Wisconsin bounces back to reach Big Ten title game

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Wisconsin bounces back to reach Big Ten title game
MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 29: The Wisconsin Badgers celebrate with the Paul Bunyan axe after the 34-24 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Camp Randall Stadium on November 29, 2014 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 29: Sherard Cadogan #17 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after the 34-24 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Camp Randall Stadium on November 29, 2014 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 29: Head Coach Gary Anderson of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after the 34-24 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Camp Randall Stadium on November 29, 2014 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 29: Corey Clement #6 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after taking the football to the one yard line during the second half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Camp Randall Stadium on November 29, 2014 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 22: Quarterback Joel Stave #2 of the Wisconsin Badgers throws the ball as a warm-up before the match-up against the Iowa Hawkeyes, on November 22, 2014 at Kinnick Stadium, in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 22: Fullback Derek Watt #34 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes, on November 22, 2014 at Kinnick Stadium, in Iowa City, Iowa. Wisconsin won 26-24. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 22: Linebacker Derek Landisch #30 of the Wisconsin Badgers carries the Heartland Trophy after defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes, on November 22, 2014 at Kinnick Stadium, in Iowa City, Iowa. Wisconsin won 26-24. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 22: Members of the Wisconsin Badgers before the match-up against the Iowa Hawkeyes, on November 22, 2014 at Kinnick Stadium, in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 22: Running back Melvin Gordon #25 of the Wisconsin Badgers stands for the national anthem before the match-up against the Iowa Hawkeyes, on November 17, 2014 at Kinnick Stadium, in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Bouncing back from adversity has been a trademark all year for No. 11 Wisconsin.

The season might have gone a little smoother if the Badgers hadn't had to dig themselves out of tough spots in the first place.

Even so, coach Gary Andersen's squad is right where it had hoped to be when training camp began four months ago - on the verge of a Big Ten title. The Badgers play No. 6 Ohio State in Indianapolis on Saturday for the championship.

"We just have a bunch of guys who love fighting and love working hard, even if it doesn't seem like it's going our way," linebacker Marcus Trotter said Monday.

Few Wisconsin fans thought their hometown team would be in this spot following a 20-14 loss on Oct. 4 at Northwestern. The quarterback position was in limbo, the defense had trouble stopping the run and the Badgers dropped to 3-2 after losing their conference opener.

"I guess all the fans were real mad, irritated," Trotter said.

But in many of the Badgers' eyes, the loss turned out to be the season's turning point. They've won seven straight, all in conference play, to claim the West Division crown.

Slowly but surely, Wisconsin (10-2) has gotten production from the quarterback position, with Joel Stave reclaiming the starting job and Tanner McEvoy coming in as a mobile, change-of-pace reliever.

The defense has regrouped against the run, aided by the returns of defensive lineman Warren Herring and Trotter from injuries. Herring went down in the season-opening loss against LSU, the last time Wisconsin had its starting front seven intact.

The one constant has been junior running back Melvin Gordon, who has blossomed into a full-fledged Heisman Trophy contender.

Gordon went from a 38-yard outing in Week 2 against lower division school Western Illinois, to setting a Big Ten single-season rushing record of 2,318 yards - and counting. Gordon also seems to get stronger as the game wears on, and his burly offensive line wears down opponents.

"I think everything worked out exactly how we planned it. At the end of the day, we wanted to be here," Gordon said.

The last two home games have been microcosms of the season.

Wisconsin fell behind by 14 points to Nebraska and Minnesota, both ranked teams. Each time, the Badgers stormed back to win, though it took a little while longer in the second half to feel secure against the Gophers.

Players said Andersen and the coaching staff urged the team to pick up the intensity after going down 17-3 against Minnesota early in the second quarter. Turnovers and short fields contributed to the early deficit, much like against the Cornhuskers.

Slow starts were a problem earlier in the season in the running game.

Andersen doesn't necessarily think that there is one common, underlying issue.

"It's definitely not part of the plan to get behind by 14 points or seven points or three points or one point," Andersen said. "Slow starts - we've created our own enemies in some situations."

So corrections were made. It could have been a scheme adjustment. Maybe it's a focus on tackling or staying in gaps on defense, or stressing ball security with the offense.

"There were some uncharacteristic things that we did, that we were able to take away and not have happen to us in the second half," he said.

Whether it's due to a team-wide slow start, miscues or simply bad luck, the Badgers don't want to make having to rally from 14-point deficits a habit. Especially against the Buckeyes.

___

Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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