Nov. 24, 2012
After turning off the microphone as the analyst for the Badger Radio Network, UWBadgers.com Insider Mike Lucas offers some final thoughts on Wisconsin's 24-21 overtime loss to Penn State at Beaver Stadium.
BY MIKE LUCAS
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The play call had the makings of a big hit, a Montee Ball run to daylight.
But as quickly as the hole opened up, it was closed by Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who brought down Ball after a 1-yard gain. That was Wisconsin’s first play of overtime and it underscored the slim margin of error that has existed all season for this team.
Had that block on Hill been sustained a second longer, it might have been the difference between an overtime win and momentum going into the Big Ten Football Championship Game, and another overtime loss and frustration.
After Ball was stopped on first down, the Badgers narrowly missed turning it over twice, on a fumble and a near-interception, before missing the field goal that would have sent the game into a second overtime.
Unlike the Ohio State loss a week before, UW’s defense got the stop it needed by forcing Penn State to settle for a field goal in its overtime series. But the offense couldn’t capitalize. As a team, the Badgers came up empty-handed again in their quest for that elusive reward for the resiliency that they had shown in each of their five losses.
Despite their inability to finish, especially in the overtimes, the reward actually gets bigger next week in Indianapolis. To the winner goes the ultimate Big Ten prize, a trip to Pasadena.
Lest you think Wisconsin would be the worst team to ever play in the Rose Bowl, should the Badgers find a way to beat Nebraska, think again. Craig James labeled UW’s 1998 team the worst of the worst, the Badgers responded with a victory over UCLA in the 1999 Rose Bowl. It would be a piece of history worth repeating.
An accomplishment for the ages
Montee Ball would surely trade the football keepsake -- the one he toted across the goal line in the first quarter to set the NCAA career record for touchdowns -- for a game ball that signifies a victory. Nonetheless, Ball’s 79th career touchdown was a thing of beauty from an execution standpoint.
The Badgers brought tight end Jacob Pedersen in motion from the left side of the formation to the right. Pedersen sealed inside, opening up the toss sweep to Ball. Kyle Costigan and Rob Havenstein fired out of their stances, with Havenstein blocking up Penn State linebacker Mike Hull. Fullback Derek Watt led interference around the corner and chopped safety Jacob Fagnano to the ground.
Ball tiptoed around the boundary and got a block on the goal line from wide receiver Jeff Duckworth, who would later make the clutch catch on the game-tying drive engineered by Curt Phillips at the end of regulation.
At that point, after Ball’s record-breaking touchdown, the Badgers seemed to be in firm control of the game. They had run eight plays, scored two touchdowns and taken a 14-7 lead, silencing the Beaver Stadium crowd.
But the inability to sustain the offense has been a storyline all season long. Wisconsin has been very good in spurts, but not so good in other long stretches in the game. That was again the case in the first half.
Particularly frustrating was the first Wisconsin series in the second quarter, in which the Badgers overcame a holding penalty and drove to the Penn State 31 yard line. On fourth down, illegal procedure wiped out what would have been a first down. The Badgers would have been in position to get points, whether by a field goal or a touchdown. That was the first of many frustrations for the offense.
It is difficult to explain, this inconsistency on offense. It is how Wisconsin can all of the sudden show resiliency in the final seconds of a close game, as they did for the second week in a row by mounting that game-tying march by Phillips, especially without Jared Abbrederis, their best receiver.
While the Badgers will be the underdog against Nebraska, of all the possible matchups this one will at least bring some familiarity to the game itself, and you have to believe that Wisconsin learned something from that earlier loss in Lincoln that they can use to their advantage in Indianapolis.
The pressure is on Nebraska, it is not on Wisconsin.
The Badgers will have to live this week with the “backdoor Badgers” designation, by virtue of finishing as the third-best team in the Leaders Division. But that doesn’t take away from what they can still gain from winning on Saturday.