Saturday, January 1, 2011
Wisconsin strays from identity in Rose loss
By Adam Rittenberg
PASADENA, Calif. -- Wisconsin finally got it rolling midway through the fourth quarter.
Trailing TCU 21-13 in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, the Badger battering ram kicked into high gear.
John Clay ran for 14 yards. Then he ran for 30 more. After a nifty throw from Scott Tolzien to Lance Kendricks picked up 10 yards on third-and-6, the Badgers got back to their bread and butter.
Quarterback Scott Tolzien and Wisconsin could not get going offensively against TCU.
Run. Run. Run. Run. Run.
Had Wisconsin finally rediscovered who it is and why it got here?
"I'd like to think so," senior guard John Moffitt said. "But it wasn't who we were today. And that's all that matters."
Wisconsin's run-heavy, clock-eating drive at the end of Saturday's game was the exception rather than the rule. Too often the Badgers strayed from what had made them Big Ten champions, and it cost them in a 21-19 loss to TCU.
"We were doing some uncharacteristic things," said running back Montee Ball, who rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown. "Twenty yards going in, we score seven points. We don't get penalties, and we did today. We wasted our timeouts because we had the wrong information in there.
"We were most definitely not playing Wisconsin football, and that's how you lose football games."
There were moments and even stretches where Wisconsin appeared to establish its identity Saturday. But it never lasted.
Ball began the game with a major statement, dashing 40 yards through a huge hole on the right side of the line. But the drive stalled in the red zone on a dropped pass by Nick Toon, and Wisconsin had to settle for a field goal.
Toward the end of the first half, Wisconsin converted a fourth down on a fake punt and twice moved the chains on third-and-long to reach TCU territory. But again, they had to settle for a field goal.
And then there was the game's defining play, which followed Wisconsin's defining drive. Rather than stick with the run on the potential tying 2-point conversion attempt, the Badgers went to the air. Tight end Jacob Pedersen found space in the end zone, but TCU's Tank Carder swatted away Tolzien's pass.
"That was something we saw on film, and obviously the guy was open," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "But you've got to get the defender's hands down in that situation. Hindsight is 20/20. I felt confident with the call, [offensive coordinator Paul Chryst] felt confident, and we went with it."
Not surprisingly, Tolzien concurred and saw what he needed to see.
"It looked like a zero blitz, they were bringing everyone and just playing man," Tolzien said. "I wouldn't change a thing. We had a guy open, and their guy tipped it, plain and simple."
TCU linebacker Tanner Brock was surprised to see Tolzien line up in the shotgun after the previous drive, which featured runs on nine of 10 plays.
"A little bit [surprised]," Brock said, "because that's not really Wisconsin."
Wisconsin reached the Rose Bowl primarily because of its offense, a unit that averaged a team-record 45.2 points in Big Ten play. The Badgers racked up 201 points in their final three regular-season games and scored 31 points or more in their final seven games. Saturday, they became the first team in FBS history to produce three 1,000-yard running backs in a season.
This offense ran the ball at will, executed in the play-action pass game and reached the end zone 63 times. Most important, Wisconsin didn't beat itself, leading the nation in fewest turnovers (9) and fewest penalties per game (2.92).
Although the Badgers didn't cough up the ball, they committed a season-high six penalties. They also allowed two sacks and seven tackles for loss, above their season averages.
"There's three things we did really well this year: assignment sound, low penalties and low turnovers," left tackle Gabe Carimi said. "Those first two, we didn't do as well as we have been in the past."
Wisconsin reached TCU territory on each of its first five possessions but had only 13 points to show for it. Field position certainly played a role, and Wisconsin struggled to make big plays outside of its first and last drives.
Although the Badgers ran the ball more than twice as many times (46) as they passed it (21), they went to the air at some curious times, like on first-and-10 from their own 3-yard line late in the third quarter. Wisconsin had benefited from shaking things up at times this season; it ran four consecutive pass plays against Ohio State during a fourth-quarter scoring drive in a 31-18 win.
But TCU never consistently stopped Ball, Clay and James White between the tackles.
What the Horned Frogs did was keep Wisconsin out of the end zone.
"You realize that you only have so many opportunities," Moffitt said. "And every drive that doesn't end in the score is a missed opportunity. We missed a lot of opportunities today."
It's what made the loss so tough to take.
"The shame of it is we left opportunities on the field," Tolzien said. "You don't want to live games and you don't want to live life with regrets. We had some of those today."