Dec. 2, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- It was not a gut-wrenching loss, not like the 1996 home loss to Northwestern in which Wisconsin had a 30-27 lead and the football on its own 38 with 1 minute and 33 seconds left.
Since the Badgers didn’t feel like they could run out the clock by getting into a victory formation and taking a knee, they did the next best thing, they handed the ball to Ron Dayne, then a freshman.
Dayne gained seven yards on first down. But on second down, he fumbled and the Wildcats recovered. Two plays later, they scored the game-winning touchdown. Gut-wrenching.
It was not a heart-breaking loss, not like the 2001 home loss to Michigan in which Wisconsin not only messed up an opportunity to win the game but turned around and found a new way to lose one.
The Badgers burned off 7:24 on the clock during a 14-play drive in the fourth quarter to set up a potential game-winning field from 36 yards that would have broken a 17-17 tie with 1:26 left.
But the kick sailed wide right. The UW defense then stuffed the Wolverines, who were forced to kick with 24 seconds remaining. The Badgers went for the punt block and didn’t have a kick-returner.
Except not everyone got the call. Hayden Epstein’s punt took a sharp angle bounce and hit freshman defensive back Brett Bell, who was blocking a Michigan player downfield.
The Wolverines recovered and Epstein kicked a 31-yard field goal with 10 seconds to play to saddle the Badgers with a 20-17 loss and eliminate them from bowl consideration. Heartbreaking.
Saturday’s loss to Penn State was neither gut-wrenching, nor heartbreaking; certainly not to the degree that the aforementioned ones to Northwestern and Michigan were.
Saturday’s loss to Penn State was disappointing, not unlike a 2005 home loss to Iowa in which Wisconsin jumped out to a 10-0 lead but couldn’t hold Iowa, which scored 20 unanswered points.
This was not how it was supposed to end for Barry Alvarez, who was coaching his final game in Camp Randall Stadium after what would later be recognized as a Hall of Fame career with the Badgers.
Despite the disappointing loss, the postgame ceremony was still a celebration of Alvarez’s success. The seniors later vowed that they would make it up to their coach by finishing strong.
After ending the regular season in Hawaii with a 41-24 victory, the Badgers pulled off the unexpected by upsetting No. 7 Auburn, 24-10, in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
On offense, Wisconsin chewed up the heavily-favored Tigers. Brian Calhoun ran for 213 yards, Brandon Williams caught six passes for 173 and John Stocco threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns.
It was a fitting sendoff for Alvarez and erased the disappointment of the home loss to Iowa.
Could history repeat itself?
There’s a chance that the Badgers could wind up in the Capital One Bowl. If they do, they could draw the loser of the SEC championship game between Missouri and Auburn. Yes, it could be Auburn.
|“What’s done is done,” Southward said. “We have to look forward to whatever bowl game we’re in and we have to prepare our tails off and play a great game against anyone we play.”
“What’s done is done, we can’t go back now, a loss is a loss,” said Wisconsin safety Dezmen Southward after Saturday’s disappointing 31-24 loss to Penn State.
“The most important thing is to forget about the past. We have to look forward to whatever bowl game we’re in and we have to prepare our tails off and play a great game against anyone we play.”
Southward, a fifth-year senior, has been part of just one bowl victory; a 20-14 win over Miami in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl, which was staged at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando.
“It’s hard to win a big-time bowl game because it’s the best of the best,” Southward allowed. “Since we’ve only won one bowl game over the last four years, it’s another goal (of this senior class).”
That was part of Saturday’s disappointment: the seniors didn’t get to enjoy their final appearance in Camp Randall. They had gone 25-2 at home over the last four seasons.
There’s usually music blaring from the speakers in the UW locker room following games. There was nothing but silence after a spirited fourth-quarter rally fell short against the Nittany Lions.
In sum, a very good Wisconsin football team picked a very bad time to play its worst game of the season -- to paraphrase Chris Borland -- especially since Penn State was so obviously motivated.
Not only did the Nittany Lions feel slighted to be such huge underdogs (three-plus touchdowns), but they have been forced to treat their final regular season game as a bowl game because of sanctions.
In addition, Penn State’s seniors had felt cheated after losing their final home game in overtime to Nebraska the previous week. That may have factored into their emotional state traveling to Madison.
Along with the fact they hadn’t played well on the road and wanted to make amends.
“Obviously, hats off to them,” Southward said. “But we weren’t very sharp today.”
No one disagreed.
“It’s not the end of the world, but it’s a terrible loss,” Borland said. “Maybe the silver lining is that the young guys can learn from it.
“But this shouldn’t have happened.”
Even though the Badgers were playing without safety Michael Caputo, the second-leading tackler, Borland said, “We certainly missed him; he’s a good player, but that’s no excuse.
“We just didn’t play as well as we should have. But we have to move forward. We still have a lot to play for, including a bowl win and a 10-win season. We need to win the bowl game.”
Does it make any easier to push this loss aside since these seniors have been through so much already? “It doesn’t make it any easier,” Borland said, “but we are better prepared to handle this.”
Once again, the team leaders will set the tempo as far as how the Badgers will now respond.
“I don’t think it will be hard (to bounce back),” said senior Ryan Groy. “We understand what we have to do during bowl prep. We’ll get healthy, we’ll get after it and we’ll get better.”
Others made the same promise.
“My message to the young guys,” said senior Ethan Hemer, “is that you can’t have any regrets, you have to play every down like it’s your last.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted, but this team has done so many positive things and this senior class had done so many great things that we won’t let it define what our team is.
“I’m trying to focus on the positives and all the good things we’ve accomplished. I know I’ve had a fantastic career. The brothership that we have is spectacular. I’m thankful to be a part of all of this.
“We’re going to a bowl game,” Hemer concluded, “and we’re going to get a win.”