THE GOOD: What went well for Wisconsin against USC?
Owen Riese: Really, a little bit of everything. Joel Stave played well and mistake free. Corey Clement gave the running game a nice boost. Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal both ran well when called upon. Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright both made enough plays on the outside to keep USC honest. Derek Watt was running and receiving. Austin Traylor and Troy Fumagalli both had their moments. Also, the offensive line played well, or at least well enough, to get the job done. Also, the defense, while they struggled against superior athletes, played well enough to get the win.
Maxwell Brusky: Like others have said, just about everything went well for the Badgers in this one -- in other words, the Holiday Bowl (see Chryst's sweatshirt, everyone has!) was the team's most complete performance of the 2015 season. On offense, the Badgers were generally able to move the ball on the ground and through the air effectively, even if (certainly) not at will, which would have been far too much to expect from this offense against a solid Power 5 defense. Other than on USC's final touchdown drive, when the pass rush inexplicably and unexpectedly disappeared, UW's defense played to expectations and kept a potentially explosive USC offense under management - even if USC's offense put up 21 points, the game's biggest plays and moments were provided in most part by the Badgers' defense.
Kyle Vos: I agree with Owen that pretty much everything went well for Wisconsin, but I want to take this last opportunity to talk about the defense as much as possible. It got off the field nine out of 14 opportunities on third down. The run defense was suffocating. The pass defense put USC quarterback Cody Kessler and company in uncomfortable situations and brilliantly stayed at home when the Trojans tried misdirection. It was a combination of elite coaching and locked in, talented players that made me more confident in a Badgers defense than I have ever been before. I especially want to point to the defensive line, which I think played by far its best game of the season. It dominated the line of scrimmage and got consistent push all game.
Jon Arens: A close, contested game was won by Wisconsin. In the post-Alvarez era, the Badgers have struggled in bowls and non-Camp Randall games. Now, for the second year in a row, Wisconsin has prevailed in a bowl game against a traditional power. In a vacuum, that alone would be significant. But with the turbulence of a coaching change, and a general lack of play-making weapons on offense, these sorts of wins just mean more for the health of a program. I agree with Kyle -- this was the most complete game Wisconsin has played this season. We all knew what the defense was capable of, but it was nice to see multiple offensive drives that had real rhythm and structure, both with and without Clement. This was as surprised as I have been with a Badgers football victory in some time. I legitimately thought this game would be lost on a missed field goal. I was happy to be wrong.
Neal Olson: As well as the defense played in this game (and all year for that matter), we can hardly be surprised at their performance, even if it came against one of the most explosive and athlete-rich offenses they had face all season. The Badgers offense on the other hand, was balanced and formative for maybe the first time in 2015. Finally with a full compliment of weapons, having Clement, Wheelwright and Traylor healthy and contributing key plays sure made a huge difference. In addition, the Badgers had zero turnovers, and the the young offensive line only allowed one sack. Perhaps I am overselling this aspect, but it is nice to see a team take advantage of the extra bowl practices and play their collective best game of the year.
THE BAD: What didn't go well against the Trojans on Wednesday?
Owen: Honestly, the only complaint I'd have were the kicking units. Rafael Gaglianone played well, making all three field goals, but Drew Meyer was pretty erratic on his punts. Also, the kickoff units, while they covered well, were put in tough positions due to the pooch kicks meant to keep the ball away from USC return specialist Adoree' Jackson. Chryst employed the same strategy against Will Likely from Maryland, and it was hit or miss in its effectiveness.
Max: Neal is correct with the bad whistle on Tanner McEvoy's run, but just about everything on kickoffs was terrible - it was outstanding field position after TWO of them that set up the first two USC touchdowns. The plan to avoid Jackson was not at all effective and Jack Russell really made me miss Andrew Endicott -- and not just because he's as effective as anyone else on the coverage unit as a tackler. Does anyone know if they'll use Gaglianone on kickoffs next season at least some of the time?
Kyle: I feel bad picking on anyone in this game, but the two things that stood out to me were Meyer and the interior offensive line. Meyer had a couple good punts, but a few really bad ones. Twice he unleashed on the ball from midfield, putting it directly into the end zone. One of the times was in the final minute, which luckily didn't look as bad because of the USC special teams player that tried to do to Jack Cichy what the offensive line couldn't: hold him down. The interior offensive line did good enough to keep the ball moving, but got blown up quite a few times and was largely unable to release to the second level. It's young, it has improved and will continue to, but it wasn't great on Wednesday
Jon: Owen is spot on. Changing your entire game plan for special teams because of a single player is shortsighted and has bitten the Badgers this year already against Maryland. That Chryst would return to that strategy after it failed so spectacularly once already was disappointing, but hopefully he has learned his lesson. Chryst has to trust his players to focus in on special return men, and not put his defense in bad situations by ceding free yardage to players. I'm from Chicago. My favorite Bears player ever is Devin Hester. His legacy is tied just as much to the great plays he made as it is to the terrible plays opposing teams made while avoiding him. Trust your players.
Neal: I have to reiterate what everyone else has noted above. The decision to kick away from Jackson on kickoffs was puzzling.
Also, I'd be remiss to set aside my bowl of sour grapes just yet and not mention missed call on Tanner McEvoy's run. In this day and age of college replay, how can officials blow any play dead and exempt it from replay? Furthermore, why are any plays not reviewable at this point? I understand officiating is a challenging and thankless job, but when technology exists and already implemented to review every play, why are the split second decisions of guys on the field who may or may not be in correct position having all the power?? OK, rant over, sour grapes all gone (for now).
GAME MVP: Who earned the honors in the 2015 Holiday Bowl?
Owen: It's either got to be Stave or Cichy, but I'll go with the senior quarterback. Stave was everything in this game that he needed to be. He didn't turn the ball over, he was much more consistent with his ball placement. He also exhibited a great deal of grit and toughness playing through what was, at the very least, a pretty severely lacerated nose. Stave will give NFL scouts a lot to consider from his first, and last game this year, and ultimately he ended as the winningest quarterback in program history. Thank you, Joel, for everything.
Max: Stave -- he overcame the profane hashtag I put on him (and should have years ago) to propel the Badgers to victory more than any other player, including Cichy, who absolutely sparkled in the second half. This game was as close to a masterpiece as a quarterback with his talent could paint against a team like USC. Stave showed fully evolved decision-making, effective throwing, true grit, and the heart of champion. The most polarizing UW player in quite some time, he went out on top with a career game.
Kyle: I have to go with Cichy. He was all over the place in the second half, obviously highlighted by his three straight sacks to push USC back 28 yards; just 3 fewer yards than punt leading into the drive did. The cherry on top was him getting to Kessler and altering the pass that Sojourn Shelton intercepted to end USC's second to last drive. This was a valiant team effort and I'd love to talk about more, especially Stave, but Cichy's relentless pass rush was the single biggest impact on the game.
Jon: I'm going off the board and giving the MVP to the offensive line. Four red shirt freshman protecting a fifth-year senior is the definition of potential disconnect, but this group made it work in the last game of the year. I am eager to see how the young lineman use this year as a springboard for the rest of their careers. Obviously, this was not a banner year for the unit, but this result and their performance has to give fans a tremendous amount of confidence going forward, especially as Joe Rudolph continues to re insert himself into the fabric of the program. Bravo to the big uglies.
Neal: I will also go with Stave. Despite his lightning rod impact on Badgers fans everywhere, he leaves as the winningest quarterback in Wisconsin history. And without question had to endure the most hardship. Three different head coaches, a fundamental shift in offensive philosophy midway through his tenure and temporarily getting ‘beat out' by a dual threat quarterback. Stave was poised in the pocket, delivered the ball accurately and on time and for the most part made the correct reads. Needless to say, his performance against USC was a fitting end to his career in cardinal and white. It is great to see someone overcome so much leave on a winning note.