INDIANAPOLIS — It had been six weeks since the Badgers dealt with a loss, the last being Oct. 15 against Ohio State. And for all Badgers players who had forgotten what that felt like, it stung.
The Badgers one-touchdown loss, 38-31 to Penn State in the Big Ten Championship ,was tough to swallow not only because it was the first loss in a while, the first big loss on a large stage, but because a team built on brotherhood and teamwork could not reach their end goal in the matchup.
Safety D’Cota Dixon sat through post-game interviews with a clear look of distress on his face, holding back tears when talking about his disappointment.
“I’m extremely sorry to Badger nation, to the fans who all supported us,” Dixon said.
Dixon, who had five tackles in Saturday’s game, felt the defense’s performance in the second half was a lack of trust in each other and trust in the call. His frustration came from the abnormal playing of himself and his teammates.
“I don’t know why we couldn’t get our groove back. It just didn’t show up.”
In the first half, the Badgers defense was playing as it normally does, at a high-level that has made the team rank consistently week-to-week in the top ten for defensive play. One such player that particularly excelled was junior outside linebacker T.J. Watt who had four tackles, one sack, one tackle for a loss and one forced fumble and return.
Watt called everyone on the team sore losers after the game. Not because they take losing poorly. It’s because they do not want to lose at all.
“We hate to lose,” Watt said. “I’m a competitive person.”
Watt’s frustration came in the defense’s inability to perform the way they always do. Instead, he said the team “crumbled under the pressure.”
“It sucks especially when you pride yourself on bouncing back when your backs are against the wall,” Watt added.
Head coach Paul Chryst agreed that the defense was not able to turn the momentum back towards the Badgers, which is something they have excelled at in close wins this season. The players’ frustration and disappointment and sadness following the loss, however, is what defines them as a group.
“You’re going to take it hard. That’s what I love about this group. They put everything into it,” Chryst said.
Seniors like cornerback Sojourn Shelton felt the pain in a particularly difficult way as they enter the final games of their college career. Shelton, who had been at UW during the time of the 2014 Ohio State blowout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, said following that shutout, he would work tirelessly to return to the Big Ten Championship. To return and not come away with the victory is still tough for Shelton to swallow.
As Dixon said, before and after every game the team does a prayer together, another way the players are able to come together as a team. Today, after the loss, Dixon said, it was tough to find the words to say.
“All you feel like you can say is you’re sorry,” Dixon said. “But at the end of the day sorry doesn’t bring healing. Sorry doesn’t bring comfort. We’re definitely broken. It was broken in the locker room. It just hurt so bad.”
While most weeks the Badgers have had to bounce back to prepare for the next day, constantly prepping for the next opponent, this week the players will have a chance to catch their breath.
“We don’t have to turn the page right yet,” Chryst said.
And while the loss simmering in the players does little to elevate the players, the somber atmosphere of the post-game did bring one element of light onto this Wisconsin Badgers team.
The disappointment, anger and frustration stemming from this close loss is only a testament of love. A love for the game of football and a love for this band of brothers on the Wisconsin football team.