It was another disappointing New Year's Day loss for the Wisconsin Badgers on Wednesday, losing to the South Carolina Gamecocks, 34-24, in the Capital One Bowl. This, all the while having two 100-yard running backs in James White and Melvin Gordon, and not punting once in the game.
So what happened that made Wisconsin lose by its largest margin -- only 10 points, mind you -- in years? The loss of quarterback Joel Stave to injury in the third quarter, the inability to score touchdowns early in the second half to put the Gamecocks in a deeper hole, among other factors ultimately led to to the Badgers' loss.
|Total 1st half:||22||12||34||2|
|Total 2nd half:||20||15||35||0|
Passes: 27 (including the sack on Joel Stave)
Total plays: 69
Field goals: 1
What went right
1. Pulling guards and power football. You want to contain standout defensive end and future NFL Top-five draft pick Jadeveon Clowney? Send a tight end, fullback or pulling guard to kick him out or take him out of the play. The Badgers ran the ball 43 times Wednesday; 22 involved pulling guards Ryan Groy and Kyle Costigan, while also center Dan Voltz on a couple. They pulled right nine times, gaining 51 yards, meaning they pulled more toward Clowney (13 times), racking up 88 yards. Overall, the Badgers gained 137 yards on 22 rushes involving a power look.
2. New wrinkles. I enjoyed the Wildcat (I'd like to refer to it as the "Wild Badger") look they deployed -- well, really just the first time, which sprung running back Corey Clement 32 yards on Wisconsin's first drive. Not only that, but Derek Watt gaining 8 yards on an uncharacteristic fullback dive. There was a lot of motion and also a fun screen with Watt split out wide-left as a blocker on a wide receiver-screen to Jared Abbrederis. The pulling of Voltz a couple of times gained substantial yards on power runs, although I believe injured center Dallas Lewallen pulled at times throughout the season.
3. White, Gordon and the offensive line in general. Both running backs went over 100 yards, with White ending his career with 107 yards on 12 carries. Gordon was the workhorse, carrying the rock 25 times for 143 yards. You can thank the offensive line for getting to the second level to block the South Carolina linebackers and secondary, as they racked up 293 yards. As mentioned earlier, the power running game and pulling guards helped greatly as well, but frequently, you saw linemen like Tyler Marz, Voltz, Groy, Costigan and Robbie Havenstein overwhelm the Gamecocks' front seven, and at the end of the first half, Clowney and company were gassed.
4. Abbrederis tying UW's all-time receptions record. He was relatively quiet as the passing game never got on track, but his five receptions for 30 yards tied him for Wisconsin's all-time receptions lead with former Wisconsin standout (and current Big Ten Network analyst) Brandon Williams. Abbrederis has enjoyed a storied career for the former walk-on, from scout team quarterback to first team All-Big Ten honors. There were barely any deep balls thrown to him during the game, but that'll be discussed a little later.
What went wrong
For what it's worth, I'm not doing these in order of importance.
1. Key penalties stalling drives. There was an uncharacteristic false start by Groy on a 3rd-and-2 on the opening drive, along with a "holding" call on tight end Sam Arneson the drive after linebacker Derek Landisch forced a fumble, stalling drives that could have been more. Wisconsin was running wild the first drive of the game, and with the power calls on four of the first five rushing plays, I think the Badgers continued the success on their second third-down conversion of the game. Arneson's penalty was a terrible call, as falling defensive linemen Kelcy Quarles dragged him to the ground, and he was flagged. Jack Russell then missed a 42-yard field goal to squander a chance to go up six. That leads me to...
2. Missed second-half opportunities. Two turnovers, chances for points in the second half, all for naught. With Landisch's big play, the Badgers were poised to go up by seven at the least against Steve Spurrier's team, but they came away with nothing after a three-and-out that involved penalties on both the Badgers and the Gamecocks. After running back Brandon Wilds fumbled in the fourth quarter, giving the Badgers a sliver of hope with 4:40 left in the game, down 10, quarterback Curt Phillips under-threw tight end Jacob Pedersen over the middle of the field on what looked like a seam/post route and was intercepted by linebacker Skai Moore, essentially sealing the game.
3. Stave's injury. The name "Stave" in Wisconsin appears to be a lightning storm of polarity among Badgers fans, but when the sophomore signal caller left the game after absorbing a jarring hit from cornerback Vic Hampton in the third quarter, what was already a one-dimensional offense became an even more predictable, one-dimensional offense on the failed 4th-and-1 attempt to start the fourth quarter. The passing game never got going as the Badgers wore down the Gamecocks' defense with the running game, but Stave provided a deep throwing threat downfield. Stave had a decent game, throwing for two touchdown passes (albeit only for 80 yards), but when he left the game, it severely hurt Wisconsin's chances of winning. Despite some inconsistent play throughout the year, he could make throws other quarterbacks on this year's team could not. It will be interesting to see how the quarterback competition shapes up in the spring.
4. Key stops by South Carolina's defense. The 4th-and-1 stop early in the fourth halted all momentum for the Badgers as they were driving after falling behind 20-17, with South Carolina stacking 10 defenders in the box. The play was doomed. Clowney and company also held on the first drive of the second half and gave up only three points in the third quarter, when Wisconsin drove deep into Gamecocks territory twice. Along with stops in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin couldn't score in the second half. I will not second-guess play-calling here, as none of us are as smart as offensive coordinators here, but some of those results were tough to swallow.
5. Turnovers. You have to forgive Stave on the fluke interception in the first quarter. To not be penalized with an intentional grounding penalty, he had to throw it near the running back on the screen. Well, a linemen's leg got in the way and the ball picked by Moore. It did, however, lead instantly to a Connor Shaw touchdown pass the next play after. But on the day, Wisconsin gave up the ball an uncharacteristic four times, including three in the last quarter alone. Since 2010, Wisconsin leads the BCS in the least amount of turnovers committed with 46. Phillips threw two interceptions, the one to Pedersen being more costly late in the fourth quarter while they were driving to score from the South Carolina 16.
6. No deep passes. There was a deep respect for Clowney during the game, as deserved. The long-developing play-action passes normally seen this season either were covered greatly or not used due to the presence of the future NFL player. The longest pass was 36 yards to Pedersen on a Favre-esque throw by Stave in the second quarter, but outside of that, the Stave-to-Abbrederis deep threat was nullified by the presence of a strong defensive line, and later, the injury to Stave.
Game notes (per UWBadgers.com)
- With 250 rushing yards, RBs James White and Melvin Gordon became the FBS single-season all-time leading rushing duo. Gordon finished the season with 1,609 yards while White rushed for 1,444 yards. Their combined total 3,053 yards are better than the FBS record of 3,004 set by Nevada's Cody Fajardo and Stefphon Jefferson in 2012.
- Gordon and White are also the first teammates in FBS history to rush for at least 1,400 yards in the same season.
- UW ran for 293 yards today, the third-best rushing performance in a bowl game in school history.
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