Wisconsin's defense had virtually cruised through its first four games of the 2007 season because of the Badgers' first-team defense, who had given up an average of just two touchdowns a game and had shut down opposing running backs, not letting one running back get over the 100-yard mark.
Then, Javon Ringer and the Spartans came to town.
The junior only had 10 carries but torched Wisconsin for 145 rushing yards, helping his offense rack up 564 yards of total offense, a season-worst against the Badgers. The Badgers survived, 37-34, but the memories of that game still lingers.
"No positive memories at all," Newkirk recalled. "The offense had the majority of what needed to be done to win that game. As a defense, they kind of had a day with us, much like Illinois did a year before. It's not something we forget."
The game began a series of unfortunate events for Wisconsin, who dropped its next two and fell out of the Big Ten title picture and down the national rankings.
"That game was a disgrace on our part," senior linebacker DeAndre Levy said, echoing Newkirk's comments. "They came out firing, Ringer made some plays, the receivers made plays and it was downfield from the first play last year."
Wisconsin's defensive seniors look to make up for a bad memory when the two teams face off in Spartan Stadium at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow.
Last year, Michigan State was an up-and-coming team under first-year head coach Mark Dantonio and trying to repair an image of late-season collapses. Now after a seven-win first year, Dantonio has his team firing all cylinders and at 7-2 (4-1 in the Big Ten), the Spartans are one game out of first in the conference and have their sights set on the program's first New Year's Day bowl since 2000.
The reason the Spartans are in that position is because of Ringer.
With 300 carries for 1,373 yards a (152.6 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry average) and 16 touchdowns, Ringer has become one of the best backs in college football and he has his sights set on Wisconsin once again.
"He's a tough back and he's a guy that gets all the weight put on his shoulders and so far, he hasn't really faltered," Newkirk said. "He's been there, he's been everything they asked him to be. It's something that you have to expect in a fight."
Ringer isn't the only sour memory the Spartans conjure up in the Badgers' minds.
In his first season as defensive coordinator under Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema led his defensive unit to a 9-0 record and the reputation as one of the best defensive units in the country, a group that gave up only 9.1 points per game (lowest in the nation), ranked fourth in the country in the polls and was on the door step of a national championship appearance.
What happened in East Lansing, UW's last trip to Michigan State, was UW being blown out of the water, 49-14, in a game that got quickly out of hand.
"As the season wears along, people are very, very aware of your strengths, but people are also very aware of your weaknesses," Bielema recalled. "As a coach, you definitely know and understand where weaknesses are on your particular unit. Defensively, they really exposed us on a couple plays early that ended up being momentum changers."
The Badgers had given up a season-high in points by halftime (21) and total yardage (551) by early in the third quarter. Although it was 21-14 at halftime, Wisconsin allowed running backs Jason Teague and Jehuu Caulcrick to eclipse 100 yards, 28-unanswered second-half points and failed to convert on a fourth-and-short from the goal line that swung the momentum in favor of Sparty.
"I didn't pay as much attention to the offense at that time, but I remember we were stopped several times on fourth and short in that game that really had an overall effect on our defense," Bielema said. "I looked at the game film on Saturday or Sunday after that, I distinctly remember trying to take into the bigger picture of how much negative energy on one side of the football can affect the other side."
Four years later, Wisconsin is hoping to revert all of the bad fortunes it's incurred at the hands of the Spartans. Ironically, the roles are now changed, as the Spartans are the favorites and the Badgers being the underdogs. With last year's memories of Ringer and a cloud of dust in the back of their minds, the UW defense has all the motivation it needs.
"It's something that you don't really dwell on or something you have shell shock from. But, it's something you don't forget and keep in the back of your mind," Newkirk said. "At times, you can use that as extra motivation when you need it."