Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Best and worst of 2012: Wisconsin
By Adam Rittenberg
Our series examining the best and worst moments of 2012 for each Big Ten team continues now with the Wisconsin Badgers.
Best moment: Victory lap in Indy
After a season of adversity where nothing came easy for Wisconsin, especially on offense, the Badgers had a surprisingly easy time annihilating Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten championship. The Badgers came to Indy as an underdog, a five-loss team that finished third in the Leaders Division and only qualified for the title game because Ohio State and Penn State were saddled with NCAA sanctions. Nebraska came in riding a six-game win streak and aimed for its first conference crown since 1999. But Wisconsin took control from the get-go and never looked back, piling up 70 points, 640 yards and 539 rush yards against a shell-shocked Blackshirts defense. The 70 points marked Wisconsin's second-highest total in the modern era, and the Badgers ran for more yards than any Nebraska opponent in team history. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada called the game of his life, using the entire playbook to stay a step (or three) ahead of the Nebraska coaches. Doak Walker Award winner Montee Ball did his thing (202 rush yards), and freshman running back Melvin Gordon had a breakout performance with 216 rush yards on only nine carries (24 yards per attempt). Wisconsin punched its ticket to the Rose Bowl for the third straight year and saved its best performance for last.
Worst moment: Offense bottoms out against Oregon State
Close losses and inconsistent offense came to define Wisconsin's 2012 season, but the first sign that things were very wrong surfaced in Week 2 at Oregon State. A Wisconsin offense that had ranked in the top six nationally in scoring in each of the past two seasons failed to score for more than 58 minutes against the Beavers and recorded just four first downs in the first half. The run-oriented Badgers finished the game with a measly 35 rush yards on 23 attempts (1.5 ypr). They allowed three sacks and converted just 2 of 14 third-down opportunities. Wisconsin had its lowest yards total (207) in five seasons. Although the season was still young, the poor performance led then-head coach Bret Bielema to dump offensive line coach Mike Markuson and replace him with graduate assistant Bart Miller. Although Wisconsin's offense eventually got on track, the unit certainly didn't look normal for most of the fall.