MADISON - It wasn’t the start Marcus Trotter was hoping for as he started his final game in Camp Randall Stadium, a missed tackle leading to a long touchdown run and a 14-3 deficit to border-rival Minnesota.
Good thing he had three more quarters left to make a statement, a chance Trotter didn’t let slip by.
Registering a career-high 14 tackles, including a key tackle for loss in the third quarter, Trotter and No.14 Wisconsin closed out its home schedule a perfect 7-0 and winners of the Big Ten West Division following a 34-24 victory over No.22 Minnesota Saturday.“It means the world to me,” UW coach Gary Andersen said about Trotter’s performance. “Marcus Trotter is a kid, the first thing he says is ‘thanks for giving me the opportunity to play coach’ when you tell him nice game or great job, or ‘thanks for believing in me.’ That’s coming out of his mouth, four or five times throughout the season and it did again (Saturday).
“As a coach that is very satisfying to me, very, very satisfying to know that he bought in, he kept on fighting, he kept on believing in himself, he believed in the defense, he knew that position was his to take...he made some big time plays, he plays with such energy and passion, it’s fun to see a young man like that have success.”
With Wisconsin’s offense struggling in the first half and special teams not helping matters in terms of starting field position, Trotter and the rest of the defense in some tough situations. Two of the first four possessions for Minnesota started in Wisconsin territory, at the 13- and 40-yard line, both drives that resulting in rushing touchdowns.
The second touchdown run, a 40-yard scamper by David Cobb, was particularly painful to Trotter, who had a chance to stop the tailback past the line of scrimmage but couldn’t finish the play.
“I missed a tackle on their touchdown run so I put that blame on me,” Trotter said. “I think we really have to work on our basics and techniques because you can be there at the right place and time but if you don’t make the play what good is it so I think we learned that.”
Trotter and the rest of the defense started to make the tackles that they normally make in the second half. Trotter in particular made up for his miss when he was able to stuff Cobb on third-and-one in the third quarter, a critical juncture on the drive after Wisconsin took its first lead of the game.
“Once we went into halftime we talked to each other; we told ourselves that we can’t miss tackles,” said Trotter. “Even if it takes three guys to take down Cobb, that has to happen, and when I had the opportunity to take him down, I really wanted to show my teammates that I’m going to give it all every single play, and I know my teammates did the same thing.”
Coming into the game it was a question mark on whether or not Cobb was going to play due to a hamstring injury suffered in Minnesota’s win over Nebraska last weekend. Trotter, especially, was counting on seeing Cobb since his own personal lingering hamstring issues in previous games.
Cobb finished the first half with 95 rushing yards on 16 carries (5.9 yards per carry) and a touchdown. He finished the game with only 23 more yards on nine second-half carries.
After Minnesota rushed for 74 yards in the first quarter, the Gophers managed only 103 the rest of the game.“When he was running the football, I was like man, this guy is a beast,” Trotter said. “But I’m really happy that we faced him just because he’s such a good running back and he’s so hard to bring down.” After being seldom used during his first three seasons, Trotter has taken advantage of the void left by Chris Borland in the middle of the Wisconsin defense. Appearing to get stronger as the season presses on, Trotter has registered 34 tackles in UW’s high-profile wins over Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.
“I always tell my brother I wish I had one more year but just given the chance to play as a senior has been great, and I’m feeling like I’m getting more comfortable with the scheme and making more plays,” Trotter said. “I think that is why I was so upset about being hurt for the Northwestern game at that time, I felt like I was getting in my groove and that kind of knocked me off. But these last couple of games I feel like I’m getting in my zone and helping the team as much as possible.”
Had former head coach Bret Bielema got his way, who knows where Trotter would have ended up. Committing on signing day in February 2010 to a deal where he would walk on his first two seasons before being on scholarship, Bielema wanted Trotter to be the team’s starting fullback. Feeling he could succeed as a college linebacker, Trotter stuck to his guns.
Getting the first opportunity to play meaningful reps last season in place of Borland, Trotter delivered back-to-back nine tackle performances and set the tone for a senior season that now heads to the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.
“There were certain times here where I was like, ‘dang, Coach Bielema might be right I may have to go to fullback,’ because I wasn’t getting any plays or any opportunities at linebacker,” said Trotter. “I think it is just a good example of if you really believe in what you can do, even if you are not getting the opportunity, just keep on working because sooner or later something will happen.”