Sept. 16, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Some were numb.
"I haven't really come to term with any of it right now," said Wisconsin linebacker Ethan Armstrong. "It's still pretty emotional. We'll learn from it and we'll come back stronger from this."
Some were confused.
"I really don't know what happened or understand what happened at the end," said defensive tackle Ethan Hemer. "I just know it was an unfortunate way to lose a game."
Some were incredulous.
"I've been thinking about it since it ended," said linebacker Chris Borland. "I've never really been a part of something like that. I don't think anyone on our team has at any level."
All were emotionally spent after Saturday night's 32-30 loss at Arizona State.
"I can't even put into words the end of the game," Borland said. "That was unbelievable."
He was speaking for everyone in the UW locker room at Sun Devil Stadium.
"Everyone's emotions," Hemer said, surveying his teammates, "are pretty raw."
But everyone, he stressed, was resolved to dealing appropriately with this adversity.
"We have to move forward," Borland agreed. "Dwelling on this game or the lack of a call at the end isn't going to help us beat Purdue."
The Boilermakers will be in Madison Saturday for the Big Ten opener at Camp Randall Stadium.
"Our leaders and our vets will get our guys ready and focused," said Borland, one of 23 fifth-year seniors. "If anything, I think this (the ASU loss) will propel us forward."
Before boarding the team's charter for the flight home, Hemer said, "The important thing is we give ourselves a couple of hours to digest what happened and then we've got to put it to bed.
"We have to focus on Purdue. If we want to accomplish the things that we say we do, we have to be the kind of team that can move past this kind of adversity."
Armstrong sounded a realistic tone.
"There are two ways that we could go and it's up to us what direction we want to take," he said. "It's up to us if we want to move forward in a good way or a bad way."
He was confident the Badgers would choose the right path.
The prevalent attitude was that they're better for having experienced such a bitter ending.
|"It depends on how we handle this," Hemer said. "We can't let it be a setback; we can't let it affect next week's game. We have to put our focus on the Big Ten and our goals."
"It depends on how we handle this," said Hemer, adding the caveat. "We can't let it be a setback; we can't let it affect next week's game. We have to put our focus on the Big Ten and our goals."
If there were questions about this team's resiliency, UW tight end Jacob Pedersen believes that they were answered Saturday against Arizona State, which ran 93 plays to Wisconsin's 63.
"We dealt with adversity when they took the lead (in the fourth quarter)," Pedersen said. "Our team bounced back then and I know we'll bounce back now especially after an ending like that one.
"We have a good team ... I thought we should have won that game."
So did tailback Melvin Gordon, who certainly did his part by rushing for 193 yards on just 15 carries. Over the last five games, Gordon has run for 744 yards and averaged a staggering 13.5 per rush.
Including his 80-yard touchdown sprint on the first play of the third quarter Saturday night, Gordon has produced at least one run of 60 or more yards in four of his long five games.
"Unfortunately, we still came up a little bit short," Gordon said. "That hurts to be touching a win -- it's there, it's in your grasp -- and for it to get taken away like that, it's unbelievable. That hurts."
Defensively, the Badgers were hurt by pass interference penalties and back-shoulder fade routes on the boundary that were executed nearly flawlessly by ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly and his receivers.
"They ran a very fast-paced offense and sometimes it did get to me," said freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton. "But coach (Gary Andersen) stuck with me and told me to stay confident.
"I made some mistakes but I'm ready to go back to practice this week and get better. I know, for myself, I can learn a lot from it."
Outside of the West, Kelly has been a well-kept secret. Last season, he finished second in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency to Oregon's Marcus Mariota, a serious Heisman Trophy candidate.
"It was a great challenge to compete against that offense," said Armstrong, who led the Badgers with 11 tackles. "I give a lot of credit to them. They try to wear you down with their tempo.
"We just needed to make a few more plays. We competed the way we needed to, but we just needed to execute a little better."
The Sun Devils had two scoring drives of longer than 90 yards and controlled the clock (31:58).
"Number one, being out in the desert and with the speed and tempo of their offense, I thought we handled that well," Borland said. "We played hard all four quarters. Fatigue was not an issue.
"We were put in some tough spots and we responded well. They've got some playmakers and I think they're a great offense, not just a good offense. It tests you in every way really."
After Arizona State had pulled ahead, 32-24, in the fourth quarter, Borland was an integral part of a fake punt that allowed Wisconsin to grab back some much needed momentum.
On fourth-and-5 from the UW 30, the ball was snapped to Brian Wozniak, one of the three protectors in the blocking shield. Wozniak ran to his left and flipped the ball to Borland.
"Brian and I were practicing handoffs in the hotel," Borland said. "We saw something in the film that we could exploit them and we had it in all week, and the time arose where we needed it."
Rolling to his right, Borland had the option to run or throw. "I thought maybe I could get the first down (running)," he said, "but Ped (Pedersen) was wide open so I dumped it off to him."
Borland completed a short pass to Pedersen for a 23-yard gain that kept the drive alive; what would turn out to be an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive for the Badgers.
"We worked it (the fake) a whole bunch in practice and it worked every single time," said Pedersen. "We knew it was going to work (Saturday) and it came in a huge situation for us."
Nobody is more adept at coming up huge in the clutch than wide receiver Jeff Duckworth.
In the 2011 Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State, Duckworth was on the receiving end of a 36-yard pass from Russell Wilson on fourth down that led to the game-winning score.
On Wisconsin's final possession Saturday night, on third-and-4 from the UW 23, Stave and Duckworth hooked up on a 51-yard pass play that put the Badgers within field goal range of a victory.
"It was a great play by Duck," Stave said. "He's really reliable and he makes great adjustments on the ball. When I saw the defensive player's back turned, I'd figured I'd give him a shot."
Duckworth shook off the initial tackle attempt by Arizona State free safety Robert Nelson and rumbled down the sidelines before Nelson was finally able to track him down on the ASU 26.
"It was just a slot fade and Joel threw a great back-shoulder pass to me and I was able to make a play," said Duckworth who, for a moment, thought that he might be able to score.
"At first, I did. But I felt a little pop in my hamstring and it slowed me down."
Even though he has not always been prominently featured in the wide receiver rotation, Duckworth said, "You've just got to kind of prepare as a starter and be ready at all times."
On another night, with another officiating crew, he might have been the player of the game.
"Our leaders have to lead right now -- that's when leaders show up and lead the team," said Duckworth. "We all have to lead by example and come ready to work Monday."
Still what took place in the desert Saturday night won't soon be forgotten.
"But we have to use it as a positive thing to bring us together during this adversity," said UW nose guard Beau Allen. "We have to use it as a motivation for the rest of the year."