The University of Wisconsin’s wildly underperforming year came with plenty of unfamiliar territory as the season unraveled over the past month.
No player on the roster has ever won less than 10 games in a season with the Badgers, and, of course, none had experienced watching Minnesota celebrate with Paul Bunyan’s Axe like they did when the Gophers stomped UW, 37-15, at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
“Playing at Wisconsin, you’re used to playing for Big Ten Championships and finishing the season with double-digit wins,” UW right guard Beau Benzschawel said. “This is the first time we haven’t been able to do that.”
That begs the question of how the Badgers could possibly motivate themselves for their upcoming bowl game after a 7-5 regular season ended with the first loss to their arch-rivals since 2003.
While UW initially expected nothing short of a third straight trip to a New Year’s Six bowl game, if not a berth in the College Football Playoff, the Badgers will now likely find themselves preparing for either the Gator Bowl, Music City Bowl or Pinstripe Bowl.
“It’s definitely tough, but it is what it is,” said UW inside linebacker T.J. Edwards, who recorded a career-high 18 tackles against Minnesota. “We’re going to be in that situation, but there’s nothing we can do besides push forward. … It’s one of those things where I don’t want the last taste in the senior class’s mouth to be this loss, so we’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do to win.”
That senior class does in fact excel at ending seasons on a high. Even those who are in their fifth year, like Edwards, haven’t lost a bowl game during their careers in Madison, as UW’s won four straight beginning with the 2014 Outback Bowl.
Many of those seniors said Saturday’s loss will stick with them forever. One of those who did, left guard Michael Deiter, also mentioned that it won’t be difficult to find motivation heading into one final game, regardless of where the Badgers play or who they face.
“I think it’ll be easy to regroup,” Deiter said. “This will fade away. As a team, you’ve got to be ready to go win a bowl game. As a senior class, we’ve never lost one. It’d be cool to go 5-0 in bowl games … and that’s the plan. We’ll regroup. We’ll find out where we’re going, we’ll be excited to go play, and we’re going to prepare to win whatever bowl game we get.”
Actually doing so requires UW to play much better than it did Saturday, regardless of the Badgers’ eventual opponent.
Along with four turnovers and the surrendering of a 69-yard punt return touchdown, UW couldn’t stop the run, suffered from drops and broke down in coverage on occasion. The post-game message indicated that everyone had a hand in the debacle against Minnesota, and Badgers players now hope to do their part in reversing that come bowl season.
“You don’t want to send your seniors out like this,” UW quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. “Obviously, we didn’t want this to happen. But the good thing is we have one more game with them, and we’re going to do everything we can to make that a good note.”