LOS ANGELES — After 12 games as offensive coordinator for the University of Wisconsin football team, Matt Canada finally had enough.
Prior to the Big Ten Conference title game against Nebraska, Canada went in to talk to former UW coach Bret Bielema and at long last put his foot down. Sink or swim, it was time for Canada to do things his way.
Numerous UW sources said Canada's decision to stand up to Bielema was a significant factor in the offensive outburst that followed. The Badgers amassed 640 yards, including 539 on the ground, in the 70-31 victory over Nebraska on Dec. 1, sending UW to the Rose Bowl where it will face Stanford on Tuesday.
The brilliant game plan stands as a crowning achievement in Canada's 21 seasons in college coaching, but it wouldn't have happened if he had not fought for the things he believed in.
The sources for this story — who are close to the football program and the coaching staff — spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were told the information in confidence.
Canada was asked this week if he'd ever called a game in which everything seemed to work as well as it did against Nebraska.
"That was a special night," he said, simply. "No doubt about it."
Canada acknowledged the meeting with Bielema but downplayed its significance.
"Bret and I talked every week," Canada said. "There wasn't any clearing of the air."
But the Badgers certainly looked like a different offense in that game — Canada's offense — unveiling a variety of formations, trick plays and things UW had not shown all season.
Bielema, who has a defensive background, got more heavily involved in the offense after the departure of coordinator Paul Chryst after last season.
According to the sources, Bielema railed against the use of fly sweeps — with running backs or wide receivers going in motion behind the quarterback, sometimes getting the ball or just forcing the defense to honor the edges — and thought the Badgers should have been good enough to simply be a power running team.
But they weren't good enough, especially at the start of the season, with the departure of seven starters off the record-setting 2011 offense that averaged 44.1 points per game.
A dispute over one of the plays Canada installed for the Big Ten title game highlighted the differences between Bielema and Canada.
The play, according to the sources, was run out of the Barge formation, in which tailback James White was at quarterback and handed the ball to tailback Montee Ball on a fly sweep.
Bielema didn't like how the tight end on the play side kicked out to make a block in the alley and wanted to change the play. There was also the risk of one tailback handing off to another and, in fact, when the play was run in the game Ball slightly bobbled the handoff.
After Bielema relented and gave his consent to run the play the way Canada wanted, Ball scored the first of his three touchdowns on it, a 16-yard run around left end in which he dove for the pylon from the 4-yard line to put UW ahead 35-10.
"There's risk and reward," Canada said when asked about the play. "If we would have fumbled that and the game was close, everyone would be saying, 'You've got James White handing it to Montee Ball.' "
Bielema's more heavy-handed tactics during the season, according to the sources, included overruling some of Canada's play calls on the coaches' headset during games.
Canada didn't dismiss that directly but said he takes responsibility for all of the calls during the season.
"I would say, I called every play," he said. "There are a lot of things that go into offensive football. We all were involved. We have a great staff. We tried to do the best we could."
It has undoubtedly been a trying season for Canada, who thought he'd landed his dream job and hoped to be here for a long time — certainly long enough for his daughter, a freshman, to finish high school in Verona.
Instead, he's uprooting his family again after one year and leaving after the Rose Bowl to become the offensive coordinator at North Carolina State.
Not only did Canada follow a popular and successful coordinator in Chryst, the offense bogged down early with issues at quarterback, an injury to the team's only threat at wide receiver in Jared Abbrederis and a rare coaching switch on the offensive line, with the firing of Mike Markuson and the promotion of graduate assistant Bart Miller.
Bielema said the 70 points against Nebraska were a sign of how much the offensive staff grew this season.
"We prepared for the Big Ten championship game just like we had all year," Bielema said in a telephone interview last weekend when asked about the meeting with Canada. "The part that really, I think, showed up in that game is we prepared with an attitude all week.
"That was something I really saw come out. Offense, defense and special teams, we practiced some things that hadn't showed up and they finally showed up in the Nebraska game, obviously, with great results."
Still, behind the scenes, it was an ongoing struggle for control of the offense, according to the sources.
Canada acknowledged one mistake he made was sticking with the things that had been successful at UW in the past for too long.
"Early on, the respect I had for what Wisconsin is and the system that was there, that was probably the biggest (failure) — I tried to just keep doing what has always been done and we needed to do some different things," he said.
Canada started tweaking the offense as the season went along. He unveiled the Barge, with White at quarterback and extra linemen, a formation Canada had used previously. He also introduced more shifts and motions, with great success.
The Badgers averaged 16.3 points and 276 yards in the first three games, then 35.1 points and 437.7 yards over the last 10.
"I'll take all of the accountability for us maybe not getting off to the best start we could," Canada said. "It was finding the right fits, finding the right guys, certain players growing into their roles. We lost a lot of very good players. We had to find our niche. I think we did that."
Bielema denied he overruled any of Canada's calls during a game.
"I never once said, 'No, don't call that,' " Bielema said. "That's probably more coffee talk than anything. I have a great relationship with Matt. I treated Matt the same way I treated Paul.
"The part that was really fun for me was to see was Matt grow, obviously, with a very, very difficult staffing situation."
While things didn't work out as he hoped, Canada said he has no issues with his working relationship with Bielema.
"I appreciate him hiring me to come work at Wisconsin," Canada said. "No issues, no problems. Everything was good."
Canada took the heat all season for any offensive shortcomings, always accepting responsibility when things didn't work out.
One of the things Canada is proudest of was when an offensive player, whom he declined to name, thanked him for his approach to the Big Ten title game.
"Probably the proudest thing I had, one of our good players, just saying after it was over, 'Coach, I appreciate you taking every shot (and) standing behind us,' " Canada said.
"There wasn't any finger pointing throughout the year. For me personally, that's my proudest (moment), 'Coach you took every shot and didn't ever point a finger.' "