"Yeah, I've been to a couple of Northwestern games when I was little," Schabert said. "I think they were my first big college football atmosphere I'd ever been around and it was really cool just to see what the Big Ten was all about."
The Wisconsin quarterback has learned quite a bit about the Big Ten the past two weeks, replacing injured signal-caller Jim Sorgi at critical junctures in a pair of tightly contested conference bouts. Saturday, with Sorgi nursing a knee injury, Schabert will receive his first career start back in Evanston.
"I think he is excited about it," quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton said. "One, it's his first career start. Two, to have it in your home town—it doesn't always work out that way."
Football fans in suburban Chicago likely remember Schabert's prep exploits. One of the most prolific quarterbacks in Illinois high school history, Schabert threw for 6,550 yards (fourth in state history) and 69 touchdowns (third) at Elgin's Larkin High School.
Wisconsin's offense will not change significantly with Schabert at the helm. The junior is among the first to admit he does not have the strongest arm on campus, but Schabert has made solid decisions and displayed a deft touch when he has had the opportunity to play.
"He doesn't have to win the game by himself," Horton said. "We have a lot of great players out there. To get the job done, all you need to do is manage the football game, be a great decision maker, protect the football and get the ball into the hands of our playmakers. If he does those things and shows great leadership qualities, then we will be successful."
Following a redshirt year, Schabert spent two years backing up Brooks Bollinger and Sorgi before moving into the No. 2 role this year. In his career, Schabert has completed 19 of 36 passes for 376 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Prior to this season, Schabert's only extended playing time came two seasons ago against Michigan State when he replaced an injured Sorgi in the third quarter and played well, completing 10 of 18 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns. This season, Schabert has played in seven games, mostly in mop-up duty.
Against Ohio State and Purdue the past two weeks, however, Schabert played a leading role. He entered late in the third quarter against the Buckeyes, after Robert Reynolds' infamous chokehold muffled Sorgi's voice. Schabert responded to the opportunity, completing two of three passes for 104 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans. Just as important, Schabert picked up a key first down with his feet that helped the Badgers run out the clock—picking up six yards on a bootleg run called on a third-and-two.
Last week, Sorgi aggravated a left knee injury at the end of a four-yard run when he was taken awkwardly to the turf. He underwent a minor surgery Sunday and is expected to return to action following Wisconsin's bye week when the Badgers travel to Minnesota Nov. 8.
Schabert's flair for the dramatic did not prove as strong in the 26-23 loss to Purdue, but he was a commendable five of nine for 78 yards.
"I think that it's huge these last couple of weeks getting in and especially in as big of games as they were, against Purdue and Ohio State, it's definitely going to help," Schabert said.
Sorgi, meanwhile, will become an assistant coach of sorts Saturday, helping Schabert along the sidelines.
"He will talk to (Schabert) on the sidelines when he comes off," Horton said. "We do that anyway. He will come to the sideline, each guy has a different area to watch, a different thing to look for and we always make suggestions and those things. So he will just assume that role."
Sorgi's injury also means that redshirt freshman John Stocco becomes the team's backup, while receiver/tight end Owen Daniels will serve as the emergency quarterback. Stocco has not played this season.
"Obviously the learning curve has been accelerated for John," Horton said. "So I have to make sure that he is prepared so if his time comes he can go in there and help us win."
Daniels, a redshirt sophomore, began his UW career as a quarterback and for a time last season was No. 3 on the depth chart. Daniels still spent the bulk of his time working with the receivers during practice this week but took some snaps at quarterback.
"We have a package where we feel comfortable with what he can do and execute it and he feels comfortable with it," Horton said.
"I think it is just like riding a bike," Daniels said. "I played quarterback for so long and it felt pretty comfortable coming back."
Ironically, the last time Matt Schabert started a football game he faced Daniels' eventual state-champion Naperville Central squad in the 1999 Illinois High School Association Class 6A playoffs.
"It was fun for me, it probably wasn't too much fun for him," Daniels said jokingly of Central's 42-6 victory. "I can remember he was a really highly-touted quarterback from the state and I think our defense kind of had that in the back of their minds and we had a real tough defense that year. He played well but we still handled them pretty well."