Sept. 18, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- Coaches have long preached that every play in a football game matters.
It’s even more true when a game is decided by a single point, something that certainly was on display Saturday inside Camp Randall Stadium.
From a kickoff returned for a touchdown to a key first down to a blocked extra-point attempt, a number of singular moments led to Wisconsin 20, Arizona State 19.
They also went a long way toward showing the No. 11 Badgers just what they’re made of.
It seemed that every time they got into gear, Arizona State stepped up to knock them back into reverse. In finding some forward momentum again each and every time, Wisconsin put its resiliency on display for the first time this year.
Whether it was battling back from a special teams breakdown or dealing with a seemingly constant string of injuries, the Badgers had an answer.
“I think the most important thing is we came out with a ‘W,’” junior safety Aaron Henry said. “Our defense played solid, our offense played solid and it was a grind of a game.
“Coach B always talks about finishing, and that’s what we did.”
| Instant Impressions
|What sealed the deal?
• On third-and-2, Scott Tolzien and Lance Kendricks hooked up for a 17-yard pass that gave UW a first down in ASU territory with just over a minute to play.
|Who gets the game ball?
• Senior safety Jay Valai, whose outstanding individual effort to block Arizona State's extra-point attempt with 4:09 left kept the Badgers out front for good.
|What stands out?
• The fact that neither team turned the ball over, marking the first time UW and its opponent went without a turnover in a game since 2003.
Henry’s group was one of several Badger units under the microscope heading into the matchup with ASU. The secondary responded by keeping deep-threat quarterback Steven Threet largely in check.
The Michigan transfer – who had prior experience in defeating the Badgers – was held without a touchdown and didn’t connect on a pass longer than 18 yards.
“We looked at the film and went over everything knowing that we had to stop the big plays,” senior cornerback Niles Brinkley said. “Our goal was to try to keep them from scoring and it was an emphasis on the DBs to stop the long plays.”
It wasn’t just the secondary that stepped up. When starting linebacker Chris Borland went down early with another shoulder injury, there was no dropoff for the defense. Starting middle linebacker Culmer St. Jean also went to the sidelines briefly with an injury, as did starting defensive end J.J. Watt – twice.
Still, the defense rallied to keep Arizona State out of the end zone in each of the Sun Devils’ first three trips inside the 20. Those defensive stands in the red zone meant a total of six points for ASU instead of a possible 21.
“We kept fighting, and that’s pretty much what it boiled down to,” Henry said.
Wisconsin’s offense, which was dealing with injury issues of its own, seemed to feed off the defense’s red-zone stops and twice scored after a defensive stand inside the 10-yard line.
Like the defense, the offensive unit also relied on some stand-ins who stepped up to fill their roles in a big way as usual starting wide receivers Nick Toon and David Gilreath watched from the sidlines.
Of the Badgers’ top four receivers on the day, one was a tight end, one a tailback and the other a true freshman walk-on.
Senior Lance Kendricks, the tight end, hauled in a game-high seven passes for a career-best 138 yards and was on the receiving end of the Scott Tolzien touchdown pass that staked the Badgers to an – albeit brief – lead late in the second quarter.
Montee Ball, the tailback, had four catches, while freshman Jared Abbrederis hauled in three balls for 35 yards and also carried the ball twice for 19.
“The one thing I’ve learned here in this program is that, when someone goes down, the next man is expected to come in and make it a seamless transition,” Tolzien said. “I thought today was just an excellent example of that with … all those guys stepping up and filling those voids in the passing game.”
As clear as the Badgers’ resilient ways became over the course of the game, they certainly were magnified by those few plays that stand out in the highlights.
The biggest spotlights were shined by Shelton Johnson’s touchdown-saving tackle just before halftime and Jay Valai’s extra-point block late in the fourth quarter.
“Shelton made a great play, which could have been the difference in the game,” Valai said of his teammate’s tackle of ASU return man Kyle Middlebrooks. “We lived to see another day."
Valai could also pat himself on the back for that. Instead of rolling over after giving up their first red-zone touchdown of the day, the 5-foot-9 Valai helped the Badgers capitalize on a rare opportunity to keep the tide turned in their favor.
“It shows that we are going to fight to the end. No obstacle is going to keep up down,” said Watt, who twice left the game for just a single play due to a thigh contusion. “They scored a big touchdown there with only four minutes to go and it would have been easy for us to just mosey along on that extra point block, but we all came hard.
“Jay Valai came free and that’s the difference in winning a football game right there.”
It’s an example of how no detail is too small and, as head coach Bret Bielema stressed afterward, no play is insignificant.
“When (the Sun Devils) scored a touchdown, it wasn't a flinch that they just scored a touchdown, it was the next opportunity to make a play, and our guys capitalized on it,” Bielema said.
In doing so, the team reinforced another idea Bielema is especially fond of. Saturday’s win wasn’t the product of what happened to the Badgers but, instead, how they responded.
"Football is a game that is comprised of four quarters, 15 minutes each, 60 minutes of playing time," Bielema said. "But really, it's 60 minutes of reaction, who reacts better to what happens.
"If the result in the end is positive, it shows that we had the proper reactions."
UW Athletic Communications