Big Ten: 2011 Rose Bowl coverage

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.

[+] EnlargeScott Tolzien
AP Photo/Jae C. HongQuarterback 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."
PASADENA, Calif. -- Quick thoughts from the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, where TCU held on to beat Wisconsin 21-19.

How the game was won: Wisconsin's offense missed too many opportunities and got away from its roots in the power run. Even after recommitting to the run on a fourth-quarter scoring drive, the Badgers went to the pass on the potential tying 2-point try. Paul Chryst's decision certainly will be questioned, but Wisconsin had many more opportunities to put up more points. TCU did just enough on offense and won the field-position battle in the second half.

Player of the game: TCU linebacker Tank Carder. As good as Andy Dalton was in the first half, Carder was even better as the Frogs held Wisconsin's offense in check. Carder had two sacks and broke up the 2-point conversion attempt as he led the Frogs to the biggest win in team history.

Unsung hero of the game: Wisconsin running back Montee Ball was outstanding, rushing for 132 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against the nation's top-ranked defense. Ball looked like a totally different player from the middle of the season until Saturday.

Stat of the game: Wisconsin was held to its lowest point total of the season. The Badgers had 20 in a Sept. 18 win against Arizona State and had put up 201 points in their final three regular-season games.

Second guessing: The 2-point try stands out, but Wisconsin seemed to go away from the run at inopportune times. TCU never consistently stopped the Badgers' backs, but Wisconsin wasn't as committed as it needed to be. Also, Scott Tolzien burning two timeouts in the second half stands out.

What it means: Wisconsin had a tremendous season and played well for stretches Saturday, but the Badgers got away from the things that made them 11-1. They didn't run the ball enough, committed too many penalties and allowed too many third-and-long conversions. Still, Wisconsin is a program on the rise in what looks like a very manageable Big Ten conference. The Badgers lose an outstanding senior class and possibly several others to the NFL draft, but they'll have a solid squad coming back in 2011.

GameDay Live: Rose Bowl

January, 1, 2011
Join our college football experts as they break down the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio between the No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs and the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 5 p.m. See you there.

Video: Rose Bowl update

December, 31, 2010

Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett wrap up their day at the Rose Bowl looking ahead to Saturday’s game.
LOS ANGELES -- The Big Ten is 6-3 in bowls since 2009 and has recorded five wins against top 15 opponents, but the league's reputation largely will be shaped in Pasadena.

The Wisconsin Badgers are well aware of this fact.

Conferences are judged primarily on national championships, and then on BCS bowl performances. The Big Ten once again gets two opportunities on the BCS stage, beginning Saturday with Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

Bret Bielema learned how BCS bowls impact a league's national reputation during his first season as Wisconsin's coach.

"We played Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl," Bielema recalled. "Everybody was telling us how bad we were going to get beat. We went out there and put a whooping on them, and nobody said anything about that. Well, because a couple days later, the Big Ten was in a couple BCS games and didn't fare very well.

"I realized the BCS is where everybody looks and everybody talks about. So this is the opportunity for us."

Although the Big Ten's perception isn't nearly as bad as it was before last year's bowls, the league still struggles to gain elite status in some college football circles. The questions about Big Ten speed resurfaced this week in California as the TCU speed vs. Wisconsin size story line was beaten to death.

The Badgers realize they're part of the image problem.

"Wisconsin is what they think about: big, slow, smash-mouth guys, no-skill guys, guys that can't run," Badgers linebacker Blake Sorensen said. "So that's the perception."

That's why Wisconsin is the perfect team to change it.

"Definitely," Sorensen said. "You get one shot a year to play these teams, and that's the only way to do it, to play these teams and beat 'em, and hopefully, they'll be quiet."

Video: Badgers WR Jared Abbrederis

December, 31, 2010

Adam Rittenberg talks with Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis.
LOS ANGELES -- The news conferences the day before bowl games are typically boring. The coaches are all talked out, and most of the big questions already have been asked and answered.

But Bret Bielema and Gary Patterson brought their A-games Friday.

Bret Bielema
AP Photo/Gus RuelasWisconsin coach Bret Bielema shared laughs with the media at a Rose Bowl news conference Friday.
Both coaches participating in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO had some interesting things to say. Bielema was especially entertaining, telling a bunch of stories and showing a lot of emotion -- especially when talking about star defensive end J.J. Watt -- as he gets ready to coach the biggest game of his life.

Here's the best of Bielema from Friday's news conference:

On giving his dad a new present: "I bought him a Rose Bowl watch; they came in on the 29th. I left a little note in his room for him, and I said some things to him. But on the p.s. I said, 'Sorry it took me 20 years to get you a new watch.' I gave him the 1991 Rose Bowl watch I got, and he's worn it every day since then. To give him one 20 years later was pretty special."

On Tommy Lasorda's speech to the team this week: "Coach Lasorda told a story about a sailor that was 1,000 yards out from shore and it was foggy out and his boat capsized and he knew the only thing he needed to do was start swimming. So he swam 997 yards. At that point it was still foggy and he couldn't see shore, he gave up and drowned. He was three yards from shore. Why did you swim the 997 yards? This is the cap to the season. It is an opportunity for us. We did what we needed to do to get here."

On broadcaster Keith Jackson and the Rose Bowl: "I flew out here last year and watched [Barry] Alvarez get inducted into the [Rose Bowl] Hall of Fame. I walked in and had no idea Keith Jackson was going to be the master of ceremonies. Keith Jackson is the first guy that ever said my name on national TV. And I remember my buddies saying, 'Keith Jackson said your name on TV.' I was a freshman. I missed a sack, but to hear him ..."

On whether Jackson pronounced his name correctly: "Absolutely. That's what I was impressed with. I've been bulimia, byelema, every eating disorder known to man, so he nailed it."

On what these players mean to him: "This is my first class of fifth-year seniors. To see guys like Culmer St. Jean, and from Culmer to Niles [Brinkley], to Gabe Carimi, Scott Tolzien, Lance Kendricks, and Jay Valai, and [Blake] Sorensen, and [David] Gilreath. I sat in every one of those homes. I remember the first time I met them when they were 17 and 16, in some cases, they have never shaved in their lives. Just nappy heads. I've been pissed at a lot of them, too. You get mad at them along the way. To see the smiles and rewards of giving them a Big Ten championship is pretty cool."

On getting Watt to return for another year: "[Thursday] all those people, 30, 40,000 people after he got introduced [at a pep rally], everybody started yelling, 'One more year.' I couldn't see where he was at. I walked down and saw his mom in the front row. I said to J.J., 'Did you see your mom?' He said, yeah. I said, 'Did you see her chanting one more year?'"

On embracing the moment and enjoying it: "One of the first things I say when I come into the locker room before the game a lot of times -- everybody will tell you -- 'Let's have some fun today.' First time they played the game ... it wasn't because there were 90,000 people or on national TV. It was because your dad, your uncle, your brother, your mother, your sister rolled the ball on the field and said, 'Hey, let's play.' I think we've kind of kept that going forward.

"Growing up as a kid, my brothers and I had these two neighbors down the road, and we had a big yard. When we got bigger, it wasn't big enough, so we started playing football on our knees in the grass. In the middle of our big lawn there was a 20-yard patch that was dirt. There wasn't any grass because we had worn it out on our knees playing football. I go back to those days quite a bit."

Great stuff from Bielema.
I gave him the '91 Rose Bowl watch I got and he's worn it every day since then. To give him one 20 years later was pretty special."

Video: Wisconsin's Aaron Henry

December, 31, 2010

Adam Rittenberg interviews the Badgers' safety.

Rose Bowl keys for Wisconsin

December, 31, 2010
Here are three keys for Wisconsin heading into its matchup against TCU in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

1. Change speeds on offense: John Clay is finally healthy, and Wisconsin should take advantage of its most experienced running back despite the success of Montee Ball and James White down the stretch in Big Ten play. Much like a pitcher with three great pitches, Wisconsin's ability to change speeds with its backs can make life extremely difficult for opposing defenses. The Badgers need Clay to pound away at TCU's undersized defenders and then switch things up with a speed back like White, who can take it the distance.

2. Maintain defensive playmaking: Wisconsin isn't a lock-down defense, and from a statistical standpoint, the Badgers' D lags behind the other three units (TCU offense, TCU defense, Wisconsin offense). But what Dave Doeren's unit does is make big plays. No Big Ten defender made more than Badgers end J.J. Watt, who recorded every defensive statistic except safety this season. Wisconsin also needs strong performances from All-Big Ten cornerback Antonio Fenelus, hard-hitting safety Jay Valai and others.

3. Control clock by avoiding obvious passing situations: The Badgers have dominated possession time this season and must control the clock with their run game against TCU. They don't allow many sacks, but they also have avoided obvious passing situations in third-and-long. Scott Tolzien isn't the most mobile quarterback and TCU defenders could rattle him if Wisconsin can't set up manageable third downs. Tolzien can be very effective with the play-action pass game if the Frogs are overly concerned about the run.
The Granddaddy is almost here. Wisconsin aims for its fourth consecutive Rose Bowl championship against a TCU team striving for a perfect season.

Compelling stuff.

Let's examine the Badgers-Horned Frogs matchup in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

WHO TO WATCH: Wisconsin running back John Clay. The beefy junior says he's 100 percent recovered from knee problems that cropped up toward the end of the regular season. If Clay returns at top form and can wear down TCU's defense with his size and between-the-tackles running, it could open things up for fellow backs James White and Montee Ball. Clay, the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, had a decent season but looks for a signature performance in what could be his final game in college. Clay needs 64 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the season.

WHAT TO WATCH: Outstanding individual matchups throughout the field. Let's start off at the line of scrimmage, as standout defensive ends J.J. Watt (Wisconsin) and Wayne Daniels (TCU) go up against stout offensive tackles Marcus Cannon (TCU) and Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin). The Badgers send All-Big Ten cornerback Antonio Fenelus to stop TCU speedy receiver Jeremy Kerley. And while quarterbacks Scott Tolzien (Wisconsin) and Andy Dalton (TCU) don't directly face one another, they boast similar styles and strong track records, so comparisons will be made in the game.

WHY TO WATCH: Colleague Brian Bennett and I have given you about 1,000 reasons this week, but this is a can't-miss game. These are two really good teams with outstanding individual players, and both squads are looking to prove something in the Rose Bowl. TCU wants to show it belongs in the national championship discussion with Boise State as a truly elite program from a non-AQ league. Wisconsin is carrying the banner for the Big Ten Conference, which needs a second consecutive strong bowl showing to bolster its national reputation.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 30, TCU 27. Another tough one to call, and I originally had the Horned Frogs winning when the pairing first came out. But Wisconsin provides a look that TCU simply can't simulate playing in the Mountain West, and while the Frogs boast so many dynamic defenders, they'll wear down in the second half against the Badgers' power backs. Dalton will have TCU right there at the end, but Wisconsin uses a strong fourth quarter to secure the victory.
Gabe Carimi and Marcus CannonGetty Images, Icon SMIWhich left tackle will have a bigger impact: Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi or TCU's Marcus Cannon?
LOS ANGELES -- The Grandaddy of Them All has something to entertain the whole family this year. The matchup between No. 3 TCU and No. 5 Wisconsin features many fascinating subplots, intriguing individual matchups and -- to take the macro view -- two really, really good teams. Bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett are ready for their close-up in this Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO debate:

Brian Bennett: OK, Adam. Time for you to take a break from getting starlets' phone numbers and shopping on Rodeo Drive. Let's talk about a very interesting Rose Bowl. Wisconsin has won the eyeball test this week and may have cracked the foundation of the Los Angeles Downtown Marriott on Media Day with all that bulk in one place. But TCU has seemed focused and has a ton of athletes. Of all the contrasts and matchups in this game, which one do you think is most important to the outcome?

[+] EnlargeDalton
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireTCU's offensive line has kept Andy Dalton's jersey pretty clean this season, allowing just nine sacks.
Adam Rittenberg: Easy, Bennett, don't tell my wife. Actually, I was planning to meet up with Suge Knight later. You know how I roll. I think this game comes down to the line of scrimmage, an area where there might be more similarities than differences. Both teams have outstanding left tackles (Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, TCU's Marcus Cannon) and outstanding defensive ends (Wisconsin's J.J. Watt, TCU's Wayne Daniels). TCU's size along its offensive line is overlooked next to Wisconsin's, and Wisconsin's speed along its defensive line is overlooked next to TCU's. The team that controls the line of scrimmage wins the game. Can TCU's defense endure Wisconsin's power game? Can Wisconsin's defense find a way to get to Horned Frogs veteran quarterback Andy Dalton?

BB: The line of scrimmage will be critical, but I think TCU's defensive linemen are good enough to hold their own. I wonder about the safeties who will need to help out against the run. They're going to be physically outmatched by linemen, tight ends and John Clay. They had better tackle well and be extremely sound in their technique, though the Horned Frogs excel at that. And then of course you worry about play-action if you're Gary Patterson and Dick Bumpas.

On the other side, TCU's offensive line has given up just nine sacks all year. Watt versus Cannon is going to be fun to watch, but I think Dalton will stay pretty clean. I wouldn't expect Wisconsin to come after him too hard because of the threat of the zone-read and the Horned Frogs' tendency to throw those underneath routes. I would think Dave Doeren would want to keep his linebackers covering those areas against speedsters like Jeremy Kerley and Jimmy Young.

Another question I have is how the layoff will affect these teams. We've seen some spread teams struggle with timing in bowls. That might bother TCU, which never found its rhythm last year in the Fiesta Bowl, more than a ground-based attack like Wisconsin. Agree?

AR: It could, Brian, but Wisconsin was so hot at the end of the regular season, scoring 201 points in its final three games. It might take some time to re-establish the confidence and the rhythm, which could prove costly against a defense like TCU's. The Badgers really tried to maintain the intensity in bowl practice, having the first-team offense and first-team defense practice a lot against one another. But I would expect a little lull on game day. Wisconsin will benefit from having running back John Clay at near 100 percent for the game. Tackling Clay isn't a lot of fun, and he might be able to wear down TCU's defense and create lanes for James White and Montee Ball.

One area that really intrigues me about this game is special teams. Both teams have strong returners, especially TCU with Kerley. How big of a factor will the kicking game be for the Frogs?

BB: Well, Frogs fans surely understand the importance of special teams after last year's Fiesta Bowl loss, in which a Boise State fake punt made the difference. Kerley is electrifying and could single-handedly change the game; Wisconsin did surrender a punt return touchdown in its only loss, against Michigan State. TCU's punting is mediocre, and kicker Ross Evans has made only one field goal longer than 40 yards this season.

Another hidden area could be red-zone efficiency. Both teams were great at punching it in during the year, and in a potentially close game between two high-scoring teams, a red-zone stop could be huge. Any other under-the-radar factors jump out at you?

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Lance Kendricks
Jeff Hanisch/US PRESSWIREWisconsin tight end Lance Kendricks (39 catches for 627 yards and 5 TDs) is a future NFL prospect.
AR: Great call on the red-zone effectiveness. Wisconsin is tied for fifth nationally in red-zone offense, while TCU is tied for 16th. TCU is much better than the Badgers in red-zone defense, though (51st nationally vs. 95th). One area I've thought a lot about is the play-action game for both teams. TCU is an extremely disciplined defense, but Scott Tolzien runs the play-action very well and usually has tight end Lance Kendricks or a wide receiver open for a pass. Kendricks is a future NFL prospect, and receiver Nick Toon might be as well. Wisconsin needs its linebackers to tackle well in this game, but the Badgers can't lose sight of Dalton, who has underrated mobility and can attack down the field.

OK, Bennett, prediction time. You first.

BB: Wisconsin is awfully good, and I fear that TCU will eventually succumb to all that size. But these Horned Frogs know how to win, and I get the feeling they're very motivated to prove something on this stage. The TCU defense comes up with some key turnovers, speed trumps strength and the Horned Frogs make the Rose Bowl a non-AQ house, 30-27.

AR: This should be a great game, and it could go either way. I just don't think TCU has seen anything like Wisconsin this season. The Badgers' power and style of play is unique in college football, and ultimately, Wisconsin will wear down the frogs. Dalton keeps TCU in the game and makes several big plays with both his arm and his feet, but Wisconsin uses a big fourth quarter to secure the win. Badgers 30, Frogs 27.

Video: Rose Bowl preview

December, 30, 2010

Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett wrap up media day at the Rose Bowl.
LOS ANGELES -- You could make a good case that Wisconsin's season turned in 12 seconds.

That's how long it took Badgers receiver David Gilreath to run 97 yards after receiving the opening kickoff against then-No. 1 Ohio State on Oct. 16.

"I don't know if it was a turning point," Gilreath said. "It was something that got us going. I still have people asking me about it. I can still watch it on YouTube and kind of get that feeling."

Gilreath's kick return touchdown set the tone for Wisconsin's 31-18 win against the Buckeyes, the biggest victory of the Bret Bielema era and one that spurred the Badgers to their first Rose Bowl appearance in 11 seasons. But the runback was just one of several special moments in the kicking game for the Badgers.

Special teams played an enormous role in Wisconsin's 20-19 win against Arizona State on Sept. 18. Safety Jay Valai blocked a potential game-tying PAT attempt in the closing minutes, and safeties Shelton Johnson and Dezmen Southward stopped Sun Devils kick returner Kyle Middlebrooks just shy of the goal line as the second quarter expired, saving a touchdown.

A week after the Ohio State win came "chain," a fake punt Wisconsin executed from its own 26-yard line while trailing Iowa 30-24 in the fourth quarter. The Badgers continued their drive and scored the game-winning touchdown to edge the Hawkeyes, 31-30.

"In those situations, those were big plays in our game, in our season, to get us where we are today," coach Bret Bielema said.

Special teams likely will loom large again Saturday against TCU in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. The Horned Frogs are solid on special teams and exceptional on both kickoff and punt returns, ranking fifth nationally in both categories.

TCU receiver Jeremy Kerley ranks among the top 20 nationally in both kickoff and punt returns. Wisconsin has struggled on both kickoff and punt coverage, ranking 106th nationally and 103rd nationally, respectively, although most of the struggles took place early in the season.

"Turning a weakness into a strength was a major thing we did this year," Wisconsin safety Jay Valai said of the special teams play. "We had a couple [shaky] games there for a second, Arizona State and Michigan State. We really woke up from those games and knew we had to really emphasize special teams."

Gilreath will never forget his runback against Ohio State.

About the only thing that could top it is a return touchdown in Pasadena.

"To get one in this game, I don't even know what I'd do," he said. "I'd turn [to the coaches] and [say], 'I'm done for the game. Take me out.' You’ve got to go out like [John] Elway or something."

Video: Wisconsin OC Paul Chryst

December, 30, 2010

Adam Rittenberg talks with Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst.

Video: Wisconsin LB Blake Sorensen

December, 30, 2010

Adam Rittenberg talks with Wisconsin linebacker Blake Sorensen about facing TCU in the Rose Bowl.