In big white letters on a red backdrop reads, ‘The Road to the Rose Bowl Begins Here,' a sign complete with the official rose symbol Wisconsin teams of the 90s recognize so well.
Opening the season with four consecutive home games for just the third time in school history and facing their toughest test thus far, the Badgers passed, literally, with flying colors.
More importantly, Wisconsin's 38-30 victory, a game that was not as close as the final score indicates, over Michigan State Saturday afternoon erased all ill memories of the Badgers' 0-4 start to the conference season, a fact that will provide nothing but positive feelings heading on a two-game road swing to Minnesota and Ohio State.
"We're just going to keep going about our business," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "The good thing is that the score ended up closer than it really was. That will help us keep creeping along."
It was a near complete victory as any Wisconsin fan could hope for, especially after the Badgers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) sputtered at points during a lackluster non-conference schedule. Against two teams that were evenly matched, there was little debate that the Badgers are a team to be reckoned with, on both sides of the ball.
After getting dissected for 289 yards and four touchdowns two weeks ago against Fresno State, Wisconsin's defense made a statement it sorely needed to make, holding the best passing offense in the Big Ten in passing (295.7 ypg) to 83 passing yards in the opening half.
Although the final Michigan State (1-3, 0-1 Big Ten) passing total of 396 yards says otherwise, 255 of those passing yards came in the final quarter with Wisconsin trying to struggling to play prevent defense with a double-digit lead, a margin UW kept until a 91-yard touchdown capped the scoring with 17 seconds left.
"We didn't want to give up anything deep and that last play was miscommunication," said senior captain Chris Maragos, who picked off two passes to give him four for the season. "That play never should have even happened, but we're progressing."
Even better was Wisconsin held the conference leader in pass efficiency, sophomore Kirk Cousins, to a pedestrian 17-for-34 for only 201 yards and one interceptions and Badger killer Blair White to a single catch for a measly eight-yard gain.
"He's the type of guy that makes the whole show run, and we wanted to make sure we took him out of the game," Maragos said. "We wanted to limit him and when they go to second options, they aren't going to be as sufficient."
Not only did the defense control Cousins, the Badgers made life challenging on Michigan State's other signal caller, Keith Nichol, picking the sophomore off twice in each half. Overall, the Wisconsin defense forced four turnovers (three picks, one fumble) that turned into 21 UW points.
"Anytime you look at turnover position or, more importantly, points off turnovers, giving the offense extra possessions is what we want to do as a defense," Maragos said. "We were able to make some plays to put (the offense) in position to score some points."
With the Spartans have one of the Big Ten's least-potent rushing attacks (ranking No. 10 out of 11), Michigan State had little chance to play catch up, especially after missing a prime chance to get back in the football game.
After Zach Brown coughed up the football on UW's 29-yard line early in the second half, Wisconsin, holding a 21-7 lead, limited the Spartans to just 19 yards on six plays, forcing Brett Swenson to kick a 28-yard field goal, a series that turned out to be a pivotal point in the game.
"We need to play with more sense of execution," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. "We did not execute, so we got down by a little more."
But when the defense started to bend, giving a five-play, 70-yard touchdown scoring drive to cut the UW lead to 24-17, Tolzien broke the backs of the Spartans.
On UW's first offensive play from scrimmage following the touchdown, Tolzien hit Anderson, his favorite big-play threat, for 45 yards down to the Spartan 23. Three plays later, UW's lead was back to 14, thanks to a 15-yard Nick Toon touchdown.
Tolzien delivered the dagger shortly there after, hitting a wide-open Graham for the third time, for his fourth touchdown pass, putting the game out-of-reach for the Spartans at 38-17.
Wisconsin's offense gave the Spartans' defense, a unit that has allowed 100 points and 1291 yards the past three weeks, off balanced. Tolzien delivered four touchdown passes, the tenth time in school history a UW quarterback has thrown for four scores, and John Clay rebounded from a three-fumble game last week, running 32 times for 142 yards and a second-quarter score.
"If you can throw the ball, it's going to open up the run game and vice versa," said sophomore Nick Toon, who caught a 19-yard touchdown in the third quarter. "John had a big day and hopefully, we can expect that from him."
Unlike the Spartans, the Badgers capitalized on their chances in the red zone. Entering the game a perfect 12-for-12 inside their opponents 20, the Badgers came away with three touchdowns and a field goal in four trips.
"I felt like there were good plays called and guys making plays," Tolzien said. "Defenses have to prepare for a lot of different guys in our passing game. The more weapons we have, the more difficult it is on them."