Jared Abbrederis and Chris Borland were better than they have ever been Saturday night vs. Ohio State. Both players put up big numbers to prove it -- Abbrederis set a career high with 207 yards receiving, Borland matched his with 16 tackles -- but their greatness was exemplified more so in grand moments.
In the first quarter, Abbrederis watched a long pass from Joel Stave into his waiting arms as Bradley Roby strode a half step behind, within an arm's length of knocking down the pass if only he had timed his swat correctly. Abbrederis seemed to be the only player who expected him to make the catch. Safety C.J. Barnett came across the field but slowed up assuming Roby would make the play, allowing Abbrederis to break Roby's tackle and stride to the end zone.
Borland made critical tackles throughout the night, though none had as much game-changing potential as his 4th-and-1 stop on Carlos Hyde midway through the third quarter. Hyde is known as a prototypical big back, accustomed to picking up necessary short yardage. He appeared to have a lane, but Borland hid behind his lineman before popping into the apparent hole and meeting with Hyde with greater-than force. Hyde dropped for no gain, giving the Badgers their best starting field position of the game. Stave threw an interception two plays later.
Saturday's game was frustrating on many levels. Wisconsin was nicked repeatedly for avoidable penalties and ceded nearly 20 yards in average starting field position (18.7 to 37.8 for Ohio State). Nothing hurt more than the thought that two best-ever performances meant nothing. Agony is a lot of things. Saturday, it was seeing greatness gone for naught as Wisconsin bled the opportunities they needed to take an upper hand.
The herculean efforts of Abbrederis and Borland will, in the narrow scheme of the season, make no indelible mark on the prospects of this team, the first under Gary Andersen. The plays they made cannot be redistributed elsewhere more effectively. Their performances have sunk with the game. ESPN has already cut up the highlight reel, and written history from the perspective of the victors.
Neither player will, in all likelihood, be the face of a Rose Bowl squad the same way J.J. Watt, Russell Wilson and Montee Ball were, even though their nights were on par with what Watt did against Ohio State, Wilson did against Nebraska and Ball did against a number of opponents. Wisconsin will need to be impeccable and receive a healthy dose of luck to overcome Ohio State's game-and-a-tiebreak lead in the division.
But the way Abbrederis and Borland played should not be forgotten, even if there is every good reason to banish Saturday's disparaging result to the dampest, most unpleasant corners of your mind. They were the two best players on the field that night, though they weren't on the better team, and they deserve to be held up among the best to have played during this unbelievably fun stretch of Badger football, though the 2013 team will likely end the Pasadena streak.
Great players don't always get what they damn well deserve. That's a painful truth to those who love sports best when greatness coincides with just results. But greatness is still exactly that regardless of context, even if it's easily washed-out in the frustration of a loss.
Unfortunately, Abbrederis and Borland didn't get screen time on "SportsCenter." They got a column instead, and that's not nearly enough.