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Lucas' Last Word: Badgers-Spartans sequel worthy of 'classic' title

<b>Jeff Duckworth's spectacular fourth-down catch kept the Badgers' Big Ten title dreams alive.</b>

Jeff Duckworth's spectacular fourth-down catch kept the Badgers' Big Ten title dreams alive.

Dec. 4, 2011

After turning off the microphone as the analyst for the Badger Radio Network, UWBadgers.com Insider Mike Lucas offers some final thoughts on the Badgers' thrilling win in the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium.


INDIANAPOLIS -- Maybe no one should have been surprised by another instant (replay) classic between Wisconsin and Michigan State.

Both had won 21 of their last 25 games, both had evolved around their talented seniors; the Spartans were the winningest class in school history and the Badgers the second-winningest group ever at UW.

Both were saving their best football for last. Michigan State was 13-3 in November under Mark Dantonio, and Wisconsin was 19-2 in regular-season games after Nov. 1 under Bret Bielema.

Both had established their surpremacy on their home turf. Michigan State had won 14 straight at Spartan Stadium; Wisconsin had won 16 in a row at Camp Randall Stadium.

Both had the proverbial chip on their shoulder. The Spartans felt like they should have been in Pasadena last year; the Badgers felt like they should have been in overtime in the teams’ last meeting.

On top of that, Wisconsin felt jilted by fans that jumped off the bandwagon after back-to-back, gut-wrenching losses on the road at Michigan State and Ohio State; the Spartans felt jilted by the odds-makers that made them a double-digit underdog for the Big Ten championship game.

That was the backdrop to the sequel, which far exceed The Hangover Part II in anyone’s expectations.

Fittingly, there were two instances of poetic justice.

The first was a booth review after a Kirk Cousins pass to Keshawn Martin on the boundary. On a third-and-8 from the Michigan State 39, Cousins had a chance to keep the drive alive by running for the first down. Instead, he pulled up and fired a high pass to Martin, who had one foot -- or toe at least -- down before going out of bounds.

That was the ruling on the field. Upon further review, the call was overturned -- not unlike the Spartans’ Hail Mary in their win in East Lansing.

There was also poetic justice on the play that sealed Wisconsin’s victory and Michigan State’s fate on this night.

Isaiah Lewis ran into Badgers punter Brad Nortman, erasing a punt return by Martin that went all the way down to the Wisconsin 3-yard line.

Since two blocked punts had conspired against Wisconsin in their road losses, this not only served to heal those wounds, but brought a form of closure -- for now -- to UW’s season-long adventures and misadventures on special teams.

Badgers bounce back in second half
After a disastrous second quarter in which the Spartans exploded for 22 unanswered points and outgained the Badgers by a margin of 208-(minus-4), the first series of the third quarter was crucial in setting the tempo for the second half.

Especially with Michigan State getting the ball to start the period.

There were many things said at halftime by some of Wisconsin’s seniors, including defensive tackle Patrick Butyrm, who challenged his teammates by decrying the Badgers’ first-half effort as unacceptable.

First-down runs had been the bane of the Badgers’ defense in the first half and, when Wisconsin tackled Martin for a 1-yard loss on the first play of the third quarter, it was a positive step toward taking back the momentum.

An even bigger play was Brendan Kelly’s tackle-for-loss on third-and-1. In the first half, the Spartans had converted on 4 of 6 third downs -- a common thread in UW’s last two losses to Michigan State.

The Badgers needed a defensive stop and got one from Kelly. The offense followed suit with a touchdown drive.

That stop and score helped exorcise the second-quarter demons and delivered a statement that the Badgers were physically and emotionally prepared to take whatever punch the Spartans threw -- while throwing some haymakers of their own.

Duckworth surprises, Wilson doesn’t
I’m not sure anyone had Jeff Duckworth in their pool for the first player to score a touchdown in Big Ten championship game history. As memorable as that TD was -- it was Duckworth’s first career score -- he came up with an even bigger play in the fourth quarter.

On a fourth-and-6 from the Michigan State 43, Russell Wilson lofted pass that seemed to hang in the air forever. When it finally came down, Duckworth had positioned himself between Michigan State’s safeties, Trenton Robinson and Isaiah Lewis, to make a clutch grab on the MSU 7-yard line.

Duckworth filled a void created when Nick Toon had to leave the game with an injury on the same series. That catch led to a Montee Ball rushing touchdown and a successful two-point conversion as Wilson found Jacob Pedersen on a dart to the end zone.

It was so typical of Wilson’s season, extending a play with his mobility in the pocket.

Another example of Wilson’s athleticism was his third-quarter heave to Jared Abbrederis. Feeling the pressure of blitzing cornerback Johnny Adams, Wilson used a nifty spin move to avoid a sack despite getting raked across the face by Adams on a play ruled a personal foul.

It was vintage Wilson.

Ball deserves a call
For over 20 years, I was the state representative for the Heisman Trophy committee. My job entailed nominating people to vote for the Heisman and making sure they met specific criteria from year to year. This summer, I decided that I needed to make a decision on my status, and I gave up both my title and my Heisman vote.

I did not want to put the Heisman committee in any type of compromising position regarding what could have been a potential conflict of interest based on my employment with UWBadgers.com.

Trust me when I say I had no idea that the Badgers would have not one, but two, serious candidates to be in the Heisman discussion. That’s what Russell Wilson and Montee Ball have been -- and should be.

I think it would be an injustice if Ball isn’t invited to New York to be part of the Heisman ceremony because he has done everything necessary to put himself on a level with any of the other great running backs in the country, including Alabama’s Trent Richardson.

If anyone saw Erin Andrews’ interview with Ball on ESPN's College GameDay, they had to be sold on his presence and overall makeup. It sold Montee the person before Montee the player, and that might merit a trip to New York by itself.

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