UW football: Behavior of fans an issue as Penn State comes to town

2011-11-22T05:15:00Z 2011-11-22T06:47:32Z UW football: Behavior of fans an issue as Penn State comes to townTOM MULHERN | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 | Twitter: @TomMulhernWSJ madison.com

University of Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema and athletic director Barry Alvarez have not had much success influencing students' behavior at Camp Randall Stadium.

Bielema and Alvarez made an appeal earlier this season to stop an obscene chant by students, to no avail.

So it was perhaps understandable that Bielema stopped short of telling the students how to act during the game against Penn State on Saturday.

The Nittany Lions beat Ohio State 20-14 last week in Columbus, Ohio, their first road game since sexual abuse charges were filed against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, resulting in the firing of head coach Joe Paterno.

One of the issues going into the game was how the Penn State players would be treated in a hostile road environment, given the questionable fan behavior that regularly occurs at college games across the country.

Based on news reports following the game, the behavior of the Ohio State crowd toward Penn State did not appear to be an issue.

A story in the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News website after the game suggested Buckeyes fans could relate somewhat to their Penn State counterparts and what they endured in recent weeks.

While the scandals are not similar, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel resigned after NCAA violations by some of his players for exchanging memorabilia for improper benefits.

Beth Sparks, an Ohio State graduate, told the newspaper, "They couldn't have come to a better place. There is competition between the two, but we can empathize, and we are sympathetic to the situation."

When Penn State played its first game at home against Nebraska, after news of the scandal broke, players and coaches from both sides knelt in prayer on the field before the game.

At Ohio State, players and coaches from both sides shook hands and exchanged hugs on the field prior to kickoff.

Bielema said at his Monday press conference that UW officials were going to meet to discuss anything that might happen before the game.

"I know the (UW) administration is meeting on it," Bielema said. "I think they wanted to wait until last weekend happened, with the road game (at) Ohio State. ... I know they were going to include talks with Penn State (officials). ...

"I just want to make sure we do the right thing, but also understand, this is a big stage and an opportunity, a lot of things to be looking at."

When Bielema was asked about any advice he might give students for their behavior at the game, he focused instead on how important the game is to the Badgers.

The winner will claim the Leaders Division and advance to the Big Ten Conference's first title game in Indianapolis the following week.

The Badgers will also recognize 21 seniors, prior to the game, who will be playing their last home game.

"I figured everybody is going to get their turkey tryptophan ... kicked out of them by Friday," Bielema said. "Saturday, you should wake up feeling great. You've got a 2:30 (p.m.) kickoff, couple extra hours to tailgate. It should be just a great environment for our senior class."

Another issue is whether the students will be out in full force, given it's Thanksgiving weekend and many travel home for the weekend.

Bielema said there is a reason the team enters and exits the field through tunnels under the student section, adding, "Our kids feed off that energy."

"If the students can be there in full force, they can sing 'Buttercup' as many times as they want to, and 'Sweet Caroline,' " Bielema said.

"I think that would be awesome and just give some respect to a group of seniors who really do deserve to be treated like champions."

Ball a Doak Walker finalist

Junior Montee Ball was named one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's top running back.

Oregon's LaMichael James and Alabama's Trent Richardson are the other finalists.

Ron Dayne won the award in 1999 and the only other UW finalist prior to Ball was John Clay last year.

Ball leads the country with 30 overall touchdowns, a Big Ten record, and his 25 rushing TDs are a school record and one shy of the conference record.

His 1,466 rushing yards rank second nationally, by just two yards behind Bobby Rainey of Western Kentucky. He leads the Big Ten in all-purpose yards at 154.5 per game and has caught 16 passes for 233 yards and five TDs.

Ball was named the Big Ten's co-offensive player of the week, the third time he has been honored, after rushing for 224 yards against Illinois.

Linebacker Chris Borland was named the conference's top defensive player for the second time in three weeks. He had 16 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles against the Illini.

Wagner plays with sprain

Left tackle Ricky Wagner suffered a second-degree sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his his left knee on the opening drive last week. But he returned in the second quarter and finished the game, while going up against Illinois' two standout defensive ends, Whitney Mercilus and Michael Buchanan.

"A lot of kids won't even come back out and play," Bielema said. "But the doctors assured us structurally there wasn't anything wrong. He probably played as good a second half of football as he's ever played, just pure gut(s), willpower, intensity, desire, to get him there."

Wagner was scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test later in the day to rule out any other problem. He will likely miss practice on Tuesday but is expected to practice the rest of the week.

Sophomore Zac Matthias, the backup left guard, did not travel last week due to a back injury. He probably won't be available this week.

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