Dec. 31, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Regrets. J.J. Watt had them after Wisconsin’s 21-19 loss to TCU in the 2011 Rose Bowl.
“We know how much this means to everybody involved,” he said disconsolately. “We work 365 days a year for this and then we come out here and don’t execute.”
TCU quarterback Andy Dalton was a difference-maker. Dalton hurt the Badgers with his arm (15-for-23 for 219 yards) and his feet (9 rushes for 28 yards and a touchdown).
South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw has many of the same attributes. He poses a dual-threat as a thrower and runner and he’s a team leader in the Dalton mode.
“You give your best football player the ball,” Watt said of Dalton. (The Gamecocks will do likewise Wednesday with Shaw). “They wanted him to run the ball, they wanted him to pass the ball and he had success doing it.
“Why not let him do it? We didn’t stop him and that’s how you lose a football game.”
Regrets. Watt had them.
“But the Wisconsin Badgers will be back to the Rose Bowl,” he promised. “The football program does things the right way. Coach (Barry) Alvarez leads the athletic department the right way. No doubt about it, the Badgers will be back.”
Watt didn’t come back; he left for the NFL. But the Badgers did bounce back.
“When they come back,” Watt predicted, “they’ll be back better than ever.”
Regrets. Montee Ball had them after Wisconsin’s 45-38 loss to Oregon in the 2012 Rose Bowl.
“Obviously, it stings a little bit,” Ball said, “because one of our main goals is to win for each other and we wanted this win for Wisconsin Nation and most definitely our seniors. It was the last game of their careers, so obviously that stings a lot.”
South Carolina’s team speed is similar to Oregon’s, though the Gamecocks don’t have anybody as explosive as De’Anthony Thomas; few teams have that type of game-breaker. Thomas had touchdown bursts of 91 and 64 yards.
Yet, the Badgers had their own difference-maker and game-breaker in Russell Wilson, one of the most dynamic players, at any position, to ever don a UW uniform (for however long). But he also fell short in leading Wisconsin to a Rose Bowl win.
“To lose the way we did,” said Wilson, who completed 19 of 25 passes for 296 yards, “is only going to make me stronger in the future and it will help me figure out something else down the road; maybe win a Super Bowl, you never know.”
That Super Bowl could be this season. You never know.
Regrets. Ball had them, just like Watt had them. Unlike Watt, he returned for one more shot at the prize, an elusive bowl win.
“What I brought from last year (2011) to this year (2012) is that you have to capitalize on every play and every opportunity,” Ball said. “Obviously, we fell short again. But I believe it’s going to make us stronger and we’ll be back here next year.”
Regrets. Chris Borland had them after Wisconsin’s 20-14 loss to Stanford in the 2013 Rose Bowl.
|“These are hard games to win against quality teams that are also taking the game very seriously,” Armstrong said. “but it’s a chance to show the whole country your brand of football and how you play the game.”
“The immediate reaction is the same -- it’s heartbreaking,” Borland said. “You’d like to send out guys like Montee the right way and we couldn’t get it done. It’s kind of been a microcosm of our whole season. We faced adversity, fought back and came up short.”
The Badgers struggled to sustain anything offensively against Stanford’s front seven, a 3-4 alignment that Wisconsin has since adopted. The Cardinal defense pitched a shutout in the second half, limiting the vaunted UW rushing attack to 57 yards.
South Carolina doesn’t play the same kind of defensive scheme, but the Gamecocks can be just as effective with its front seven, especially on the line of scrimmage with elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles.
Regrets. Borland doesn’t want to have any after Wednesday’s Capital One Bowl game. Neither does linebacker Ethan Armstrong.
“We won’t want to go out with tears in the locker room,” Armstrong said, “and with everyone saying, ‘I wish I could have done this’ or ‘I wish I could have done that.’
“We want to go out feeling good, we want to go out feeling like ‘Yeah, we put so much into this (game and season) and we can be proud of what we did.”’
Orlando is not Pasadena; the Cap One is not the Granddaddy of Them All. But it doesn’t take away from an obvious motivation for these UW players, particularly the seniors.
“It means a lot to be able to go out and compete against a really, really good team like South Carolina,” said Armstrong. “It’s something you’ve been building towards all year and you have to take it seriously. It’s not a vacation, it’s a business trip.
“These are hard games to win against quality teams that are also taking the game very seriously. But it’s a chance to show the whole country your brand of football and how you play the game.
“It’s an opportunity to show everybody what you’ve got.”
• • • •
Wisconsin offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig summed up the sentiments of probably everyone when he said, “We don’t want to practice anymore, we want to play.”
Ludwig took part in a Monday press conference that also included UW defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, Borland and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. It was the final time the players will say anything until they do their talking on the turf of Citrus Bowl Stadium.
South Carolina’s contingent -- which followed Wisconsin’s -- featured co-offensive coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr. (the son of the 1966 Heisman winner), defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, offensive guard Ronald Patrick and defensive end Chaz Sutton.
Spurrier Jr. has many of the same mannerisms as his high-profile old man. But he’s not nearly as entertaining. Few can win a room like Steve Spurrier, the Head Ball Coach.
“I told the players today,” he said, “This is the game we will talk about for eight months, so this is a huge game. Somebody told me there wasn’t a single person in China who had ever heard of Jadeveon Clowney. Now they all know who he is after that hit (on Michigan tailback Vincent Smith in last season’s Outback Bowl).
“If we can do something special (against Wisconsin on Wednesday) the replays will go on for eight months. Bowl games are huge.”
Patrick and Sutton, not Clowney, represented the Gamecocks at the presser because they are two of the five seniors on the roster. Still, Clowney, defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and cornerback Victor Hampton took part in Senior Day. All are headed for the draft.
South Carolina has a very young group, and an angry one --- based on what both Patrick and Sutton had to say about the Badgers being listed as the betting favorite going into the game. The Gamecocks feel slighted.
Sutton called it a “slap in the face.”
“We have a chance to prove a lot of people wrong,” said Patrick.
Sutton emphasized, “We deserve way much more respect.”
Borland responded a little bit differently by first admitting that he was a “little surprised” to learn a Big Ten team was favored over an SEC team especially since there’s such a “huge SEC bias” which, he noted, is justified because of the league’s success.
But he also made a point of saying, “We expect to win.”
Abbrederis was unwilling to get dragged into the conversation.
“I don’t try to get caught up in those things,” he said.
That goes for school records. Abbrederis need six catches against South Carolina to surpass Brandon William’s mark of 202 career receptions. “If we win the game,” Abbrederis said, “and I don’t have any catches, I’m happy with that.”
Borland and Abbrederis got the requisite questions about what it was like to play their final year for UW head coach Gary Andersen. They were also asked to describe the other’s leadership abilities which led to an instructive exchange.
“Jared was actually our scout team quarterback in 2009,” Borland said, “so I knew how good of an athlete he was from the get-go.”
Abbrederis was freshman redshirt in 2009, which was also the last time the Badgers won a bowl game; 20-14 over Miami here in Orlando. Borland played in that game.
“It has been great to watch him grow and become one of the better receivers in our conference and maybe the country,” Borland said of Abbrederis. “He comes to work every day. He’s a good friend and a teammate.”
Abbrederis returned the compliments.
“I don’t think there’s a better leader on any team than Chris,” he said. “Every guy who comes into contact with him would say the same thing. Chris is the one who shows us how to work. He’s our team leader, we go as he goes.”
Borland is determined to go out without any regrets. “A 10th win over a good team,” he said, “would say a lot and validate a lot.”