Looking for the Punctuation

Looking to win their third-straight bowl game over a Southeastern Conference opponent, Wisconsin will match up against Tennessee for just the second time in program history.

TAMPA, Fla. - After all the wonderful hospitality the bowl committee has extended to him and his team, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema knows that nobody can help now.

"Bowl reps can't help us anymore," Bielema said with a smile. "It all comes down to how we prepared in the month of December and how we prepared down here the last couple days."

Sticking with his ‘1-0' mentality that has netted his team 21 wins the last two seasons, the Badgers look to make it three SEC bowl victories in a row when Wisconsin plays Tennessee tomorrow in the 22nd Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida.

Over the last two months, the Wisconsin defense is peaking at the right time. The Badgers have allowed less than 20 points since October 20, have forced 13 turnovers and have shut down the oppositions running game – allowing just 107.8 yards on the ground.

While the Badgers have remained healthy on the defensive line and among the linebackers, Wisconsin will turn to senior Ben Strickland and Florida native Josh Nettles to see time at cornerback.

"Our team has great respect for the Big Ten and Wisconsin," UT coach Phillip Fulmer said. "Their defense scheme is sound and they have just as much speed as any team we've played this season. Our team is looking for that same kind of focus and intensity that we had in the championship game and take that step to get the win."

While the defense has come on as of late, Wisconsin offense has been in sync throughout the majority of the season.

Wisconsin (9-3) is averaging over 30 points per game, averaging 413.9 yards of total offense per game and is ranked number two in the nation in time of possession, holding the ball for an average of 33:50 minutes per game.

Traditionally known as a running school, the Badgers, under the direction of senior quarterback Tyler Donovan, have used a successful balance of run and pass plays this season – passing the ball 51.3 percent of the time.

"The multiplicity of their offense is more of a challenge than sometimes you see in the Big Ten," Fulmer said. "They do a lot of things, a lot of formations, throw the ball very well, quarterback is very athletic, which can create problems for a defense team. It's going to be a big challenge for our football team, period."

On the other sideline, Tennessee (9-4) is coming off a seven-point loss against LSU in the SEC Championship game, but its losses off the field have become the big story.

Six Volunteer players were ruled academically ineligible, including leading receiver Lucas Taylor (73 catches for 1,000 yards), linebacker Rico McCoy (106 tackles) and first-team defensive tackle Demonte' Bolden.

Even Tennessee coaches have found their names in the news.

Earlier this month, offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe announced he had accepted the head coaching position at Duke and wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor accepted a co-offensive coordinator position at Oklahoma State.

Although the Vols maintain their focus has been on Wisconsin, Cutcliffe admits that their has been plenty of emotions.

"It's a real challenge because these are guys that aren't here that they care about," Cutcliffe said. "We have coaches that have deep-seeded relationships with our players. It doesn't make you feel distracted, it makes you feel emotional. We've just gone on and prepared because you can't get sidetracked."

Wisconsin can't afford to get washed up in the off-the-field issues because the players who are going to play for Tennessee are still powerful contributors.

Senior quarterback Erik Ainge passed for over 3,000 yards for the first time in his career, running back Arian Foster has scored 12 rushing touchdowns and four receivers, including Foster, have caught 35 or more passes this season.

While the Badgers have faced a number of tough competitive offenses this year, the Volunteer offensive line are in a class all by themselves.

Through ten SEC games and 13 overall games, the Tennessee offensive line has given up only four sacks all season long and only three against Ainge.

"I'll take them several times a year to dinner or have my mom cook them food," said Ainge about his offensive line. "Obviously I appreciate them. Those guys work so hard and so smart. They are gifted physically, but the biggest thing that helps them is their intelligence. They can adapt throughout the game."

For the Badger defense, a unit that has registered 28 sacks this season, the goal of getting to and putting pressure on Ainge is high on the list.

"I would love to hit him, but he's only been hit four times," linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. "That's going to be a big challenge for our defense and our defensive line to get him on the ground a couple of times."

Tuesday's Outback Bowl will be Wisconsin's 19th bowl appearance with UW going 10-8 overall, including a 9-3 mark in the last 12 games.

Winning nine games for the fourth-consecutive season (a program record), Wisconsin has already accomplished plenty in 2007. Now, the Badgers are looking to start the new year by punctuating last season with another SEC bowl victory and carrying the momentum into 2008.

"Bowl games are the culmination of a season with this group of players playing together for the last time," Bielema said. "This is the one you want to remember."

WHO: Wisconsin (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten) vs.Tennessee (9-4, 6-2 SEC East)in the 22nd Outback Bowl game

WHEN: January 1, 2008 at 11 a.m. EST (10 a.m. CST)

WHERE: Raymond James Stadium,Tampa, Fla. (capacity 65,000 / natural grass)

TELEVISION: ESPN (Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman, Rob Stone)

RADIO: Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas); ESPN Radio (Dave Sims, David Norrie, Jeannine Edwards)

SERIES: Tennessee won the only meeting between the two schools, 28-21, in the Garden State Bowl on Dec. 13, 1981

WISCONSIN COACH: Bret Bielema, 2nd year overall (21-4)

UW RANKINGS: BCS: 18th / Harris: 15th / USA Today: 15th / A.P.: 18th

UW BOWL HISTORY (last): 10-8 (won 2007 Capital One Bowl)

TENNESSEE COACH: Phillip Fulmer, 16th year overall (146-45)

UT RANKINGS: BCS: 16th / Harris: 19th / USA Today: 18th / A.P.: 16th

UT BOWL HISTORY (last): 24-22 (lost 2007 Outback Bowl)

Notes:

This will be Wisconsin's 12th January bowl game. Nine of the previous 11 have taken place on New Year's Day. The Badgers played Jan.2 games in 1995 when they beat Duke in the Hall of Fame Bowl (now the Outback Bowl) and Auburn in the 2006 Capital One Bowl.

Wisconsin is 2-5 against the SEC in bowl games.

The Badgers will be trying to join Michigan as the only Big Ten schools ever to have defeated Southeastern conference opponents in bowl games three consecutive seasons.

Prediction:

The Badgers have prevailed in the last two Big Ten-SEC Challenge matches in Orlando despite being overmatched by seemingly bigger, faster and more physical teams. I don't see that in Tennessee.

Wisconsin has a depleted secondary and Tennessee is missing three starters because of academics. Wisconsin's run game is stellar and has a plethora of dimensions to it the likes of UT has not seen this year.

These Badgers have been focused down here all week and are playing their best football over the last two months. This game will be won by the banged-up defense that can stop the opponent's potent offense.

Having said that, it will be the Badgers.

Wisconsin 33-25


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