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Badgers coach Paul Chryst makes bowl experience about more than game
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Badgers coach Paul Chryst makes bowl experience about more than game

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Chryst at Northwestern

Including this year's Duke's Mayo Bowl, UW coach Paul Chryst will be involved in 15 of the program's 31 bowl berths.

Paul Chryst laughed as he thought about his first experience at a bowl game.

He was a freshman quarterback at the University of Wisconsin when the team traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, to play Kentucky in the 1984 Hall of Fame Classic. Chryst didn’t play in the 20-19 loss — a mishandled field goal snap with less than 2 minutes remaining sunk the Badgers’ late rally — but that day set a benchmark in Chryst’s mind.

“I hope ours are a lot better for our kids now,” Chryst said of his memories of his first bowl experience. “That was a long time ago.”

UW didn’t play in a bowl game for 10 years after the Hall of Fame Classic, but since Barry Alvarez revitalized the program in the early ‘90s, bowl games have become the expected cap on seasons. UW (3-3) is set to play Wake Forest (4-4) in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Wednesday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

Including the Mayo Bowl, Chryst will be part of 15 of the 31 bowl games UW has played. He had one bowl trip as a player; was an assistant coach in eight; and has led UW to bowls in each of his six seasons as head coach.

UW has an 8-6 record in bowls with Chryst on the roster or coaching staff.

Chryst has spoken on multiple occasions in recent weeks about the benefits a bowl experience has provided his players, past and present. The simple act of extending the season and the time the team gets to share together creates opportunities to make memories.

“I think it’s just the time you get to spend with guys,” Chryst said. “We get to have it (where) a lot of it’s here, but you know last week the guys did a great job of working through finals and so it’s the first time in a long time where it’s (just) football and they can focus on that and try to make the most of it and finish the season out right.”

Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph has coached with Chryst for 13 seasons between UW and Pittsburgh. He said Chryst makes players a part of planning their bowl season, which adds to their experiences.

“Paul always does a great job of laying out a bowl plan and making it exciting and taking advantage of opportunities,” Rudolph said. “And he does so by taking a lot of input from the guys themselves, the leaders on the team.”

Listening to players was essential this year, with teams across the country opting out of bowl games citing the stress and difficulty of getting through this season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. When asked about why the Badgers chose to play this postseason, senior receiver Jack Dunn sounded a lot like his coach of the past five years.

“We earned the right, in our mind, to play another game,” said Dunn, a Madison native.

jack dunn mug 12-29


“I think if we had had a losing record and we hadn’t felt like we earned that right, maybe people would have thought differently. I think we’ve got the type of guys in our locker room that if we have an opportunity to play, we’re going to show up and we’re going to play. So in my mind, there was never any doubt — we get an extra game, we’re going to play that extra game.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is in his fifth season on Chryst’s staff and was an All-American safety for the Badgers in 2002 when Chryst was the team’s tight ends coach. He believes Chryst adds to players’ bowl experiences by emphasizing the importance of the moment.

“(Chryst) just get guys to understand the tradition of it, whether it’s Wisconsin or each bowl, and the unique tradition of those bowl games,” Leonhard said.

Each step of the Badgers’ season has been altered by COVID-19 and this truncated bowl season will be as well. The 10 days to prepare for the game is far shorter than the three or four weeks the Badgers are accustomed. Chryst said the lead-up time is more like a long game week than a short bowl prep.

Extra practice time in preparation for bowls has helped young players earn their stripes. In a normal year, Chryst’s program would give veterans a rest when it could and give underclassmen more practice reps. Chryst said this year there’s little time for that, but the Badgers used days this week to focus on individual work.

The Duke’s Mayo Bowl eliminated plans to host about 5,300 fans at the game — only players’ family and friends and select officials from the bowl will be in attendance. Players are allotted six tickets each for the game, according to a UW official.

UW won’t be in Charlotte long. Instead of spending time in the bowl city and participating in events in the days before the game, the Badgers will travel the day before the game as if it were a regular-season road game to be as safe as possible.

Despite the differences from a normal bowl season, Chryst, his staff and players are focused on appreciating the chance to play

“This will be tremendously unique. I don’t think this will be a bowl like any bowl we’ve experienced in the past,” Rudolph said. “It’s about maximizing the opportunities we have. It’s about getting one more chance to go out and play together and enjoying the time that we have and enjoying this opportunity.”

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