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October 28, 2011

Fighting a hangover

MADISON - This may sound funny, but the biggest hangover the Wisconsin football team has had in recent memory may have happened 30,000-feet above ground.

Shortly after taking in a stunning and abrupt loss in East Lansing, the UW football team had the chore of traveling back to Madison in the dead of night.

"The plane ride home was silent," UW's junior center Peter Konz said. "Everything hurts a lot more after a loss."

It's fair to qualify that statement. Everything hurts a lot more after a loss, both mentally and physically.

"You try to sleep but you just can't," UW's senior right guard Kevin Zeitler said. "I think I was up until four in the morning. I couldn't sleep.

"I tried studying because I was disgusted with myself."

So many things can be second-guessed when a game unfolds like UW's did a week ago at Michigan State. Think about the emotional roller coaster the Badgers endured, given a lot of it was brought on by itself and its own inadequacies or mental miscues.

UW looked like it was about to blow out the Spartans by jumping up 14-0 in the first quarter. Then, in just a blink of the eye, it seemed as though Michigan State was going to blow out the Badgers. They went on a 31-3 scoring binge after falling behind two scores to take a 14-point lead of their own.

Then UW rallied to tie it. And Michigan State countered with a play that will do nothing but live famously or infamously on, depending how you look at it.

Jared Abbrederis, UW's most productive receiver in that game, represents a microcosm of how that game went. Yes, he was responsible for helping the offense move the chains, but he also dropped a key pass late in the game that might have gone for a touchdown.

"It went up in the lights and I lost it," Abbrederis said. "Then at the last second I found it again. Obviously I should have had it. It was just lost in the lights. I've still got to make the play."

He also had an opportunity to bat down the 'Hail Mary,' but a mistimed jump let the ball ricochet off a facemask and into the hands of an unassuming Keith Nichol.

Hangover engaged.

Or is it?

According to several offensive players there hasn't been any indication in practice that the team hasn't recovered. Many players were flying around, many players were making plays and people were laughing during post-practice interviews. The team was loose.

Life seemed to be as normal as it could this week.

"We can't let there be a hangover effect," Zeitler said. "We've got to keep trudging along and taking every game week-by-week. People say it's hard to forget the past. You can't be like that here.

"You've got to just keep moving on."

But that's easier said than done. Plays like that, losses like that don't just go by the wayside. You can't just kick it to the curb because it's always there. It's a bacteria. It's being replayed, people are talking about it and it represents the only blemish on UW's current record.

Just as taking one too many shots will make someone feel queasy the next morning, a 44-yard 'Hail Mary' will linger into the next week no matter what anybody says to suggest against it.

It's just about fighting through it.

"If there is a mistake in practice you've got to call somebody out," Konz said. "It's going to be that much harder against Ohio State and you're not going to want to screw up. If you screw up now that's fine, but you've got to get on it now.

"When it comes time for the game you've got to be confident enough to go in with that kind of thinking."

Ohio State isn't nearly as good as it has been in the past. Don't mistake that with them having a lack of talent because that's still there. The bottom line, though, is they've already lost at home and two other times this year.

They're just not the Buckeye's of yesteryear, or last year for that matter. UW will have a golden opportunity to get back on the left side of the column with a win.

Maybe now, at least in UW's camp, that priority has been recategorized with the devastation that came with a last-second, walk-off loss.

"I think this might bring back an edge," Konz said. "Maybe we'll refocus and all of a sudden we'll realize that we're not perfect and that we've got that monkey off our back. We'll realize that we're not perfect and that we can't just walk on the field and expect when you get up by 14 you're just going to roll.

"It's kind of nice to know that we're going to have this little edge."


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