Announcing the captains for the upcoming season, Ewing, a one-time walk-on from Richland Center (Wis.) turned scholarship player, got emotional talking about the responsibility his teammates had given him and when talking about what the Badgers program means to him growing up 60 minutes to the west.
Captaining a program that means so much, one can totally understand how Ewing and his teammates are feeling heading into the month of November.
"It's been tough with obviously two tough losses," Ewing said. "It's been a lot of different emotions from a lot of different guys. Sad, mad, disappointed whatever it may be and I felt all of those."
Ewing's wave of emotions perfectly encapsulates what No.19 Wisconsin (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) has gone through in the last two weekends. Ranked No.4 in the polls and No.6 in the BCS, the Badgers 13-game regular-season winning streak was snapped when Michigan State completed a Hail Mary pass with no time remaining.
Dropping eight spots to No.12 in the polls, Wisconsin was victimized again by shoddy defense on a deep pass in the final minute to lose to Ohio State. After picking themselves off the mat once already, the Badgers have to find the strength to do it again when it faces Purdue (4-4, 2-2 Big Ten) at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday.
"To be a leader of this team, it's about learning from those mistakes, turning the page and getting better," Ewing said. "It's frustrating that it happened two weeks in a row, but I believe that we've turned the page now. We're starting to prepare for Purdue."
The prep for Purdue (4-4, 2-2 Big Ten) isn't as easy as one might assume. Not only have the Boilermakers not lost two in a row this season, the Boilermakers have only lost by double-digits twice and nearly shocked a seventh-ranked Wisconsin team in Ross-Ade Stadium last fall.
Wisconsin was out of sorts in the first half coming off a bye week, scoring just two field goals on five possessions and trailed 10-6. The Badgers recovered by creating turnovers, scoring 21 second-half points off three interceptions, and outscoring Purdue, 28-3, after halftime.
"They did some different things, stuff they hadn't done all year until that game and it turned out pretty effective," said senior guard Kevin Zeitler. "It was a little confusing, but we talked about it after halftime and we got it going. It still wasn't that smooth in the second half, but we got it done.
"We saw what they did last year on film a couple times this year. Now we know what it is, but I am sure they are going to come up with something. We just have to be able to start faster."
If this were 2010, Wisconsin's chances to play in Pasadena would have taken a serious hit after consecutive road losses. Thanks to the first year of divisional play in the Big Ten this year, the Badgers still have a legitimate path to the title game and the Rose Bowl instead of hovering near fifth place in the conference.
The only undefeated team in Big Ten play is Penn State (5-0), which is on top of the Leaders Division. Wisconsin is one of three teams, along with Ohio State and Purdue, tied for second place at 2-2.
If three teams tie for first in a division, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head record and the second is record within the division. Knowing that, the Badgers will need to win out (including a victory at home over Penn State on Nov.26), need the Nittany Lions to lose another of their remaining two games (vs. Nebraska, at Ohio State) and have the Buckeyes lose another game.
So even with a couple of tough losses, winning a Big Ten championship and getting to a Rose Bowl is still on the table for the football program.
"That's exciting with the new way the conference is set up," Ewing said. "Right now, our backs are against the wall, and we need to take care of business before any of those lines up. It all starts Saturday with Purdue."
And if Wisconsin wants to get off the snide, the Badgers will have to start quicker. Purdue ranks sixth in the conference in scoring (27.0 points per game), seventh in scoring defense (22.0) and rushing offense (181.8 yards per game) and eighth in passing (195.8 ypg) and passing defense (205.1). The numbers aren't much, but they helped Purdue upset then-No.21 Illinois and rack up 344 yards against a stingy Penn State defense before a late interception resulted in a five point road loss.
Even with its struggles against Michigan last week, allowing seven plays of 20 yards or more, Purdue has allowed only 26 offensive plays of 20 yards or more, meaning Wisconsin will need to be crisp to get its big opportunities.
"We have to continue to pay attention to details," Ewing said. "You can't get lulled to sleep and you have to be able to execute when opportunities come about. You never know what plays are going to make a difference in the game. You look at some of the punt blocks and field goal blocks, at the time you say you can bounce back from it but when you really look back and examine the game, that's a turning point in the game. We can't let that happen anymore."
Purdue (4-4, 2-2 Big Ten – Leaders) vs. No.19/No.20 (AP/BCS) Wisconsin (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten - Leaders)
Date/Time - Saturday, November 5 at 2:36 p.m. CT
Stadium –Camp Randall Stadium (80,321/FieldTurf)
Television - ABC (Mike Patrick, Craig James)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas), Sirius Ch.85, XM Ch.85
Series – Wisconsin leads 41-29-8 (22-13-5 in Madison)
Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 34-13, on Nov. 6, 2010 in West Lafayette, Ind.
Wisconsin has won the last five games in the series, outscoring Purdue 146-53 in those games.
In 2004, Wisconsin overcame a 17-7 fourth-quarter deficit with a pair of touchdowns in the final six minutes of the game to post a 20-17 victory over the fifth-ranked Boilermakers. The Badgers' game-winning score came courtesy of a 40-yard fumble return by cornerback Scott Starks when it looked as though Purdue QB Kyle Orton had converted a third down. Starks is currently a student assistant coach with the Badgers.
In 1982, Wisconsin overcame a 31-23 deficit by scoring two touchdowns in the 1:29 en route to a 35-31 victory at Purdue. LB Jim Melka returned a blocked punt 30 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
The Badgers have been ranked going into eight of the last 10 meetings with Purdue. The Badgers are 11-1-1 against the Boilermakers when they are ranked and Purdue is not.
UW assistant coach DeMontie Cross was on staff at Purdue for just a couple of weeks this winter. Cross was hired by the Boilermakers after spending five seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Soon after that happened, the Badgers had a vacancy left by Greg Jackson's departure to the San Francisco 49ers and head coach Bret Bielema hired Cross.
UW ranks among the top 10 nationally in 12 categories: fewest fumbles lost (tied for first), passing efficiency (second), third-down conversions (second), fewest turnovers lost (second), fewest tackles for loss allowed (third), red zone offense (fourth), passing defense (fourth), punt returns (fifth), scoring offense (sixth), fewest interceptions thrown (tied for seventh), scoring defense (ninth) and total offense (10th). Senior QB Russell Wilson leads the country and is on pace to break the NCAA record in pass efficiency at 197.0 (NCAA record held by Colt Brennan, Hawaii, 2006 - 186.0), yards per pass attempt at 11.2 (NCAA record held by Ty Detmer, BYU, 1989 – 11.1) and yards per play at 10.2 (NCAA record held by Colt Brennan, Hawaii, 2006 – 9.2). Wilson has also thrown at least one TD pass in 32-straight games. The NCAA record is 36 in a row held by Texas Tech's Graham Harrell.
Wisconsin and Boise State are the only two teams in the country to rank among the top 10 in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
UW is 15-2 in regular season games played after Nov. 1 in head coach Bret Bielema's six seasons.
Through Through the first eight games of the season, Purdue has lost merely three fumbles (of which only two have been on offense). Perhaps the most impressive part of the ball protection is that Purdue has seen 16 different players rush with the ball this season and not a single runner has coughed it up on 317 carries.
Sophomore cornerback Ricardo Allen returned a MarQueis Gray interception 37 yards for a touchdown on Oct. 8. The pick-six marked the third of his career in merely 17 games played and tied him for the school record with former All-American cornerback Rod Woodson (1983-86) and linebacker Mike Rose (1996-99). Allen has racked up 166 return yards on his three pick-sixes.
Despite averaging over 180 yards rushing per game and ranking in the upper third of FBS teams this season, the Boilermakers do not have a single individual among the top runners in the country. Purdue's ground game has been a true team effort as eight different players have double-digit carries, four have rushed for over 100 yards for the year and six different rushers have scored touchdowns.
Caleb TerBush's consecutive starts to open the 2011 season marks the first time since Joey Elliott started all 12 games in 2009 that a Boilermaker signal caller has been under center for eight straight starts. TerBush's 1,283 yards passing this season have already eclipsed Rob Henry's team-leading total of 996 last year.
No matter if Wisconsin is preparing for Alabama or Alabama State, the week of preparation that the Badgers partake in never changes. So even after a difficult two weeks on the road, weeks that have already altered the final destination this season, it's no surprise that the preparation for Saturday hasn't changed.
"We've had some great Tuesdays and this was one of our better ones," Ewing said. "We were pretty clean. Sometimes it gets sloppy because you are installing different stuff and you are working on different fits. I think guys got in and watched some film, so we're looking forward to getting back on the field."
One of things that have sparked Wisconsin offense is Ewing, a senior walk-on captain that had added another dimension to the offense. In addition to the Badgers' potent running game with Montee Ball, the Badgers have seen Ewing and senior quarterback Russell Wilson develop a solid connection. Not only is Wilson giving career seasons to Jared Abbrederis, Jacob Pedersen and the like, he's turned Ewing into a big-time pass threat, as the duo are a perfect 11 of 11 on completions this season.
"It's really a product of the offense," Ewing said. "We run a lot out of the ‘21' personnel with a fullback and a tailback. It sets up that play-action type sneak out pass. It's really off a run fake and it's a viable option to hopefully give us a first down and move the chains. I think to be able to do that, it's only going to help set up the run more and set up the deeper routes."
Wisconsin's offense is more dynamic than it was last season when it beat Purdue by 21 points, but there are still reasons to be concerned.
Under Bret Bielema, Wisconsin is 6-5 in the calendar week after a loss, and haven't had a truly crisp performance since throttling Indiana, 55-20, in front of 30,816 yawning fans in 2008. If the Badgers want to be crisp and cover the 26-point spread, they'll keep the ball on the ground, as Purdue is ninth against the run (169.5).
Think what a win would do not only for this team, but for the diehards in Badger Nation?
"It's going to get us back on track," Ewing said. "We'll be right back on track playing Wisconsin football and doing the little things that we pride ourselves on."
It won't be easy, but Wisconsin should take care of business.
Wisconsin 45, Purdue 18
Straight up: 6-2
Against the Spread: 5-3
Join the Badger conversation on Facebook! Go to our Facebook page and "like" us!
For more Badger sports news, notes and discussion, especially on game day, follow Badger Nation on Twitter @TheBadgerNation