SAN DIEGO -- After a sluggish start to the National Funding Holiday Bowl, which included a scoreless first quarter, Wisconsin jumped out to a lead, blew the lead and then got the lead back in the final minutes en route to a 23-21 win over USC.
What the win means for Wisconsin: The Badgers pick up their fifth 10-win season since 2009, joining Ohio State and Michigan State as the only other Big Ten programs to pull off the feat. The victory will likely put the Badgers back in the AP Top 25; they’ve been in the final poll nine of the past 11 seasons. It was a validating performance for the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense, which was criticized for piling up stats against non-elite offenses. USC’s offense entered the game ranked 30th nationally and was averaging 34.7 points per game. The victory also guarantees the Big Ten a winning record this season against the Pac-12.
What the loss means for USC: The Clay Helton honeymoon is officially over. Since athletic director Pat Haden ditched Helton’s interim tag, the Trojans are 0-2, having also lost to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game. Any momentum gained from his hiring has been stunted. The Trojans will still score a solid recruiting class -- USC always does -- but the defensive coordinator hire had better be a home run, because the holes were evident. The defeat also means the loser of the Pac-12 title game (the South champion) officially falls to 0-5 in bowl games since the conference expanded in 2011.
How the game was won: Trailing 21-20 in the closing minutes, the Badgers marched into USC territory and with 2:27 left and took a 23-21 lead when Gaglianone converted his third field goal of the game. On USC's ensuing drive, Kessler was pressured by linebacker Jack Cichy, who got a hand on the ball from behind as Kessler threw, forcing an interception by Sojourn Shelton. The Trojans had one last shot in the final minute but turned the ball over on downs at midfield.
Out of bounds ... really? What looked like a long Tanner McEvoy touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter was blown out of bounds after 19 yards. Social media sprang to life with stills of McEvoy inbounds on a play that would have put Wisconsin back in the lead. But because of the blown whistle, the play was dead and could not be reviewed. Instead, Wisconsin punted the ball back to USC while trailing 21-20 with about seven minutes left in the game. Ultimately, the blown call did not prove to be a game-changer.
Game ball goes to: Cichy had a monster performance in a game that was largely dominated by the defenses. He had three consecutive sacks on Kessler for minus-24 yards in one stretch. He finished with a team-high nine tackles, six of them solo, and the trio of sacks.