A Champs Moment

After giving away back-to-back losses in October, a Badger team from 2008 would have crumbled. One year later, thanks to a passionate speech from two senior captains, UW's 2009 was resurrected, giving the Badgers an opportunity to fix one more wrong from last season.

HONOLULU – While the 37-0 shellacking of Purdue, and the subsequent four wins in the final five games, was the in-your-face statement the University of Wisconsin football wanted to make after back-to-back gut-wrenching losses, the actual turning point of Wisconsin's season could be traced back to Sunday, October 18.

If the Badgers continue on their current course and win the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl, it's a day that would be earmarked as one of those pivotal moments from UW's 2009 football season.

After soundly beating Hawaii, 51-10, to close the regular season 9-3, the Badgers, who moved into the USA Today top 25 coaches' poll (No. 22) and The Associated Press top 25 media poll (No. 24) on Sunday, will get a chance to make up for last year's Champs Sports Bowl debacle (42-13 loss to Florida State) by facing another Florida team, as UW will take on Miami (9-3, No. 14 AP, No. 15 USA Today) on Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. Central.

The game will be played in Orlando, Florida, meaning the Badgers will play in the Sunshine State for the fourth time in the last five years.

"I feel honored that anybody wants us to play (in their bowl game)," sophomore running back John Clay said. "Hopefully we can go out there, do a great job and win that game. It will be a lot for us and for our seniors to get that done."

Coming in the next day after Wisconsin's 20-10 loss to then-11th ranked Iowa, a game in which the Badgers allowed the Hawkeyes to score 20 unanswered points, UW head coach Bret Bielema could see the writing on the wall.

"We've made strides, we're a good football team and I know we didn't play well in the second half against Ohio State and Iowa," he said. "Quite frankly, that really is disturbing to me and I'll never get it out of my system. We can't let those two teams come up again."

Not wanting his talented team to experience a long losing streak like the Badgers did in 2008, Bielema approached senior captains Mickey Turner and O'Brien Schofield and suggested that the two could do something to bring the team together heading into the bye week.

So Turner and Schofield did just that, but instead of talking to the entire team, the captains decided to deliver their important message to the other 13 seniors.

"We weren't in a panic mode, but we wanted to remind everybody of what we still had left, especially the seniors," Turner said. "When you bring them in, they know it's there last year and they get it. They've seen what's happens and it could go either way. We told them that we are the rocks of this team and as seniors, we need to lead the younger guys."

Added Schofield: "The biggest thing we wanted to relay is this is all we have right here, a 5-2 football team. It's important for us to be leaders as a group of seniors and not accept the losing feeling and not allow guys on the team to accept that."

Schofield was poignant in his remarks, urging his classmates to take pride in their individual jobs and not to tolerate individual miscues like missed assignments or dropped interceptions.

"Take pride in your job and it will all come together as a team," Schofield said.

That pride has shown through. Against Purdue, there were no mistakes, holding Purdue to nine completions in 33 attempts (27.2 percent), a season-low 81 passing yards and 2-of-16 (12.5 percent) on third downs. Two weeks later against Michigan, the Badgers held the conference's top scoring offense to only seven second-half points, putting immense pressure that cracked a young offense.

Saturday against Hawaii, the Badgers held a Warriors team fighting for a bowl birth to a season low in yardage (214) while registering a season high in sacks (six).

"It was amazing to see it come together," Turner said. "We all knew what we were capable of, but we just had to go do it on the field. Quit talking about it, listening to what this guy was saying or seeing glimpses of it, go do it on the field and put it all together. You only get so many shots. A game like that gives you confidence for next week."

Even when confidence has been shaken, such as UW's Big Ten finale at Northwestern, the seniors find a way to make the units regroup. Although the Badgers dug themselves a deep first-half hole, Schofield noted that nobody quit on the team, a theme that was much to prevalent at the end of last season.

"I haven't felt we've been a game where guys weren't trying and weren't giving their best," he said. "Sometimes it's not your day when things aren't meshing, but guys are scratching and fighting and pushing through. Guys were making comebacks, even in the Northwestern game, and you have to applaud that when guys don't give up."

Heading to its bowl game, the Badgers have shown resiliency after consecutive losses, battling back to a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten, successfully burying the ghosts of Michigan, Michigan State and the like. Now, UW has a chance to right one more of the wrongs of last season, which would be a testament to a senior class who helped save a sinking ship.

"We're a good football team now," Bielema said. "We're all sophomore and freshman, (but) we've got some really good seniors providing us great leadership."

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