A late rally came up just short as the 16th-ranked Wisconsin football team dropped a hard-fought 24-21 loss to No. 7 Georgia in the Outback Bowl Saturday afternoon. Trailing 24-6 late in the third quarter, the Badgers rallied for a pair of touchdowns but could not quite complete the comeback.
An attendance of 62,414 looked on at Raymond James Stadium as UW completed its season with a 9-3 record and the Bulldogs finished at 10-2.
Georgia got on the scoreboard first as it marched down the field on the opening drive of the game. Brandon Coutu culminated the 12-play, 78-yard drive with a 20-yard field goal to put the Bulldogs ahead 3-0.
The Badgers failed to score on their first drive and were forced to punt, but UW got the ball back right away as Scott Starks forced a Thomas Brown fumble and Jim Leonhard recovered at the Georgia 22. Mike Allen was able to convert on a field goal from 46 yards out to tie the game 3-3 with 5:47 left in the first.
Wisconsin got back into scoring position late in the quarter as a poor punt gave it the ball at the Bulldogs 49-yard line. Six plays later, Allen connected on a 44-yard field goal to put UW up 6-3.
Georgia reclaimed the lead with 7:38 remaining in the second quarter as David Greene connected with Fred Gibson on a 19-yard touchdown pass to give the Bulldogs a 10-6 lead they would eventually carry into halftime.
The Bulldogs extended their lead early in the third quarter by tallying a pair of touchdowns. Georgia got a lucky bounce as Greenes pass deflected off a Bulldog player and into the hands of fullback Jeremy Thomas who took it in 24 yards for the score. The lead grew to 24-6 with 6:33 left in the third as Thomas Brown raced 29 yards up the middle for the touchdown.
Just when it appeared that the Bulldogs may begin to pull away, the Badgers rallied back. John Stocco completed 4 of 5 passes for 75 yards on a scoring drive that was capped by a 19-yard pass to Darrin Charles to get UW within 24-13.
Wisconsin had a pair of great chances to cut into the lead further early in the fourth quarter, but Allen missed on a 37-yard field goal attempt and another drive that started at the Georgia 31 ended in a fumble.
The Badgers had first-and-goal at the Georgia 5 midway through the fourth, but David Pollack sacked Stocco and simultaneously stripped the ball away from him giving the Bulldogs the ball.
However, three plays later Greene was intercepted by UW freshman linebacker Andy Crooks who jumped a screen pass and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown with 4:13 remaining. Stocco completed a pass to Jonathan Orr for a two-point conversion to pull Wisconsin within 24-21.
That was as close as the Badgers would get, though, as Georgia was able to run out the clock to earn the win.
Wisconsin had 230 yards of total offense, compared to 460 for the Bulldogs. Anthony Davis rushed 21 times for 79 yards for the Badgers to finish his career in fifth place on the Big Tens all-time rushing list. Stocco completed 12-of-27 passes for 170 yards and one TD.
Wisconsin Head Coach Barry Alvarez Postgame Quotes
On playing in the Outback Bowl:We were treated in a first-class manner. We felt this city opened their arms. The treatment we had was truly special. Its a first-class bowl game. It certainly doesnt have to take a back seat to anyone, and doesnt.
On the Badgers performance:We lost to a very good Georgia football team, a team thats strong on both sides of the ball. I didnt think we played particularly well, yet I liked the way our guys competed. We gave ourselves a chance. But we really made to many mistakes and Im not pleased with that. We did a lot of good things too. I take my hat off to Georgia; theyre a good football team that deserved to win.
On being down to Georgia 24-6:Georgia certainly had all the momentum at the time. But our quarterback made a couple throws and that just kind of got the adrenaline flowing and he got a little rhythm. Weve been inconsistent offensively all year. But we got moving and I think that picked up our entire sideline. The momentum swung back to us for a little over a quarter and gave us a chance.
On using instant replay:Im in favor of instant replay and I did mention to the officials that Im sure theyll be using it soon.
On Georgia tailback Thomas Brown:Hes extremely quick. We missed a lot of tackles, but I think he had a lot to do with our missed tackles. He finds a seam, never stops his feet from running, and is always moving north and south. Hes a very impressive runner. Again, we had the momentum and he made some plays; he made it happen for them.
On Georgias defensive effort:They didnt do anything that we hadnt seen. Their safeties support very hard, yet they also play coverage. We didnt have to make any adjustments; we were trying to get north and south. We werent getting much of a seam. We saw that in film. Theyre pretty impressive. Their big guys in front dont get much movement. If you take the ball out those linebackers can run you down. Theyll run as fast as your backs. But they didnt do anything we didnt anticipate.
On quarterback John Stoccos performance:I thought he was off to start the game. He missed some throws early on that could have given us some momentum. But in the middle of the third quarter I thought he got his rhythm and really played well and did some good things on a couple drives. He missed some things early. He wasnt very sharp early in the game.
On finishing the season with a three-game losing streak:Quite frankly I think we overachieved this season. I think this is a football team that had a lot of adversity, had key players hurt. We werent consistent offensively all year. Yet we found ways to win. We won three games in a row and scored one offensive touchdown and still won the games. We lost to a very good football team this week, lost to a very good football team in Iowa. We won nine games, found a way to win games. We played in a January 1st bowl game and played probably a top five team and when its all said and done, Georgias going to be a top five team. You always want to win, but I think you have to be realistic in the same respect.
On Georgia defensive end David Pollack:I thought he was solid. I thought he played hard. Hes a guy that you want to know where he is. Thats what disappointed me at the end of the game; we turned him loose down there in the end zone, down there deep.