MADISON, Wis. — There are losses, and then there are losses.
You know those losses, those really, really painful ones. They are accompanied by a face-palm in conversation, and sometimes they even force a tear or two. When you unquestionably have a game won and them let it slip away, well, sometimes that pain takes years to shed.
Wisconsin remembers. The last time the Badgers met LSU — their opponent Saturday in the much-anticipated season opener at Lambeau Field in Green Bay — Wisconsin let a win slip right off their fingers in 2014.
Up 24-7 to start the third quarter, the Badgers were on their way to a David vs. Goliath-type victory over the No. 13 Tigers, but then all heck broke loose. Heck being Kenny Hilliard, who ran for nearly all of his 110 yards in the second half and scored the game-winning touchdown in the 28-24 win, one that went down as one of the biggest comebacks in LSU history.
Record-setting losses tend to stick, but current Badgers have all but forgotten.
“We really haven’t talked much about it,” Wisconsin junior wide receiver Rob Wheelwright said. “We know that we played them and that’s about it.”
Wheelwright remembers missing the trip to NRG Stadium in Houston because of a hamstring injury, watching alone in Camp Randall’s film room and screaming at the TV when his roommate Reggie Love got the first score of the game.
But stats, plays and overall disappointment got filed deep in the mental archives.
“We know that we have a new coaching staff and new starters, new players and a new year,” Wheelwright said. “So we are kind of looking forward to it as if this is our first time playing LSU.”
Even teammates who saw time on the field in 2014 associate that game with something other than the debacle it was. Wisconsin’s Alec James, a junior defensive end, could hardly be bothered to notice the Tigers’ jersey color.
“It was my first game, so I was just excited,” James said. “It didn’t matter who the opponent was, I was just excited to be out there. This time around I have more experience, so I’m just ready to get it going.”
Don’t be fooled by the Badgers’ seemingly selective memory because they aren’t simply refusing to acknowledge an ugly loss. The stars on these two 2016 teams barely made an impression on the game two years ago, so there aren’t compelling reasons to revisit specifics from the previous meeting to prepare for Saturday’s game.
LSU is led by junior running back Leonard Fournette, who is set to shatter the school’s career rushing record this season. But as a freshman against Wisconsin, he only had eight carries for 18 yards in the 2014 game.
Badgers defensive end Chikwe Obasih doesn’t even remember that much. To him, Fournette was just that fast guy he chased on a kick return then promptly tossed his cheese curds — as if his first college football game wasn’t inherently memorable.
“Obviously (Fournette) has a bigger role now,” Obasih said with a laugh.
Wisconsin features an overhauled roster of its own with first-time starters like quarterback Bart Houston and a fully healed Corey Clement, as well as a fresh batch of coaches. Justin Wilcox took over at defensive coordinator with the departure of Dave Aranda — who only went as far as the opposite sideline.
Facing a friend-turned-foe in Aranda is the well-worn story line pinned to this season opener. Redemption from 2014 and playing in Lambeau — the state’s sacred ground — have also surfaced, but nothing changes the simple facts of the game.
“We’re confident in what we do, and we recruit guys to play the way we do,” Obasih said. “We’re prepared for big games like this.
And they’re LSU.