This Saturday Platteville’s Louis Nzegwu will take the field at Camp Randall Stadium for the final time as a player when the University of Wisconsin celebrates Senior Day with a Big Ten finale against visiting Penn State.
“It hasn’t hit me yet that this weekend will be my final home game,” said Nzegwu. “Leading up to the game I’m trying to have complete focus and free myself from distractions so I can prepare myself the best way I can to play at a high level. I’m fortunate to not have many classes this week due to Thanksgiving, therefore I can increase my film study and have my mind right for this game.”
This fall Nzegwu has experienced plenty of emotional ups and downs, including a dominating 48-17 victory over then-No. 8 Nebraska and back-to-back heartbreaking losses to Michigan State (on a 44-yard Hail Mary on the game’s final play) and Ohio State (on a 40-yard pass with 20 seconds remaining) that derailed the Badgers national championship aspirations.
The 6-foot-4, 255-pound defensive end has also fought through an injury to his kneecap that prevented him from finishing the Badgers’ 33-29 loss at Ohio State. Nzewgu said he is still recovering from the injury he sustained three weeks ago when an opposing lineman’s metal knee brace collided with his kneecap on a field goal attempt, but is at the same time luck.
“I’m fortunate enough that the injury wasn’t serious to an extent where I would have to miss games, but it has definitely slowed down my production on the field,” he explained. “There’s a lot of guys banged up right now that are getting back to full health, which is perfect timing for us.”
Through it all Nzegwu has compiled 32 total tackles (eighth on the team), six tackles for loss (third on the team) and a team-high 4 1/2 sacks. Meanwhile the 17th-ranked Badgers (9-2, 5-2 Big 10) have also clawed their way back into the hunt for the Big 10 title.
Thanks to Penn State’s loss and Nebraska two weeks ago, and Ohio State’s back-to-back losses to Purdue and the embattled Nittany Lions, who are still in the midst of an alleged child sex abuse scandal and possible cover-up, Wisconsin now controls its own destiny.
With a win on Saturday, the Badgers will jump Penn State to win the Big Ten Leaders Division and earn a rematch with Michigan State, in the inaugural Big 10 championship game, which will be played Saturday, Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.
“It kind of makes you think where we would be nationally if we just batted down two passes in the fourth quarter,” added Nzegwu. “To lose like that two weeks in a row was an awful feeling. A lot of things happened during the course of both games like a block punt and other stuff, but the fact that it was the last play we defensive players put the blame on ourselves for both. It’s not the right thing to do because we lost as a team but I believe it made people step up and become better players.
“Now we have a second chance to make things right. In both of those losses those teams didn’t beat us. We beat ourselves and we know that if we were just assignment sound we would have been in control of those games. And now that we are back in contention we don’t plan on falling out. The goal right now is to play two more games. All of us want to go to Indy and to the Rose Bowl, but our main and complete focus is this weekend and how the seniors will be remembered.”
As for this weekend, Nzegwu isn’t sure what to expect when he runs out of the home tunnel for the final time.
“I’m not sure how I will react,” he said. “I’ve watched the past seniors always step on the field for the last time and some get emotional and some don’t. I do know that it will be different from usual because (this year) the seniors run out on the field alone to greet their parents and family. That might cause emotion in me but I’m going to try to keep my composure.”