http://host.madison.com/content/tncms/assets/editorial/9/6d/965/96d9652c-af1e-11de-b60e-001cc4c002e0.image.jpg" alt="TOM OATES" width="108" height="103" align="left" />There now, wasn’t that a lot of fun?
Wasn’t that more entertaining than watching the University of Wisconsin pound on the UNLVs and San Jose States of the college football world? And wasn’t that more beneficial for UW than dominating opponents that can’t hope to compete with a Big Ten Conference team?
It made no difference Saturday that the 11th-ranked Badgers had to come up with one huge play after another before they finally secured a 20-19 non-conference victory over Arizona State at Camp Randall Stadium. Nor did it make a difference that the Sun Devils showed up with a Sun Belt swagger and matched the Badgers yard for yard and, until Jay Valai blocked a kick with 4 minutes to play, point for point.
What mattered was that UW finally played a non-conference game against an opponent that could look it in the eye without blinking — or standing on a chair. What mattered was that the Badgers passed a test that was more like a mid-term exam than the pop quizzes they usually take in September.
“It was a blast,” UW defensive end J.J. Watt said. “You can see the crowd gets way more into a game like this. We were excited and ready to play. It was a lot of fun for us.”
It was fun for everyone: the fans, the players, even the coaches. As long as the Badgers won, that is.
“I guess it’s nice if you win,” UW coach Bret Bielema said. “It makes you stronger. One of the great quotes I always say is, ‘Adversity is when a man is first introduced to himself.’ That’s huge when you have a bad situation and you respond correctly. That’s something that you never experience until you do it. It’s not great on my heart. I’m getting older now. I’m over 40 and it’s stressful.”
Stressful as it was, one victory over Arizona State is more meaningful than 10 over San Jose State. The Sun Devils aren’t expected to contend in the Pac-10 Conference this season, but, other than an affinity for drawing penalties, they were better than advertised. They have the strong-armed quarterback and home-run speed to make any team’s life miserable.
The Badgers’ one-point victory might not impress the pollsters, but the combination of a good opponent, a great atmosphere and a close game will help them take a step forward. The resolve they showed in answering every challenge the Sun Devils threw at them for four quarters will help them prepare for the Big Ten season that is just around the corner.
Bielema had asked the fans to make noise to annoy Arizona State’s no-huddle spread offense and they definitely responded. However, it is more likely they were responding to a non-conference opponent they had heard of after years of bought-and-paid-for UW victories at this time of year.
The benefits for the team and the fans made this a win-win situation.
“This is what college football is truly all about,” safety Aaron Henry said. “When we don’t play so well against a not-so-good opponent, people are saying, ‘How are they going to do against so-and-so?’ We had a quality opponent today and we stepped up to the plate. We clawed and went back and forth. They gave us a blow, we gave them a blow. Luckily for us, we were able to come out with a victory.”
But unless you recall that Arizona State’s Thomas Weber, who won the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker in 2007, doinked a field goal try off the left upright from 25 yards early in the game, there wasn’t a lot of luck involved.
Except for two long kickoff returns by the Sun Devils, the Badgers tightened up their game in most areas. Arizona State gained 380 yards, but UW’s secondary didn’t allow a touchdown pass. When the Badgers needed to burn 4 minutes off the clock at the end, they did it by getting the ball into the hands of John Clay and Lance Kendricks. And best of all, they didn’t have a fumble or an interception.
Credit the UW schedule-maker for all of the above.
“I noticed all week that the attention to detail was big,” guard John Moffitt said. “We knew this wasn’t a team that you can have a lot of mistakes against and come out with a W. I think just that raises your level of play. The expectations are higher. I think pressure makes people play better football ... and I think that pressure was added today and we played a better football game because of it.”
For that, everyone should be thankful.