Badgers insist they did not look ahead

Despite many distractions, Wisconsin was focused on Michigan State

EAST LANSING, Mich.—As soon as it was apparent the University of Wisconsin's undefeated dream was coming to an end, the usual suspects raised their ugly heads.

The then-No. 4 team in the nation losing 49-14 at Michigan State? The Badgers had to have been looking ahead to Iowa. Or perhaps feeling the pressure of an undefeated season. Or looking too closely at the BCS standings, bitterly wondering why those California Golden Bears were still ahead of them. Or expecting a traumatized Spartan squad to be easy pickings.

Wrong on all counts.

"We were really focused on Michigan State this week. Nobody overlooked them. I can say that honestly," senior strong safety Robert Brooks said.

"That's how it is and that's how it's been all season," Brooks said. "We've never looked ahead and I can honestly say that."

In the final analysis that might be the hardest pill for the Badgers to swallow. They stayed focused on the task in front of them as they have all season. Saturday, however, they simply were not nearly good enough.

"I can't put my finger on it. I thought we practiced well all week, I thought we prepared well all week," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "Guys had seemed to be focused. Give Michigan State credit."

"We just didn't play like we practiced," senior cornerback Scott Starks said. "I thought we practiced pretty well this week and just didn't come out ready to play."

"Bottom line we just didn't play well today," junior linebacker Dontez Sanders said.

BCS talk had been rampant in the media and among Badger fans but it had not seeped into the Wisconsin psyche. UW's players and coaches consistently dismissed questions regarding poll standing and postseason possibilities.

"Things like that don't affect us. All we know we can do is play the game," junior receiver Brandon Williams said. "We have no control over the BCS, where we're ranked or whatever. All we can do is win. Unfortunately today that didn't happen."

The word "letdown" seeped into the UW lexicon Saturday night in numerous postgame interviews. But there was no hint of a letdown in the Badgers public persona last week. The team's body language and vocalizations were that of a composed, focused team.

So did Wisconsin look ahead?

"Not at all," senior right tackle Morgan Davis said. "1-0."

Saturday, the Badgers were confounded that they were not the team most ready to play.

"I really thought that we wouldn't come out and have any type of letdown. I thought that was past us. We really work hard in practice," Williams said.

Hard work is supposed to equal success. That has been the equation all season for these Badgers.

"We just came out flat," Williams said exasperatedly. "Michigan State, they played excellent today."

Wisconsin entered the game with a defense that had been practically impenetrable but the Spartans entered the game with an offense that was similarly impressive, the Big Ten's leader in scoring and rushing offense in conference-only games. Saturday the Spartans ran for 430 yards on a UW unit that had allowed 565 rushing yards in six preceding conference games combined.

"I felt that just today our team, we didn't tackle well, we didn't play well as a group," Sanders said. "This week in practice we just have to tackle well, I don't know, just fix it."

The Badgers offense and special teams were similarly beaten down.

"They just outplayed us in every phase of the game," Owen Daniels said.

This was no run of the mill letdown. The distractions did not get to Wisconsin. Michigan State got to Wisconsin.

"They came ready to play. They played a great game. It wasn't just a fluke," Starks said. They just outright beat us.

"They played ball today."

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