MADISON, Wis. - Life got in the way of Wisconsin defensive end Tyler Dippel's football season.
After missing a game because of a serious family issue, the senior returned to Madison on Friday night. Then he gave thanks to his teammates before Saturday's 27-17 win over BYU and played.
It gave an emotional lift to a tight-knit team playing its most complete football of the season.
"He just talked about how it's a brotherhood. He used the word `love' a lot," linebacker Chris Borland said about Dippel's tearful talk. "You could tell how much it meant."
Dippel, who took limited snaps, was part of a defensive line rotation that helped Wisconsin contain Cougars dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill to 260 yards of total offense, nearly 100 below his season average. The victory helped catapult Wisconsin (7-2) four spots in the latest AP Top 25 poll to No. 17 on Sunday.
Coach Gary Andersen had no doubt that Dippel would play once he returned. Dippel's close friend, fellow defensive end Pat Muldoon, visited Dippel at home during the week to offer support. He also took with him a playbook and an iPad for Dippel to look at film.
The team hasn't disclosed the exact nature of Dippel's problem. Borland said that only a few people know. But it was serious enough that Andersen this week was talking about making sure Dippel concentrated on his family and academics first, with football secondary.
On Friday night, it was time for football again. At the walk-through Saturday morning, Dippel was at the front of the line to shake everyone's hand.
"That was just a way to welcome him back and say let's go. I think this was great for Tyler to be able to go out and compete," Andersen said.
But it was the pregame speech that really held sway with teammates.
"It's hard to explain what Tyler did for the team. He gave a pump-up speech not only to the defense, but to the whole team. He was in tears and it was emotional," linebacker and fellow senior Brendan Kelly said. "I was trying to hold the tears back as well."
Kelly said that Dippel watching the 28-9 win over Iowa the previous week on television was "just one of the hardest things he's ever gone through. Us as players, we know he always wants to be with us, fighting with us. So that gave us a lot of motivation to go out there and start fast."
That they did to take a 17-3 lead at halftime with the help of two first-half touchdowns by James White. White added a 14-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to seal the game for Wisconsin.
The Badgers will close out the regular season playing two of their last three at home, starting with a visit to Camp Randall Stadium by Indiana.