Badgers’ 0-2 Big Ten start not same as U’s

Jeff Sherry

Much has been made of how close the Gophers football team was this year to starting the Big Ten season 2-0. Minnesota’s two losses have come by a combined five points, and the Gophers had late chances to win both games.
But an even tougher-luck story can be found across the border at Wisconsin. Just like Minnesota, the Badgers opened their season with three non-conference wins before dropping their first two Big Ten games. The big difference, however, is that Wisconsin’s narrow losses have come against Penn State and Ohio State — both of whom were top five teams when facing the Badgers.
Two weeks after falling to Penn State 23-20, the Badgers nearly upset Ohio State on Saturday. The Buckeyes, who averaged 52 points scored in its first four games, needed a fourth-quarter touchdown to beat Wisconsin, 17-14.
The games have earned the Badgers plenty of respect, but no wins.
“It’s obvious we can compete with people,” said Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez. “I’ve felt all along that we can be very competitive. But you have to win games. It all boils down to winning and losing and not how close you play people.
“I think we’ve gotten better. I think we’re a solid football team. But you’ve got to take it to the next step and find a way to win.”
The schedule doesn’t get much easier for Wisconsin. The Badgers host No. 14 Northwestern this weekend, who will come to Madison with a 3-0 Big Ten record and an 11-game conference winning streak.
Linebacker Pete Monty, who leads Wisconsin and the conference with an average of almost 15 tackles per game, said the Badgers are partially motivated by last year’s game. Northwestern took advantage of eight Wisconsin turnovers last season while routing the Badgers, 35-0.
“To be honest, it’s still in the back of our mind,” Monty said. “We’re still thinking about it. It’s a hard pill to swallow when you get beat 35-0. You try to put it out of your mind but at the same time still try to use it to motivate yourself.”
Iowa shows depth again
The conference’s other high-profile game this weekend will be Iowa at Penn State. Iowa will take its perfect 2-0 conference record against the No. 10 Lions, who are 3-1 in the Big Ten.
One position Iowa won’t need to worry about Saturday is running back. The Hawkeyes’ starter, Sedrick Shaw, is the school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,489 yards. But he’s been banged up much of the year. The senior started Saturday’s 31-10 defeat of Indiana with a heavily bandaged broken thumb, and he left the game with bruised ribs.
But as he’s done several times before, junior Tavian Banks stepped in and didn’t miss a beat. For the second time this year, Banks came in for Shaw and rushed for three touchdowns.
Barnett speaks out again
Northwestern coach Gary Barnett had some pointed comments for Minnesota’s athletic administration during Monday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference call. He reiterated his opinion of the department’s requirement that Coach Jim Wacker must win five games this year or resign.
“My reaction is that whoever makes a statement like that obviously doesn’t know a whole lot about the inner workings of college sports, especially college football, and how hard it is to win.
“It’s strictly a business concern, and that bothers me a little bit. But that’s the way it is. They just need to own up to that because that certainly seems to be the frame of reference they’re using. It has obviously nothing to do with graduation, how much the kids learn, how much better they are as a program, how much sounder they are, and the integrity it has — obviously those things aren’t important to those people.”
Extra points
ù Wacker said Tuesday that there’s a good chance Ben Langford will move from inside linebacker to outside for Saturday’s game against Michigan State. Langford would start in Don Williams’ spot. Wacker said the move was planned so that the Gophers would have their top talent playing as often as possible. Langford has been splitting time at inside linebacker with Rufus Smith.
ù Alvarez’s explanation of how he gets such big offensive linemen to play at Wisconsin: “We have a lot of big people in our state. Some of them we haven’t had to put much weight on — some of them we’ve tried to trim down.”