Dec. 31, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- The first half wasn’t pretty. Take that back. It was pretty -- pretty ugly for a sluggish UW team that looked like it hadn’t played in 53 days. Or since the final game of the regular season.
Barry Alvarez took every precaution to keep his starters healthy during the bowl preparations so that meant he cut back on the hitting. The Badgers didn’t scrimmage at all before facing Stanford.
And it showed.
Wisconsin didn’t pick up a first down in the first quarter.
Wisconsin had only three points at halftime, and trailed 9-3.
“In the first half, everything was one step forward and two steps back,’’ said UW quarterback Brooks Bollinger. “We never really got into a flow. We’d make a play and have a penalty the next play.’’
Give credit to the Stanford defense for neutralizing Bollinger.
“When you talk about a quarterback like Bollinger, you have to say to yourself, ‘We have to contain him somehow,’’’ said Cardinal linebacker Sharcus Steen. “He’s a huge factor in their offense, almost as much as Ron Dayne. If he gets out on the bootlegs and waggles, he’s really dangerous.
“That’s one of their big plays and we adjusted with the linebackers and the secondary to try and contain him. There were times we were spying on Bollinger – putting one guy on the running back (Dayne) and one guy on Bollinger. And we were bringing pressure from the outside with our ends.’’
It worked like a charm for the underdog Cardinal. “I was worried coming into the game because Stanford does so many different things on defense and it’s confusing at times,’’ said UW offensive coordinator Jeff Horton. “I thought the biggest thing was that Brooks didn’t turn the ball over.
“Maybe there was a throw he could have made here or there. But he didn’t try to force things. The key was that we kept the ball in our possession until we punted (Kevin Stemke averaged 43.4 yards on eight kicks). The one thing I told Brooks, ‘Hey, don’t fight yourself out there. You’ve got to keep your poise and confidence and somewhere along the line you’ll come through.’’’
Bollinger got the message. “I don’t think anyone panicked,’’ he said. “Guys like Chris McIntosh and Ron Dayne did a tremendous job picking us up and keeping us going. I’m sure there were some people in the crowd panicking and saying, ‘We’re supposed to be killing these guys. What’s wrong?’
“But, as a team, we just stayed with it. The same thing happened at Ohio State when we fell behind 17-0 in the first half (Bollinger’s first start). When we were down, the guys realized it’s part of the game and if you stick with it, sooner or later it will work out. (UW beat the Buckeyes, 42-17.)
“I don’t know if I thought back to that game in Columbus. But I just tried to stay relaxed and not get frustrated even though I wasn’t playing well. My focus was on making good decisions.’’
Alvarez had to make a big decision before the Stanford game. He was thinking about coaching from the press box in the Rose Bowl because his temperamental knee was acting up again; the same knee that put him in the hospital earlier in the season and prevented him from coaching at Minnesota. Not that he was superstitious, but the Badgers were 7-0 when he was upstairs.
“The night before the Rose Bowl, I’m in my room making sure I stay awake until midnight,’’ Alvarez said. “Since we were on the brink of the new millennium, I’m waiting for Armageddon. If the world is going to end, I want to be up for it.
“So I’ve got my leg up in the air – my knee is packed in ice – and I’m watching some live TV reports from the East Coast as midnight approaches. Locally, they break in for a sports update, and the anchor is reporting that two of Stanford’s best players – Troy Walters and Willie Howard—were expected to play against Wisconsin. Earlier in the week they had been ruled out of the game.
“I knew what Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham was up to. ‘He’s trying to jack his guys up,’ I thought to myself. So I said, ‘The hell with it. I’m going to coach from the sidelines.’ I needed a cane but I was down on the field with my team. Not that this was the same team that ended the season.
“We were lethargic and sleepwalking in the first half against Stanford. I was so upset at halftime, I went straight to the kids in the locker room which I’ve rarely done as a head coach. I grabbed the damn cane and I was holding it like a baseball bat and I’m beating and slamming a garbage can.
“I was going nuts beating that sucker and screaming, ‘We’re going through the damn motions; you’ve been reading your press clippings. But Stanford doesn’t give a crap that you’re the favorite.’ I got their attention. In the second half, we were a much different team.’’
When Dayne was asked what had been said at halftime, if there had been any yelling and screaming, he grinned and replied, “We had a nice little calm talk and everybody got real motivated.’’
Dayne’s action spoke much louder than Alvarez’ words.
On the second play of the third quarter, Dayne burst through a gaping hole in the middle of the Stanford defense. Deftly setting up his downfield blockers, Chris Chambers and Nick Davis, he rumbled 64 yards to the Cardinal 11 yard-line before finally being brought down by Frank Primus.
That was a tone setter.
“That showed our character,’’ said UW defensive tackle Wendell Bryant. “That showed what our team is all about – we’re going to ram it down your throat. And that’s what we started to do.’’
Following Dayne’s defining run at the start of the second half, the Badgers grabbed the lead and held on to it. In rushing for 200 yards in Wisconsin’s 17-9 win, Dayne once again claimed the game’s MVP award as the Badgers became the first team in Big Ten history to win back-to-back Rose Bowls.
“Our defense played super,’’ Alvarez said.
Stanford led the Pac-10 in scoring offense averaging 37.2 points per game and hadn’t scored fewer than 17 against any opponent during the season. At the center of the attack was quarterback Todd Husak and his big-play receiver Walters, the Biletnikoff Award winner.
But the Badgers stoned Stanford on the ground: 27 rushing attempts for minus-5 yards. The Cardinal had only 116 yards in the second half, 41 coming in the final two minutes. “The defense was playing with a lot of confidence,’’ said UW offensive tackle Chris McIntosh.
The offense did its part, too, by staying away from turnovers. Brooks Bollinger became a part of history by being sound if not spectacular. Sounds a little bit like Scott Tolzien, doesn’t it?
“You’re looking at a redshirt freshman in Brooks, who has just won eight games in a row, including the Rose Bowl,’’ Horton said. “I don’t think you could ask any more of a young man, do you?’’