Bruised by two losses and challenged by other early-game deficits, Wisconsin will bring dogged determination into its third Big Ten championship game in four years.

Bruised by two losses and challenged by other early-game deficits, Wisconsin will bring dogged determination into its third Big Ten championship game in four years.

Ohio State, also familiar with adversity, will encounter a Wisconsin team on Saturday in Indianapolis that has proven to be unwilling to back down in difficult moments.

"We're resilient. We're tough-minded," second-year coach Gary Andersen said.

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Tenacity has been the hallmark of the Badgers, who resemble many of the prototypical Wisconsin teams dating to when Barry Alvarez began the program's renaissance nearly a quarter-century ago.

As usual, the Badgers offense is a tank brigade, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Melvin Gordon bursting through holes mauled open by five offensive linemen weighing a total of 1,605 pounds.

"We can run that ball," said Gordon, a junior whose 2,260 rushing yards this season set a Big Ten record.

Wisconsin (10-2) also brings a defensive unit that lacks Gordon's star power but is ranked No. 2 in the nation because of an aggressive 3-4 scheme and team-first attitude.

The no-name defense, the dynamic Gordon and a quirky two-quarterback system - with starter Joel Stave and reserve Tanner McEvoy sometimes alternating snaps in a series - were enough for the Badgers to emerge as West Division champions.

Wisconsin won its final seven regular-season games, capped by a 34-24 victory last week over Minnesota. The Badgers trailed 17-3 in that game, the same deficit they faced against Nebraska on Nov. 15 before thrashing the Cornhuskers 59-24 behind Gordon's 408 rushing yards.

"The fact that we're a group of young, eager guys who want to prove people wrong has made us really resilient," linebacker Marcus Trotter said. "It we're down, we know we can do better. We're a very calm team. This team is very unique in the sense that everyone is very good friends with each other. We are so bonded."

Wisconsin's close-knit nature showed in how the Badgers responded to their two losses. The first occurred on Aug. 30 when Wisconsin blew a 24-7 lead in the third quarter and lost 28-24 to LSU.

"That was a tough football game," Andersen said. "I was looking myself right in the mirror (afterward). Was there something I could have done differently to better prepare the kids?"

Gordon barely played after Andersen said he had a "scenario" at halftime. The Badgers implosion also occurred after they lost starting defensive linemen Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring to injury.

"We threw two freshmen out there," Andersen said. "Chikwe Obasih jogged onto the field and the first thing he remembered was throwing up."

McEvoy completed only 8 of 24 passes for 50 yards and two interceptions in his first start as Stave was benched because of the throwing yips. Afterward, a quarterback debate raged among fans and the media, but the Badgers remained united.

"If that hadn't been the case, we would not be where we are today," Andersen said.

Stave worked his way back into a starting role against Northwestern on Oct. 4, but he and McEvoy combined for four interceptions in the Big Ten opener and suffered a 20-14 loss that dropped them to 3-2.

The Wisconsin veterans responded to the defeat by delivering words of wisdom to younger teammates.

"That Big Ten is too good to overlook anyone and not bring your 'A' game every week. That was kind of our message as seniors," said Rob Havenstein, a senior offensive tackle.

Andersen saw his players subsequently take ownership of the team.

"After the Northwestern game, it became very apparent that our leaders were powerful and that the youth in this program would listen to those leaders," Andersen said.

tjones@dispatch.com

@Todd_Jones