The rule is doubly important this week, with yet another conference favorite coming to grace Camp Randall Stadium. Ohio State may have been the reigning champs, but Purdue, quite possibly the best team Wisconsin has faced this season, provides a whole new set of challenges.
First, though, there was time to celebrate and every reason to do so.
"I've learned in this business when you win a game you had better celebrate and enjoy it," Alvarez said.
Wisconsin, for one, withstood a late challenge Saturday night from the team that could not be denied over the course of its 19-game jaunt.
The Badgers learned that lesson last season when a 14-13 fourth quarter lead, again at Camp Randall, dissipated. Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel, though, connected with receiver Michael Jenkins for a 46-yard strike, setting up a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ben Hartsock that proved to be the difference in a 19-14 loss.
This year, Wisconsin led 10-3 when Krenzel struck for 46 yards. This time it was to receiver Drew Carter, who laid out to make a fantastic catch at the six-yard line. Two plays later, Krenzel found Jenkins in the end zone to tie the game.
The victory places Wisconsin in a tie atop the Big Ten conference with Michigan State at 3-0. Purdue is also undefeated, a half game back at 2-0.
Every reason to celebrate, but only for 24 hours.
"It is another step down, another hurdle cleared," Evans said. "We have another big game coming up next week against Purdue. We are definitely excited about the things we did and about where we are at right now. But we know the winner of this league—it is a long journey, it is a long haul and we have to stay together and stay focused as a team for the long haul to win the conference."
Purdue, like Wisconsin, suffered through a disappointing season last year, but, with the bulk of its team returning, entered 2003 with high expectations to contend for the Big Ten title. The Boilermakers finished 4-4 in conference last season, 7-6 overall but led the Big Ten in total offense and total defense. Purdue simply could not close out games, losing six games by a combined 26 points.
This Saturday the Boilermakers and Badgers will face off in what may prove to be the second of frequent conference title bouts. Other potentially huge games loom on Wisconsin's schedule with Michigan State (3-0 Big Ten, 6-1 overall), Minnesota (2-1, 6-1) and Iowa (1-1, 5-1).
Like the Badgers, Purdue has one blemish on its record this season, an early season loss to a mid-major conference school that has proven to be a solid team. Bowling Green edged the Boilermakers, 27-26, in Purdue's season opener. Bowling Green is 5-1, with its only loss coming at the hands of Ohio State. Wisconsin's 2003 nemesis, UNLV, meanwhile, lost 24-7 to Air Force Saturday to fall to a respectable 4-2.
Purdue possesses an explosive offense, averaging 396.5 yards and 32.5 points per game, along with a defense that rivals the vaunted Buckeyes, allowing just 13 points and 261 yards per game. The Boilermakers employ the type of various set spread offense that tends to discombobulate the Badgers secondary. Purdue, though, can also run the ball, averaging 190.3 yards per game on the ground, which has helped keep a strong defense, led by linebacker Niko Koutouvides and safety Stuart Schweigert, off the field. The Boilermakers, like the Buckeyes, will bring a much-ballyhooed run defense into Camp Randall. Purdue is allowing just 60.8 yards per game rushing.
"Our defense is experienced," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "Nine of our 11 starters are back from last year, and I think it begins with that."