Badgers Fall In Southern California Shootout
PASADENA, Calif. - It just wouldn't have been right if the Rose Bowl Game didn't go down to the wire. A shootout in southern California ended in another tough loss for the Wisconsin Badgers, who fall to 11-3 after losing their second-consecutive Rose Bowl Game, this time to the Oregon Ducks (12-2, 8-1 Pac-12).
After trading scores for the entire game, the Badgers found themselves down by just a touchdown with 16 seconds left in the game. After driving 66 yards on their final possession, it looked as though the Badgers would be able to take one last shot at the endzone from the Oregon 25-yard line. But there wasn't enough time left on the clock for senior quarterback Russell Wilson to stop it with a spike, and the Badgers fell just short of being Rose Bowl Champions once again.
"Obviously not an outcome we're happy with," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said after the game. "We'll carry it with us for the rest of our lives. We're kind of tired of (having) tears of sadness, (we) want to come out here and experience tears of joy at some point."
"We'll rebound from this."
The first half followed a particular pattern. The Badgers would score, and the Ducks would respond. Wisconsin struck first, as the Badgers drove 77 yards on seven plays, scoring on a 38-yard pass from quarterback Russell Wilson to wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. But the Ducks responded quickly, as their high-octane offense put up a touchdown of their own on a run from tailback LaMichael James to tie the game at 7-7.
Wilson led a drive and scored on a second-and-goal play for another Badger touchdown. The Ducks struck back just three plays later on a 91-yard rushing touchdown from Oregon receiver De'Anthony Thomas. On their next possession, the Badgers drove 64 yards on eight plays to take the lead, but it wasn't theirs for long. Thomas threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Kenjon Barner, using only 14 seconds of clock.
The Badgers caught a break after a failed fourth down conversion as Oregon fumbled and the defensive end Louis Nzegwu returned it for a touchdown. Oregon then drove back down the field to tie the game at 28-28 with another touchdown pass.
After getting the ball at halftime, the Ducks took their first lead of the game on another receiving touchdown for Thomas, going up 35-28. The Badgers were forced to settle for a field goal on their next possession, bringing them to within 35-31. After forcing a three-and-out, the Badgers took the lead back on an 18-yard touchdown to receiver Nick Toon.
After trading interceptions, the Ducks retook the lead on a touchdown to Tuinei, and eventually built a seven-point lead. The Badgers tried to re-take the lead, but Abbrederis lost a fumble to Oregon at their 25-yard line.
After the Ducks ran down the clock the Badgers took over with 0:16 seconds left, but were ultimately unable to score a game-tying touchdown. Wilson completed a 33-yard pass to Toon and tried to spike the ball to stop the clock, but a video replay showed time had expired.
For the most part, the Badgers were able to keep up with Oregon's high-octane offense. They never trailed in the first half, and dominated the time of possession battle. But when the teams came out for the second half, it was a different story. The Badgers couldn't contain the Oregon offense enough to give their own players a chance, and couldn't capitalize on the few defensive stops they did make - including an interception by safety Aaron Henry, which was closely followed by a rare interception from Wilson.
Ball finished the night with 164 yards and a touchdown, tying Barry Sanders' record for most touchdowns in a single season. Wilson also etched his name in the record books. The senior quarterback finished the year by setting the NCAA record for single-season passing efficiency. He the nation with a 191.78 mark, topping the previous high of 186.0, set by Hawaii's Colt Brennan in 2006.
But even still, the nice-looking statistics aren't enough to shake the sting of another Rose Bowl loss.
"Well, obviously it stings a little bit," Ball said after the game. "But we're going to approach this just like we did last year after the loss. Obviously, a little better, prepared a lot better, but the only way we can go with it is forward."
After the game, Bielema also became emotional when talking about the level of support his team has received from Badger fans, as well as how much this outgoing senior class has accomplished.
"I also want to thank Wisconsin fans for coming out here again," Bielema said. "I know they're going to be disappointed, but we have the best fans in the world, and I think it truly showed in the way that they came out here again."
"Hopefully nobody ever gets tired of coming out to the Rose Bowl."
The Badgers now look forward to 2012, where they return experience on defense but have many question marks and risk losing Ball and center Peter Konz to the NFL, in addition to Wilson and other key seniors. Ball said he expects to make his decision in the next few days, and Konz has said he'll decide within a week.
But even though his time is up as a Wisconsin Badger, Wilson didn't despair after the game. He was his usual self: calm and even-keeled.
"For whatever reason, I think that next year's team is going to have a bunch of guys that, one, have a lot of experience now, and two, have a lot of determination to be great," Wilson said. "I'm just glad to have been with these guys ... it was a great experience for me. Every single day I've cherished, and every single moment is truly special."
"But it's unfortunate the way that we lost, and the best thing about these guys ... is the way they fought. I'm glad to be a part of this Badger family."
While Ohio State's bowl ban gives the Badgers a window to make a return trip to the Rose Bowl in 2013, those question marks need to be answered - most notably, once again, at quarterback. But this time, it doesn't seem like another Russell Wilson is waiting in the wings.
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