"You can't tap somebody on the head and tell them they are tough. They have to believe it. It has to be a part of who they are so when times get tough there is no questioning how tough they are," Bielema said.
With Robinson and the Wolverine offense functioning as RichRod dreams it up in the second half, it took J.J. Watt yet again to put a dent in the best laid offensive plans.
Watt, who finished the game with two batted passes and third on the team in tackles at six, saved his best for the fourth quarter. With Robinson in a quick drop, Watt, as he as done so many times this season, anticipated the pass and got his hands on it. It went high, high, high in the air — "I thought it took a minute to come down," Watt said. — before the junior defensive end brought it down for an interception.
The resulting drive got the Badgers three more points and chewed another three minutes off the clock, giving UW a 20-point lead with nine minutes to play.
In short, the dagger into any potential comeback.
"They are a good offense and they can score points so quickly as you saw," Watt said. "We were here two years ago, we remembered two years ago and we weren't going to let that happen again."
UW withstood all blows from the Wolverines.
An attempted surprise onside kick was foiled when Bradie Ewing came out from the bottom of a pile with the ball in his hands. The defense stayed in their lanes all day and tackled so surely Michigan defensive coaches may use the game tape as an example of how to hit for their own defense. Robinson finished the game with 121 rushing yards and 239 passing yards, but he needed 47 touches to accumulate the total.
"I thought our defense coaches put together a great plan," Bielema said.
"I thought we tackled very well on the edges and on the perimeter and that led to success."
With Northwestern next on the docket, the Badgers will once again enjoy victory for about 12 hours before getting back to work.
If we are to learn from history, you can be sure Wisconsin will be prepared for the challenge.
2008 is long gone now.
"When it became apparent it was a three-way tie, I told this team 'it is in your hands'," Bielema said. "There are very few times in your life when everything you want is in your hands.
"We just have to handle our business."