Tom Oates: Unexpected lesson changes bowl destination

2013-12-01T06:05:00Z Tom Oates: Unexpected lesson changes bowl destinationTOM OATES | Wisconsin State Journal | toates@madison.com | 608-252-6172 madison.com

The University of Wisconsin football team will still go bowling in Florida, it’s just that the game will probably be a few hundred miles north of the desired destination.

A berth in a prestigious BCS bowl — likely the Orange Bowl in Miami — was the goal for the 14th-ranked Badgers during what had turned into a fairy-tale season under first-year coach Gary Andersen.

But after a never-saw-it-coming, 31-24 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Conference finale Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, UW now seems destined for the Capital One Bowl in Orlando or the Outback Bowl in Tampa. There’s nothing wrong with those bowls; they’re just not where this fairy tale was supposed to end.

Instead, UW’s late-season lovefest came to a crashing halt when a mediocre Nittany Lions team outplayed and outcoached the Badgers, staying one step ahead of them all day on the field and on the sideline. UW rallied from 17 points down and didn’t succumb until Joel Stave’s Hail Mary pass was intercepted in the end zone, but that didn’t ease the pain they felt from missing out on a potential season-validating BCS bowl bid.

“We don’t deserve one after that performance,” linebacker Chris Borland said. “It is disappointing. That’s really all I can say about it.”

Perhaps the toughest part was the Badgers removed themselves from BCS consideration, dropping to 9-3 on the season. They might not have made a BCS bowl anyway depending on what happens in the Big Ten Championship Game between Ohio State and Michigan State, but they wanted to at least put themselves in position to get a bid.

“It’s tough,” Andersen said. “I think it meant a lot to those kids to be in that spot and have an opportunity to play in the BCS. That puts you in the elite of the elite if you get into that scenario. That’s not going to happen. So we’ll move forward. Such is life. The way we played today and the way I coached them, obviously we don’t deserve to have that opportunity.”

Give the Badgers credit for one thing, no one was deflecting any blame afterward. The players knew they hadn’t capitalized on multiple big-play opportunities and Andersen admitted he and his coaches could never quite catch up to the strategies employed by Penn State coach Bill O’Brien.

The Nittany Lions had the Badgers guessing from the start, especially on defense. Indeed, there were times when UW’s defense looked downright confused.

On one play, UW was penalized for having 12 men on the field. On the next, it only had nine and only avoided giving up a touchdown when safety Tanner McEvoy made a great play to break up a pass. Andersen said Penn State uncharacteristically sped up the tempo, causing UW problems getting different personnel groups on the field.

Another time, Penn State’s Eugene Lewis lined up wide left on second-and-goal and wasn’t even covered by the Badgers, who had never seen Penn State split a receiver out in that personnel group. Andersen raced down the field trying to call a timeout, but the officials didn’t hear him and the Nittany Lions scored a gimme touchdown.

And after forcing Penn State into a third-and-9 with about 4 minutes left, UW guessed the Nittany Lions would pass and called a defense with one down lineman and a heavy pass rush on the edges. Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg, a freshman, saw that and checked to a draw play that went for 61 back-breaking yards.

“It was very obvious that they were pretty well schooled-up,” Andersen said. “They were pretty schooled-up on how to attack us on some things that have seemed to be a little less successful for us the last few weeks. Got us on our toes a couple times on defense and we did not react well to that. The key to that whole situation is it starts with the coaches and (we) didn’t handle it good enough. That wasn’t acceptable.”

While it was encouraging to find out Andersen is a stand-up guy, UW also was plagued by performance problems that have been there all season. Mostly, it was their inability to complete big plays that were there for the taking on offense.

Stave’s accuracy has been inconsistent all season and, with the Nittany Lions massing at the line of scrimmage to stop game-breaking tailbacks James White and Melvin Gordon, there were plays to be made down the field. Despite 53 pass attempts, Stave simply couldn’t make enough of them to change the game.

“When you don’t have those explosive (running) plays, football gets very hard,” Andersen said. “We’ve got to be able to throw the football with consistency with play-calling, consistency with the guy delivering the ball and consistency catching it. We got in a position where we had to throw the ball late today and did some good things, but that’s not who we are. We need to play better.”

Some might think the Badgers were due for a letdown game, but that wasn’t the case Saturday. Unlike many of UW’s recent opponents, Penn State was able to exploit what few weaknesses the Badgers have shown.

Hopefully, UW will learn from that when it goes to central Florida.

Contact Tom Oates at toates@madison.com or 608-252-6172.

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(24) Comments

  1. elroy2u
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    elroy2u - December 07, 2013 4:47 pm
    Wow!!!!! Back to "Who Cares Bowl" status!!!! Well....we might actually win that one.
  2. Maui Jim
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    Maui Jim - December 05, 2013 5:49 pm
    Why, when they were up 30+pts. in games, wasn't Houston given a chance to come in and see what he can do and at the same time give him some actual game experience?
  3. badgerohio
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    badgerohio - December 02, 2013 6:37 pm
    This was just the Badgers' annual, obligatory loss to a team they should beat. Nothing more. Nothing less.
  4. goooooost8
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    goooooost8 - December 01, 2013 11:37 pm
    This was even more unexpected than last years Penn State win over Wisconsin. And to think Penn State did this with only 65 scholarship players, thanks to the NCAA sanctions.
  5. Cooney70
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    Cooney70 - December 01, 2013 7:37 pm
    Did all the other quarterbacks have broken arms that the press didn't tell us about? That's the only reason I can think of for staying with Stave.
  6. gymrat28
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    gymrat28 - December 01, 2013 7:30 pm
    How was he run out of town? Do you listen to radio or read the papers?

    As far as him in ARK we will see how he does after he learns the "tricks" of SEC recruiting..

  7. Fightin Hodag
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    Fightin Hodag - December 01, 2013 6:16 pm
    UW's opponent in Orlando will be ranked higher than the Clemson team they would have faced in Miami
  8. Ego Vigilabo Vigilum
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    Ego Vigilabo Vigilum - December 01, 2013 4:22 pm
    A possible silver lining.

    Wide Receiver, ****DOREIAN WATKINS, (6'2", 184) from Galion, OH. and ** Offensive Guard MICAH KAPOI (6'4",298 ) from Kapolei,HI both verbaled to the Badgers after the game. They are the 23rd and 24th verbals for the class of 2014. Watkins had originally verballed to Northwestern and Kapoi to U of Hawaii, but both flipped to the Badgers.

    On another thread earlier today someone asked why any receiver would want to come to Wisconsin. If he doesn't feel like asking 2012 ALL B1G TEN WR & TE (Jared Abbrederis & Jacob Pedersen, respectively), he might inquire that of Watkins.

    ON WISCONSIN!!
  9. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - December 01, 2013 4:19 pm
    Well, unboggle your mind with the knowledge that they get to see all of Stave's potential replacements in practice 6 days a week and they still went with him.
  10. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - December 01, 2013 4:16 pm
    Yup. And a lesson that will surely be learned by whoever our bowl opponent turns out to be.
  11. jaybird58
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    jaybird58 - December 01, 2013 4:02 pm
    Stave's decision making and inaccuracy cost the Badgers all three games. He should have been replaced several games ago. I was one of his big fans last year before he got injured but he regressed so much this year and I but lost faith in him. He has no touch, poor decision making and very poor leg work. I was hoping he would get better throughout the year but that was not the case. Feel bad for the seniors.
  12. birdsill
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    birdsill - December 01, 2013 1:38 pm
    Bielema leaves UW for Arkansas, Doeron leaves NIU for NC State and combine for 0-16 conference records.
  13. badgerfan1
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    badgerfan1 - December 01, 2013 1:01 pm
    A big disappointment. I had hoped we finally had some defensive coaching that would stop the big plays and control other teams. That had been missing the last few years. Alas the defenses record is probably more a reflection of how poor most of the Big 10 teams are rather than being a really significant change in the Badgers. Hopefully Stave will develope some accuracy by next year or the coaches can come up with a new QB that can make a team pay for putting 8 up on the line to stop the run game. A decent QB would have torn that run loaded defense apart.
  14. iconoclast
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    iconoclast - December 01, 2013 12:43 pm
    @gymrat:

    How was Bret Pigielema run out of town? People now are sure glad HE decided to leave, but that isn't run out of town by any stretch.

    Last year's rose bowl appearance has asterisks next to it nearly as big as the one next to the ASU game this year.

    What was Bielema's record at UW last year? How'd he do this year as a hog?

    If you want to see 'run out of town,' wait til you see what happens to him at Arkansas in a year, maybe two.
  15. Dawg
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    Dawg - December 01, 2013 11:55 am
    Actually mattm29 the bcs championship will be played at the rose bowl, but it won't be the rose bowl. The rose bowl will be played jan 1 like always, and the bcs championship will be the following Monday night. And I think it's true the Osu going to the bcs championship would have made it all but certain the rose bowl chooses msu over Wisconsin...
  16. gymrat28
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    gymrat28 - December 01, 2013 11:48 am
    Far cry from the BCS bowls we were accustomed to the last three years under the coach we ran out of town.

    Note to coaches: On third and two or less the only decision should be which running back gets the ball, not who do have Stave throw to.
  17. mattm29
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    mattm29 - December 01, 2013 10:51 am
    The national championship is the Rose Bowl this year so in your hypothetical, OSU would be in the Rose, leaving the Orange to an at-large.
  18. retired
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    retired - December 01, 2013 10:41 am
    Grt. comment, hopefully Anderson does indeed lower the boom on those def. coaches. When a team has only one dimension quarterback, it really costs. I would of thought by half time, Anderson would have recognized the def. was in trouble and changed things. I guess it don't work that way, it surely looked that way.
  19. Observer5
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    Observer5 - December 01, 2013 8:26 am
    That's it in a nutshell
  20. JUST US
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    JUST US - December 01, 2013 8:22 am
    Can anyone tell me why when you have two great running backs, and one who can catch balls out of the backfield why they aren't in the game at the same time. Why not make the defense have to defend both as options rather than keeping one on the sideline. Stave isn't accurate so at least let him dump a pass off to White as a safety valve rather than throwing interceptions. This one was coaching and hopefully Andersen reigns in Ludwig and Aranda when they choose to show boat with their play calling. It was a great year and great coaching all year until this. Hopefully they turn this disappointment into vengeance in the bowl game. Let these seniors walk out with their heads held high in victory.
  21. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - December 01, 2013 7:58 am
    Penn State correctly determined that they could throw against the Badgers and that the Badgers couldn't throw against them.
  22. w8rh3wk5
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    w8rh3wk5 - December 01, 2013 6:20 am
    With Alabama losing if OSU plays in the title game, UW would not have been a bcs bowl team anyways now. The Rose would take MSU no manner what bc they wouldnt want to have the Badgers for a 4th yr in a row. Its looking like a Cap One Bowl appearance now
  23. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - December 01, 2013 4:12 am
    In addition to all of the above, there was a cameo appearance (several of them, actually) by the Badgers' long-term nemesis, an opposing wide receiver getting behind all 11 defenders in an obvious passing situation.
  24. toby
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    toby - December 01, 2013 1:48 am
    Why didn't they just stay in a base defense, it looked like a hockey game. What can you say about a QB as inaccurate as Stave has been ALL year. Why they haven't given another QB a chance along the way boggles the mind.
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