tom oates

Tom Oates: Badgers make most of bizarre season with blowout in Indy

wisconsin 70, nebraska 31
2012-12-02T07:30:00Z 2013-07-17T17:19:39Z Tom Oates: Badgers make most of bizarre season with blowout in IndyTOM OATES | Wisconsin State Journal | toates@madison.com | 608-252-6172 madison.com

INDIANAPOLIS — For the University of Wisconsin, the Big Ten Conference football season was the gift that kept on giving.

No matter how sluggish they were on offense, no matter how many games they lost, no matter where they sat in the Leaders Division standings, the Badgers still had their goals — the Big Ten championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl — right there in front of them.

On Saturday night, after a regular season filled with turmoil and more than a little heartbreak, UW finally showed it is no longer a team in need of a handout. That’s because what happened in the Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium was definitely no gift. The Badgers earned a third consecutive Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth with a stunningly dominant 70-31 victory over 14th-ranked Nebraska.

Not that everyone will see it that way. Kept alive for the conference title game by NCAA postseason bans for Ohio State and Penn State, UW likely will be the first unranked team to play in Pasadena since UCLA after the 1983 season and the first five-loss team in the 99-game history of the Rose Bowl. But the Badgers made a powerful case Saturday that they belong there.

Taking their 8-5 record to a BCS bowl will generate tons of scorn nationally, but the Badgers don’t care a bit after putting it all together against an elite opponent for the first time in this painful season.

A rout was about the only way UW could hope to change anyone’s mind, and a rout is what UW delivered.

“I don’t know if anyone anticipated this,” defensive tackle Ethan Hemer said. “It’s a high-quality opponent. ... For us to get a win like that is a very rewarding feeling. It’s something that kind of wipes away everything else from the year. Now it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks. We earned the right. We’re going to Cali again.”

People will debate whether one impressive victory will erase the memory of five close losses, but they can’t argue with how thoroughly UW dispatched Nebraska. For the first time against a really good team, the Badgers kept their foot on the accelerator after taking their usual early lead. At no point did they go into the conservative shell that frustrated fans during their close losses.

“We took it as motivation,” linebacker Chris Borland said of the criticism. “We knew we were better than a five-loss team, and I think today we showed it.”

It was ironic that UW did so against Nebraska, because it was the Cornhuskers who started the Badgers down their road to heartbreak with a 30-27 victory in the Big Ten opener. UW held a 27-10, third-quarter lead in that game, but it turned into one of five games it lost by a touchdown or less.

But even though Nebraska came in with a 10-2 record and a large contingent of rabid fans, the Badgers looked like a team that had been lying in wait for just this moment.

So dominant were the Badgers that even the Cornhuskers, the kings of the comeback this season, had no chance to recover.

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who has come under some fire for UW’s offensive struggles, had a creative game plan that had Nebraska guessing from the start. As usual, Canada emptied his playbook by the end of the second drive. Then he pulled out another one and emptied it, too. By then, Nebraska was finished.

The defense was UW’s backbone all season and, other than a 76-yard touchdown run by Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, it kept the high-powered Cornhuskers under control.

But it was interceptions by cornerbacks Marcus Cromartie and Devin Smith early in each half that turned the game into a blowout.

If UW did receive a gift, it was courtesy of Nebraska, which played nothing like a 10-win team. The Cornhuskers never did get a handle on Melvin Gordon’s end arounds, which netted more than 200 yards. They gave up a pick-six when Martinez’s first pass went through a receiver’s hands into Cromartie’s waiting arms. And Martinez gave UW a chance at one final touchdown in the first half by running out of bounds instead of sliding, an opportunity UW turned into a 42-10 halftime lead.

The disappointing crowd of 41,260 was due in part to UW’s struggles and its perceived unworthiness for the title game. But by the end, UW had become the team we hoped they would be all along.

Whether that showed real growth or was one fleeting moment of success won’t be known until UW meets Stanford in the Rose Bowl. But for one night anyway, the Badgers had nothing to apologize for. And if they can reprise the way they played, they will be a worthy Big Ten representative in the Rose Bowl.

“I think we earned it,” defensive end Brendan Kelly said. “If you asked the teams that played us and beat us throughout the season, there was no easy loss. There was no game we got blown out. We knew what we were capable of all along. I think we showed that today. When all cylinders are clicking, we’re going to be a great team.”

One more victory ought to prove that.

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(18) Comments

  1. w8rh3wk5
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    w8rh3wk5 - December 02, 2012 5:52 pm
    Im not the one rating BB on one game like many others.....

    here r the facts: UW is now 8-17 against ranked team.... thats a pretty large sample size if you ask me
  2. Big_Joe
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    Big_Joe - December 02, 2012 5:46 pm
    Give BB due credit. These kids were jacked. They could have thrown it in. Yes, he doesn't manage the clock well at the end. And play calling has been suspect, at best. But Bret doesn't sit on his hands. He's made decisions and changes as needed. Compare him to Iowa's overpaid Ferentz, where 7-5 is now considered a good season, and mediocrity is enshrined in a 10-year contract.
  3. DowntownTruth
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    DowntownTruth - December 02, 2012 1:15 pm
    Bucky threw ZERO passes in the second half - anyone crying about the score should wake up
  4. spymca
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    spymca - December 02, 2012 12:51 pm
    w8rh3wk5 does this count as a "big win?" Still waiting to hear from all the haters on who they would hire instead of BB. A win in the rose bowl is incredibly important to the BB legacy but one win doesn't make him a great coach the same as one loss won't make him a poor coach. People need to understand wins and loses aren't that simple in college football. Ask saban and his multiple 5th and 6th place finishes in the Big Ten.
  5. seered
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    seered - December 02, 2012 11:51 am
    BB knows its time to get that giant monkey off his back and win a rose bowl, if this performance can carry over he just might do it. No doubt we will be ready. They wont get much respect and thats just what this team needs to go out there and kick ass!
  6. dashhandsome
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    dashhandsome - December 02, 2012 10:04 am
    Whatever you want to say about this team (where has it been, why didn't they open this playbook sooner, is Wisconsin better than 8-5), it was just nice to see the team play an ENTIRE GAME, right up to the end of the final quarter. No prevent, crazy d-line, continuing running when it was working all game. Looking forward to that again as I travel from here at the beach up to Pasadena on Jan 1st.
  7. Universalcare
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    Universalcare - December 02, 2012 9:38 am
    I take back every negative thing I have said about this season's Badgers.
    3 consecutive Rose Bowls is amazing! Go Bucky!!
  8. hackvrod
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    hackvrod - December 02, 2012 9:32 am
    Huskerdaddy,where are you? You said the big red was gonna roll the badgers. I'm sure the husker fans are whining because we rolled up the score. Consider that payback for all the times in the 70's and 80's that u needlessly pounded teams and put up 60 and 70 points. I said it last year after nebraskas first big ten game. Can we please trade Nebraska for Iowa State so we can get some competition!!!!!!!!
  9. Observer5
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    Observer5 - December 02, 2012 9:10 am
    Wow, who was that team in red? We didn't see coaching and intensity like that all season. Seems like BB finally took the reins off Canada and let him work like he did at Indiana. And the defensive coaches used sets they hadn't used before. Finally, the players executed it all beautifully. Masterful job all the way around.
  10. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - December 02, 2012 8:56 am
    No team plays well every time. If they did, it wouldn't be interesting to watch. Folks need to look at the big trends. Three Rose Bowls in a row, regardless of qualifiers, is a big deal.
  11. brown
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    brown - December 02, 2012 8:14 am
    Now if they play like that all the time.
  12. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - December 02, 2012 8:06 am
    We have to remember that Bucky finished the season with a QB who was 4 on depth chart at one time, and a damaged Montee Ball for the first month. The O line coach firing was a big call, but he should never have been hired. Still, BB and BA didn't wait. They acted. What really matters is the reputation of the program. It was elevated by last night's win. With good kids like Ball and Borland making big plays. Important note. While OSU and PSU wallow in sanction hell, the UW is still playing. And at least for now, playing well.
  13. w8rh3wk5
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    w8rh3wk5 - December 02, 2012 8:03 am
    @missdee.... yes this team has lost the last two rose bowls, and yes I've been a critic of this coaching staff, but now isn't the time to say anything. Credit is owed to the players and coaches. We will have more than enough time to discuss the upcoming game and opponent. Just enjoy the moment right now. It was one of the most unbelievable games I've ever witnessed
  14. missdee091
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    missdee091 - December 02, 2012 7:53 am
    Nice job, but they did choke the last two years.....
  15. BarneyinAstoriz
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    BarneyinAstoriz - December 02, 2012 7:49 am
    I think credit needs to be given to the defensive strategy. By putting only two defensive ends in a down position and three or four linebackers up and off the line, the Badgers were able to both disguise their defense and have a two or three steps of speed when they moved forward to make stops. I think this defensive strategy is very powerful. A big down offensive lineman topples like a bowling pin when hit by a linebacker at nearly full speed.
  16. Ballblaster
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    Ballblaster - December 02, 2012 6:45 am
    It was awesome baby !! These guys can do it in Pasadena !!
  17. w8rh3wk5
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    w8rh3wk5 - December 02, 2012 5:36 am
    Absolutely stunning. I could never have imagined such a performance from UW. What a great win. The players, the coaching staff, everyone deserves recognition for that win. Nice job, back to back to back Rose Bowl appearances

    Now onto the next test. This will be a very tough matchup for UW against Stanford.
  18. Devastation608
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    Devastation608 - December 02, 2012 2:16 am
    Go badgers!

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