National title hopes crushed by last-second Hail Mary
In a game with more momentum swings than a rollercoaster, the No. 6 Badgers suffered a heartbreaking loss to No. 16 Michigan State, giving up a controversial touchdown as time expired.
With four seconds left, the score tied at 31-31, and Michigan State on Wisconsin's 44 yard line, MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins threw a Hail-Mary pass into the endzone. Wisconsin safety Aaron Henry tried to intercept Cousins, but the ball bounced off of the mass of players and into the hands of Michigan State receiver Keith Nichol. Officials originally spotted the ball just short of the goal line, but a video review gave the officials enough evidence to award Michigan State the touchdown and the game.
Fans will debate the timing of Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema's second time out, or whether there was enough video evidence to award Michigan State the game-winning touchdown, but the Badgers had plenty of chances to stop Michigan State during the game, and for the most part couldn't get it done.
With the loss, the Badgers' struggles in East Lansing continued for the second straight year, and their national title aspirations are likely laid to rest. The Badgers still control their own fate in the Big Ten, and still have a clear path to playing in the Big Ten Championship Game.
But the loss will sting much more for a team that started the season with such high hopes, and took care of business in their first six games.
The game started on a high note for Wisconsin. The Badgers took the opening kickoff and drove down the field for a touchdown, on a pass from Wilson to a wide-open Jacob Pedersen. On Michigan State's ensuing drive, Spartan running back Edwin Baker fumbled the ball, and the Badgers recovered on MSU's 30 yard line. Three plays later, the Badgers were up 14-0 and looked as though they would be able to leave East Lansing with a win for the first time since 2002.
But then everything went horribly wrong for Bret Bielema and the Badgers. Wilson threw just his second interception of the year to Trenton Robinson on a miscommunication with receiver Nick Toon, and while the Wisconsin defense was able to stop the Spartans on their next drive, the momentum had shifted Michigan State's way. The Spartans recorded a safety on the Badgers' next possession, after Wilson was flagged for intentional grounding while in the Wisconsin endzone. Spartan running back Keshawn Martin scored a touchdown on the next drive, reducing the Badger lead to five points.
The Spartans proceeded to block both a field goal and a punt, the latter of which was returned for a touchdown. Before the Badgers could stop the bleeding and head to the locker room for halftime, they were down 23-14.
But the Badgers didn't go away in the second half. They held Michigan State scoreless in the third quarter, and reduced the lead to six points with a field goal from Philip Welch. And except for giving up a touchdown and a two-point conversion to the Spartans early in the fourth quarter, the Badger defense gave the offense several chances to make a comeback. The Badgers turned two of their four possessions in the fourth quarter into touchdowns, eventually tying the game at 31-31. But in the end, the Badgers were not able to come back after their dreadful second quarter, and missed several opportunities to make a complete comeback.
Wilson missed a wide-open Pedersen at least twice for what could have been touchdowns, and the Badgers committed several penalties, while Michigan State wasn't penalized at all during the game.
Wilson had his moments during the game, completing 14 of 21 passes for 223 yards and accounting for three total touchdowns, but he threw two key interceptions that stalled Wisconsin drives. With the loss, Wilson's Heisman Trophy chances take a serious hit, if not ending them.
The game also showed how important Montee Ball is to the Wisconsin offense. A shaken Ball was taken out of the game after a head-to-head hit, and the Badgers missed his contributions in the second quarter. Backup running back James White only got four yards on two carries in the second quarter, including falling a yard short of a first down, which forced the Badgers to attempt a field goal. Ball returned in the second half, and ended the day with 139 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
It's a heartbreaking game in what could have been an unprecedented season for the Badgers, but they still have a chance to play in a second consecutive BCS bowl. We'll know soon enough if the Badgers can get back on their feet for the second straight year after losing in East Lansing. They have another challenging game ahead - they'll travel to Columbus to take on a disappointing, but still talented, Buckeye team hungry for revenge after the Badgers toppled then-No. 1 Ohio State 31-18 in Madison.
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