Learning to Jump

It was his turn in the defensive coaches' pregame speech rotation, so linebacker coach Dave Huxtable went into his memory bank and illustrated a story of team work and confidence. The results have shown through for No.9 Wisconsin, which now starts preparation for No.6 Oregon and the Rose Bowl.

MADISON - Aaron Henry had heard all the criticism before.

The 2011Wisconsin football team couldn't win a big game on the road, couldn't beat a ranked team and couldn't finish off a team in a four quarter game.

So when Henry was questioned on what the difference was after Wisconsin put two of those three comments to rest following a 28-17 come-from-behind victory over Illinois Nov.19, Henry talked about the defense playing together, having belief in each other and pointing to a passionate pregame speech from linebackers coach Dave Huxtable.

"It'll go down in history," Henry said.

Every week brings a new assistant coach to speak to the defense before the Badgers leave the locker room and Huxtable, with 29 years of college coaching experience, took his turn and went to his reservoir.

The first-year linebacker coach told a story of a group of soldiers flying into battle. The unit packed their individual parachutes on the ground before taking off, including attaching their name to their packed knapsack. When it came time to jump, however, all the nametags had fallen off, making it impossible to determine which parachute belonged to which person.

Instead of trying to find their original parachute, the message was, ‘If you trust everyone else to do their job and pack their parachute right, just grab one and go.'

"It's something I have talked about with defenses in the past," Huxtable said. "It's all about football being the greatest team sport on Earth. There are 11 guys out there and everybody has to trust that everybody is going to do their job."

Huxtable doesn't remember when the story came to him but he made sure to deliver the message that when I go to pull the parachute's rip cord, the chute will pop open and save him from hitting the hard Earth because you did your assignment of packing your chute properly.

That trust has shined through in his defense during No.9 Wisconsin's last three victories, giving the Badgers a return trip to the Rose Bowl January 2 against No.6 Oregon. Hours after Huxtable's speech, Wisconsin created four second-half turnovers that led to 14 second-half points to outlast Illinois.

A week later, four Penn State fumbles turned into 24 Wisconsin points in a 45-7 blowout over the Nittany Lions that sent the Badgers to Indianapolis for the inaugural Big Ten championship game. Wisconsin gave up a ton of yards against Michigan State but turned two turnovers into seven points and forced a key three-and-out by the Spartans in the fourth quarter that allowed UW's offense to milk the rest of the clock for the rosy victory.

"We are already motivated," said Henry, "but when you have a coach like that who can inspire guys to go out and play for each other, it's truly special."

When it comes to four-quarter adversity, Wisconsin owns the edge over Oregon. The Badgers have been in four games where the final result was 11 points or less (2-2) and three when the final score was six points or less (1-2), all coming on the road. The Ducks have only been in one such game (38-35 loss to USC) and that came at home.

"This team defines what ‘team' is all about," Huxtable said of his unit. "These guys have been resilient. These guys have come back as a team, a defense, an offense and a special teams group. It speaks to the volumes to the kind of character we have on this team and to the coaching staff for keeping this team together, starting from the head coach down to the assistants. To bounce back from the kind of losses we had to be in the position we are in says a lot about the character they have."

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