The Camp Randall 100 honors a prestigious group of 100 people who shaped the first century of Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin Athletics will reveal a new honoree every day from May 24 until the Badgers’ 2017 opening game on Sept. 1 against Utah State.
“He’s at his best in the third and fourth quarters. He’s not going any harder in the third and the fourth. It’s just that the others aren’t going as hard.”
— Bret Bielema on J.J. Watt
When J.J. Watt woke up on the morning of Nov. 27, 2010, at the Best Western InnTowner just a little more than mile away from Camp Randall Stadium, little did he know he was preparing to take the field in front of the home crowd for the final time.
Riding a six-game win streak, the Badgers were on track to clinch a share of the Big Ten championship for the first time since 1999. UW was tied with Michigan State and Ohio State in the league standings. Wisconsin had lost to MSU but famously upset No. 1 Ohio State two weeks later.
At that time, in the case of a three-team tie for the title, the Big Ten’s representative in the Rose Bowl would be the team ranked highest in the Bowl Championship Series standings. The Badgers entered the day at No. 7 in the BCS standings, with OSU at No. 8 and Michigan State at No. 10. It was pretty safe to say that if Wisconsin could beat Northwestern, the Badgers would be headed to Pasadena.
It didn’t take long for the Badgers to end the suspense. UW scored touchdowns on nine of its first 11 offensive possessions, including seven in a row spanning from the late first quarter until early in the third quarter. An Aaron Henry 50-yard interception return for a touchdown with two seconds left in the third quarter made the score an astounding 70-23 and set off one of the more raucous “Jump Arounds” in the tradition’s history.
Right in the middle of it all was Watt. On Northwestern’s second play of the game, he pressured quarterback Evan Watkins into throwing an interception to safety Jay Valai. On the Wildcats’ next possession, he sacked Watkins on third down, causing a fumble that Tyler Dippel returned to the NU 12-yard line. Two plays later, Montee Ball put the Badgers up 14-0 with a 1-yard scoring plunge.
Trailing 21-3, Northwestern looked to get a little life early in the second quarter after inserting quarterback Kain Colter. The Wildcats drove into Wisconsin territory and had second-and-3 from the UW 26. But Watt single-handedly thwarted the drive, dropping Colter for a 4-yard loss and then plowing into him again on third down, causing the ball to pop up into the air and the waiting arms of linebacker Mike Taylor.
Taylor returned the interception to Northwestern’s 21 yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Scott Tolzien connected with David Gilreath on an 18-yard scoring pass and the rout was on.
But the score was of no consequence to Watt. With the Badgers leading 35-10 late in the second quarter, Watkins broke free on a 20-yard run. A hustling Watt chased him down from behind, made the tackle and forced a fumble that Henry recovered. Four plays later the score was 42-10.
In the third quarter, with Wisconsin now leading 63-17, Northwestern scored what looked to be a meaningless touchdown. Obviously someone took offense to it, though, as Watt blocked the ensuing extra point. The icing on the cake came minutes later when Watt helped cause Henry’s interception, pressuring Watkins into a hurried throw.
“He’s at his best in the third and fourth quarters,” former UW head coach Bret Bielema said afterward. “He’s not going any harder in the third and the fourth. It’s just that the others aren’t going as hard.”
All told, Watt finished with a team-high seven tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, three quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and a blocked extra point. He had a hand in four of the Wildcats’ seven turnovers.
“My favorite memory from that game isn’t even from the game itself. It was when the clock struck zero and all the fans rushed the field. We were all running around with roses in our mouths. To be able to clinch a Big Ten title in front of all our fans with such a great group of guys was really special. It’s my favorite Camp Randall memory.”
— J.J. Watt
“I told J.J. — this is some weird stuff, man,” Valai told the Wisconsin State Journal after the game. “Right before the half, I go, ‘Make a turnover. He goes, ‘OK,’ and he made a turnover. I just laughed it off. Right when they scored a touchdown, I said, ‘J.J., block the kick.’ He goes, ‘OK’ and he blocked the kick. J.J. Watt is the best defensive player I’ve ever played with.”
“My favorite memory from that game isn’t even from the game itself,” Watt said recently. “It was when the clock struck zero and all the fans rushed the field. We were all running around with roses in our mouths. To be able to clinch a Big Ten title in front of all our fans with such a great group of guys was really special. It’s my favorite Camp Randall memory.”
Following the game, on the way to the victorious locker room, Watt and a fellow All-American, left tackle Gabe Carimi, stopped to pose in front the “Road to the Rose Bowl” sign at the top of the ramp in the McClain Center. Apropos for two of the Badgers’ leaders who squared off regularly in practice.
“There was a spring practice,” Bielema said. “We had a toss play going to the right. Carimi was at left tackle and J.J. was at end. I’m watching the play go to the right and 30 yards behind the play I see J.J. and Gabe on the ground, rolling around, fighting.
“I’m like, ‘Why are two of my best players on the ground, tangled in a fight?’ I remember J.J. saying, ‘Coach, I just love to compete. I don’t care if the ball’s away from me or the ball’s at me. I’m going to do everything I can on every play to get to the ball.’”
Watt played in 14 games at Camp Randall Stadium in his Badgers career, with UW going 13-1 in those games. He recorded 53 total tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hurries, four pass breakups, three fumble recoveries, three blocked kicks and two forced fumbles.
And he saved his best for last.