Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 12/15/11
MADISON, Wis. - Maybe the stage was simply too big for the Wisconsin Badgers football program to stand on last season. Perhaps playing in the Rose Bowl for the first time in 11 years, against a gritty, undefeated TCU team with a point to prove to a nation, was a task too enormous for a group of guys content with soaking up a sun-splashed January day in cheery Pasadena, Calif. Badgers players freely admit now they were more concerned with the glitz of Hollywood and less with the blitz of the Horned Frogs. "Some guys had never left the state of Wisconsin, let alone going out to L.A. and a beautiful venue like that," Badgers safety Aaron Henry said. "We were staying in Beverly Hills, walking among the stars literally. It can be very wide-eyed to a lot of people. I think a lot of guys were overwhelmed, speaking for myself included." Henry and his teammates believe they possess the maturity one season later to correct those mistakes as they prepare for a return trip to Pasadena. This time, the Badgers are considering the game as strictly a business trip. The glitz and glamour comes only after Wisconsin wins the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin (11-2) plays Oregon (11-2) in "The Granddaddy of Them All" on Jan. 2, and the Badgers clearly carry a strong desire to atone for that 21-19 loss against TCU in the same game one year earlier, when their focus resided elsewhere. "Last year, we didn't do a great job of blocking out the distractions," Badgers running back Montee Ball said. "We went in there with big eyes, having fun and stuff like that. We really didn't focus on the reason why we were in L.A. So that's what we're going to do this year." Wisconsin's high-scoring offense was held 24 points below its average last season against TCU and didn't score a touchdown for more than 46 minutes of game action between the first and fourth quarters. For a Badgers team that had performed at such a high level during the entire season, the result was difficult to swallow. "Any time you lose your last game, whether it's a regular season game if you don't make the bowl season or your bowl game, you have to live with that loss until you get the opportunity to play again," Wisconsin wide receiver Nick Toon said. "Obviously it being the Rose Bowl, it might hurt a little bit more. We learned from it and obviously played well enough to get back to the game again. Hopefully we can go out this time and take care of business." If the Badgers are to take care of business, it will start with their defense against a Ducks offense that thrives on a no-huddle, spread attack. Oregon ranks third in the country in scoring offense at 46.1 points yet possesses the ball for just 25 minutes per game - 10 minutes fewer than its opponent because of the quick-strike nature of the offense. "You can see they've caught not only defenses but also referees in difficult situations," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. "Their normal no-huddle is very fast-paced, up-tempo, and then they've got an extremely quick one." Wisconsin's scoring offense, meanwhile, ranks right behind Oregon in fourth at 44.6 points per game, although the Badgers' success is based largely on clock management and longer possessions. The player at the helm of that offensive attack is senior quarterback Russell Wilson, the one-year transfer from North Carolina State who is one of the few players on this year's team not associated with the Rose Bowl defeat against TCU. This season, Wilson has thrown for 2,879 yards with a school-record 31 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Wilson downplayed the notion of Wisconsin seeking redemption, though he may have sang a different tune had he played in last year's game. "It's just another opportunity," Wilson said. "You're playing a completely different team. It's one of those things where it's a new opportunity and we look forward to the challenge." The challenge for Wisconsin is to embrace the big stage and the big moment that it failed to grasp a season ago. And this time, the Badgers say they're ready for everything sunny California has to offer. "Going out there to the Rose Bowl for the second year in a row and having a chance to cap this thing off right, it's going to be special," Henry said. "I wouldn't want to go out any other way. You have an opportunity to go out there and do something that hasn't been done here in a while, and that's win a Rose Bowl. And that's what we plan on doing." Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.
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