Sept. 15, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
After turning off the microphone from his work with the Wisconsin Sports Network, UWBadgers.com Insider Mike Lucas offers his take on the Badgers’ 32-30 loss to Arizona State.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The team charter landed in Madison at 5:55 a.m. Sunday morning.
Two time zones away, Arizona State linebacker Anthony Jones was still lying on the football and the Badgers were still waiting for their chance at a potential game-winning field goal.
Or so it may have seemed to a disillusioned group of UW players and coaches.
It’s one thing to lose to Michigan State on a Hail Mary. That’s on them. Knock it down.
It’s one thing to lose to Ohio State on a late TD pass. That’s on them. Cover the receiver.
But this one, this loss to Arizona State, felt so much different to the upperclassmen that had experienced the heartbreak and disappointment of those two previous losses in 2011.
This one, they felt, was out of their control; this one was in the hands of an officiating crew that mishandled the final 18 seconds of a 32-30 loss to the Sun Devils.
After quarterback Joel Stave centered the ball and took a knee with the intent of stopping the clock by spiking the ball on the ensuing snap, the Badgers never got an opportunity for that snap.
Stave conceded afterward that he could have been more definitive in taking the knee, though he appeared to be bumped by left guard Ryan Groy in the process of doing so.
When Stave put the ball down on the turf, it led to even more confusion. Jones flopped on it. Since there was no declaration that it was a fumble by the officials -- and a whistle had blown to signal the play dead -- Jones could have been penalized.
At the very least, the clock should have been stopped while Jones was delaying the game.
When the Badgers got over the ball, umpire Doug Wilson held out his hand to stop them from snapping.
When the ball was finally snapped, time had run out.
In the end, there was an emptiness akin to Russell Wilson standing over the ball in the Rose Bowl. He never got that one last snap against Oregon and neither did Stave against Arizona State.
If Stave had spiked the snap in time and Kyle French had kicked the game-winner, the play of the game would have been Stave’s back-shoulder toss to Jeff Duckworth in front of the ASU bench.
Duckworth shook off the initial tackle attempt by Robert Nelson and advanced the ball to the Sun Devils 26 before being dragged down by Nelson. It was a 51-yard pitch-and-catch.
In the inaugural Big Ten championship game, Duckworth had become a part of Badgers lore when he caught a 36-yard pass from Wilson on fourth down to set up the game-winning touchdown.
Saturday night, he helped put the Badgers in a position to beat Arizona State despite the fact that they never got that chance to close the deal.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME
The Badgers wanted to get Melvin Gordon on the perimeter of the defense and they achieved their goal by lining him up as a wide receiver and taking the Fly Sweep out of month balls.
On the first play of the third quarter, Gordon perfectly timed up blocks by Brian Wozniak, Jacob Pedersen and Jared Abbrederis to bolt 80 yards for a touchdown.
Gordon has become one of the most dangerous weapons in college football. He’s averaging over 10 yards per carry -- for his career.
His game hasn’t stop evolving, either. Wait ‘til he starts catching passes out of the backfield.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME
Chris Borland had 10 tackles, UW’s only sack and a fourth-down pass completion.
There’s very little that he can’t do.
On fourth-and-5 from the UW 30, the Badgers lined up to punt.
But the ball was snapped to Wozniak, one of the protectors in the three-man shield.
Wozniak handed off to Borland, who rolled to his right with the option to run or throw.
Borland completed a pass to Pedersen for 23 yards; the pivotal play on a fourth-quarter drive that led to Wisconsin’s final touchdown of the night, a 1-yard run by Gordon.
There’s an undeniable resiliency to these players that was not rewarded Saturday.
What they experienced at Arizona State, the highs and lows, will make them a better team.