A Major Fourth-Quarter Focus

Senior tailback James White (Badger Nation photo)

After losing three Rose Bowls by a combined 15 points and six games in 2012 by a total of 25, Wisconsin football - in the eyes of seniors Chris Borland and James White - are emphasizing the need to finish stronger to reach the ultimate goal.

CHICAGO – It makes sense that there are some question marks about the makeup of Wisconsin's football team entering the upcoming season: no clear vision of who will start at quarterback, the lack of depth at wide receiver and plenty of transition in the defensive backfield.

But in the minds of the three seniors representing Wisconsin at Big Ten Media Days at the Hilton Chicago, there aren't too many concerns on either side of the ball, giving a unified message that the Badgers are confident in first-year coach Gary Andersen, his coaching staff and their returning experience this fall.

"We have a lot of answers, but there's questions every year and you never know how things are going to pan out or who is going to step up," said senior linebacker Chris Borland. "But the way our guys work and the opportunities talented guys have to step into those roles, I'm pretty confident they will have answers."

And while last season ended with a championship for the third straight season, 2012 didn't reflect the type of season Wisconsin wanted. Finishing with an 8-6 record, Borland and tailback James White expect more than a 4-4 conference record and a third-place finish in the Big Ten Leaders Division, getting a berth in the league's championship game because of Ohio State and Penn State's postseason ban.

"The emphasis with coach Andersen is finishing and winning the fourth quarter," said Borland, as Wisconsin lost its six games by a combined 25 points. "You never want to lose a game but if you lose in the fourth quarter, it's especially bad in the game of football. That's when you win games and when you win chamionships. So to lose all those close games was not a good thing last year. Hopefully we improve on that this year."

"We haven't had very much success in the past with games that have been within about seven points," added White, nothing UW's last three Rose Bowl wins have been a combined 15 points. "We know in the fourth quarter, it's the biggest quarter in the game and we need to finish strong."

Andersen and the players know the fourth quarter needs to be approached differently, especially with the Badgers being predicted to finish second to Ohio State to win the division title. That approach has come from a change in offseason conditioning, as new strength coach Evan Simon has put a bigger emphasis on conditioning and running.

It's also come from extra hours in the film room, studying the opponents on UW's 2013 schedule and studying themselves.

"I definitely have been watching more film than I have before," said White, "just trying to be a smarter football player and putting in the extra work after workouts as well to be the best player I can be."

"The only thing you really can do is finish reps, finish workouts and that's what were aiming for now," added Borland. "And to maintain focus throughout the entire practice and workout, and that's the best way to prepare for it."

Not only is Wisconsin changing how they approach the fourth quarter and offseason workouts, it's shifting its philosophy on defense. Switching their 4-3 base defense to a 3-4, making them the only Big Ten team to do so, the Badgers return a plethora of experience in the front seven, but have a lack depth and experience in the backfield after senior safety Dezmen Southward.

"I think we're going to be fine in the backfield," said Borland. "We're absolutely going to be more aggressive and we've go great blitzers and great stand up guys for the 3-4 so I think it caters to our skill set very well.

"Mentally on paper it's not that hard. The thing is you've been drilled for years to play linebacker in a 4-3, which requires certain techniques and a 3-4 is different. So that's the biggest adjustment – the physical techniques such as taking on two blocks, two gapping, reading the backs movement and stuff like that. Mentally it's not challenging, but physically it takes just reps to get use to."

Regardless of the adjustments that need to be made on both sides of the ball, the Badgers certainly have the experience on their side when it comes to game day. Not only does Wisconsin return 14 starters from last season, the Badgers return 51 players who have started at least one game during their careers.

"We have 20-plus seniors so we have a lot of game experience and that will help the younger guys," said White. "We can kind of show them the ropes so it can be a smooth transition for them, as well.

"We will let the rest of the team know, ‘this is our quarter.' We have to take over, manage the game with no turnovers and play smart Wisconsin football."

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