MADISON - It’s easy to get up for a season opener, especially when players get a chance to play in one of the premier stadiums in the world against one of the best teams in the country. It takes something completely different to get ready for a team stuck at the bottom of college football.
“Every game is a big game,” said senior fullback Derek Watt. “You can’t take any game lightly, especially in college football. Every game is important. You can’t lose. That’s the bottom line. You are never satisfied with a loss.”
That’s dangerous news for the Redhawks considering an angry Badgers team is 68-7 (.907) at home since the start of the 2004 season and have a 32 game nonconference home winning streak that is the eighth longest in NCAA history in the modern era (since 1946).
“We love playing here,” said head coach Paul Chryst. “I can say that because I've been around games here. It is a special place and our kids know that. When you play at home, it puts a little bit of a welcome pressure on you, because you want to play well in front of what we -- biased opinion -- think are great fans. I'm excited we get that opportunity this week and what we do with those opportunities at home, that's on us.”
The first meeting between the two schools represents two programs on opposite ends of the spectrum. While Wisconsin has been a consistent winner the last decade, the Redhawks’ 26-7 victory over Presbyterian in their home opener Saturday was just the program’s third win since November 2012 and first in a season opener since 2007.
Progress was slow for first year head coach Chuck Martin – a former Notre Dame assistant - in Oxford last season, as the Redhawks lost 10 games, including five by one possession.
And while the RedHawks surrendered at least 30 points in eight games and were outscored, 31.8-22.3, per game, they improved in multiple categories from their disastrous 0-12 season, including total yards on offense, touchdowns scored, total yards allowed and total points allowed.
A young offense (only three returning starters) got off to a good start with 466 total yards and seeing senior quarterback Drew Kummer throwing two touchdown passes, doubling his career total.
“Any time you spread it out, you've got to be great on communication and you've got to be great in open space, tackling, some of those same things we talked about, really, in recapping the Alabama game,” said Chryst. “Right now we've got to clean those up. We'll be tested on it.”
After being limited to 40 rushing yards against Alabama, Wisconsin’s rushing attack will be tested by a Redhawks defense that returns eight starters (including all four linemen) and have the ability to load the box, forcing senior quarterback Joel Stave to again open things up through the air.
“Obviously we would have liked the outcome to be different but it’s one game of a 12 game season, and we have everything we want still in front of us,” said Stave. “It’s just a matter of taking it one day at a time, one week at a time and just focusing on our next opponent … You treat everyone the same way. Once you are able to build that consistency knowing that every week you prepare like you are playing the Packers, then it doesn’t matter who you play.”
Wisconsin owns a 30-2 all-time record against teams currently in the Mid-American Conference — with both losses coming at home during Chryst’s 1988 senior season. The Badgers have played teams from the conference eight times in the last 10 years, including last season’s 68-17 win over Bowling Green.
“The MAC is a great conference,” said Watt, who had five offers from the conference out of high school, including Miami. “There are great teams there that have beaten Big Ten teams and teams from other conferences every year. We’re going to take this game just like any other game, prepare for it and do the best we can this week.”