UW Health Sports Medicine 

'The Voice' with Matt Lepay

Football fans, not to mention players, have often heard coaches talk about how games, and even seasons, can be defined by a handful of plays.

Who knows what last Saturday's game against Arizona State means for the rest of the season, but you certainly could say a handful of plays made the difference between victory and defeat.

To this observer, Jay Valai's blocked PAT after the Sun Devils' last touchdown was huge not just for what happened, but also how close that play was to becoming a potential disaster for Wisconsin.

On a scrimmage kick that is blocked, if the ball goes behind the line of scrimmage, the kicking team can recover. In this instance, the ball landed behind the line. Fortunately, it bounced beyond the line of scrimmage, but there was still some drama to the play.

If a defensive player touches the ball after it crosses the line of scrimmage, the kicking team can recover. Badgers linebacker Mike Taylor very narrowly missed making contact with the ball. At that moment, Taylor and the ball were just across the goal line. Had he made contact with the ball, Arizona State's Trevor Hankins was in position to pounce on it in the end zone for what would have been a two-point conversion, which would have given the Sun Devils a 21-20 lead.

The actual play took about 6 seconds, but it seemed as though everything was in slow motion. All I could think about was a famous Thanksgiving Day NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins. With the Cowboys leading in the closing seconds, Dolphins kicker Pete Stoyanovich was lining up for a game-winning 40-yard field goal. The kick was blocked, and the ball was rolling inside the 10-yard line.

In his excitement, the Cowboys Leon Lett slid into the ball, and Miami recovered. That major miscue set up a chip shot field goal on the game's final play. The Dolphins won, 16-14.

Valai is from Euless, Texas, and he is a diehard Cowboys fan. After the game, I asked him about the team's discipline in avoiding touching the ball, and he brought up that very game.  "We were not going to have a repeat of Dallas-Miami," said the senior safety. By the way, Valai was 6 years old when Lett committed his infamous blunder.

What makes this play even more impressive is that in college football, the defense can "scoop and score" on a blocked PAT. On any point-after attempt, if possession changes in a live ball situation, the defense can run it back for a two-point play. It rarely happens, but in the excitement of the moment, it would not have been a shock had a young player tried to pick up the ball and make a big play.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a fine line that exists in sports. At that time, the Badgers were doing just enough to lose close games. Yes, they made mistakes, but they were also the victims of lousy luck. Remember the Ohio State game in 2008, when a couple of late OSU fumbles bounced right back into the hands of a Buckeye? Bad luck.

Three days ago the home team caught a few breaks, not the least of which happened with 4:09 remaining in the fourth quarter. On that play, the ball took a very favorable bounce. The home team also made its own breaks, with the hustle of Dez Southward and Shelton Johnson on the final play of the first half, and Valai's PAT block.

Another line I have heard coaches say is, "You get what you earn, and you earn what you get." This team is far from perfect, but the record remains unblemished.

Enjoy it. Something tells me there is plenty more drama in store for fans this fall.