Worgull: Perfect Purification

After last season's conference woes, Wisconsin football needed a big statement in its first Big Ten conference game against Michigan State, picked to finish third in the preseason polls. After a dominating performance, the Badgers can finally breath a sigh of relief.

MADISON - The history lesson Wisconsin preached all week was simple: one can't change the past, but what they learn from it can change the future.

Starting out 3-0 for the sixth consecutive year meant nothing for the Badgers, especially after UW started off 3-0 and proceeded to train wreck over the next three months and stumbled to the finish line with a 7-6 mark, the program's worst mark since 2003.

So when Wisconsin belted out a dominating victory over Michigan State Saturday, making up for the poor plays, bad decisions and loose lips that cost UW a victory in East Lansing a year ago, it exercised more than a few demons that sat with Wisconsin for over 10 months.

"It's awesome," wide receiver Nick Toon said. "We're really looking forward to starting off with the win … It means a lot to this team to get started the right way and get a good (conference) win."

And this one feels so much better, especially considering the opponent and how it pushed last year's painful outcome out the door.

No longer do the Badgers have to remember that the last time they played the Spartans they blew an 11-point fourth-quarter lead and lost last year, the toughest pill to swallow in a season of bitter pill taking.

No longer do the Badgers have to face reality that mindless penalties, poor play and questionable decisions cost them a football game they controlled from start to finish.

No longer do the Badgers have to answer questions about what went wrong in another Big Ten conference game and how do they get momentum back.

All of those questions can be put on the back burner of the stove … for now.

This was a huge first win for Wisconsin in so many ways, but none bigger than for the psyche of Badger Nation. Yes, it's only one game and there are at least eight more left to play. Granted, it's not even October and yes, there would be still time to pick up the pieces should the result be flipped.

But face facts, Wisconsin beat a desperate Michigan State team; a squad picked to finish third in the Big Ten Conference; a unit that hadn't won in Camp Randall since 1997; a group that endured gut-wrenching losses to Central Michigan and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks entering conference play.

The Spartans needed to show they were worthy of that title and the Badger offense stuck three Garrett Graham touchdowns down their throat to keep Sparty down.

And for once, it wasn't Wisconsin shooting itself in the foot. The Badgers committed only five penalties for 34 yards (only one of the pre-snap variety), turned the ball over only once, scored on all four trips to the red zone and went 11-for-18 on third down (and held Michigan State to just 3-of-10).

The defense was solid, registering four takeovers, and the offense was balanced and deliberate, which was showed it UW's 17-play third quarter drive, its longest drive of plays since at least 2004, that ate up seven minutes, 33 seconds of game clock.

More importantly, the Badgers erased an encore of last year's 0-4 start to the Big Ten conference, a start that corrupted a senior-dominated team and made the head coach much maligned throughout the fan base he had won over two seasons prior.

This victory gives the Badgers momentum at the beginning of a conference schedule where, at one time, starting 0-4 seemed entirely possible. Next week, Wisconsin travels to border-rival Minnesota, a team UW hasn't lost to since 2003, in the Gophers' first conference game in their plush new outdoor stadium; a game you know Minnesota has circled as its biggest game of the season.

"They are going to want to compete," senior Chris Maragos said. "They are going to play tough and its going to be good for us since we have playing the Camp for the last four weeks."

After that, Wisconsin finishes its only conference back-to-back road trip by traveling to 13th-ranked and preseason conference favorite Ohio State, and then return home to play an Iowa squad that looking better each passing week.

With the middle of the conference jockeying for position, Wisconsin has been one of the more pleasant surprises on the conference landscape.

Despite being picked as low as ninth in one preseason poll, Wisconsin has showed in three games that it has the quarterback play has answered question marks, the seniors, few and far between, have stepped up to a role of leadership and the youth has played above its handicapped experience, showing that having a bunch of greenhorns isn't necessary a death sentence for a football team.

Just like last year, Michigan State and Wisconsin looked like two evenly matched teams competing, with the Badgers holding the slightest of edges. Unlike last year, the Badgers made sure that edge led them to a victory, giving the Badgers a reasonable chance to compete for an upper-division finish in the conference.

That would be the ultimate lesson learned for Wisconsin after so many bitter-tasting pills.

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