Stocco, Badgers Make Statement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco won the Capital One Bowl MVP award despite an uneven performance that included six sacks, two interceptions and just 14 completions in 32 tries.

But the only numbers that mattered were 17-14, the final score of the game.

"I'm so tired of hearing that Auburn didn't come to play (in a 24-10 loss to Wisconsin in the 2006 Cap One Bowl)," Stocco said. "We didn't need to beat this team (Arkansas) to validate that we're a great team. But it's great to win."

Badgers senior strong safety Joe Stellmacher added, "We heard we hadn't beaten a real opponent this year. But we knew we were in a competitive conference, no matter what anybody said."

What Stellmacher heard came courtesy of Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, who showed the Badgers a video from an Arkansas-based newscast during the bowl week.

"A news station in Arkansas pointed out that we hadn't played anybody except Michigan and we lost to them," Bielema said. "I felt this game would be a huge step for our program."

No. 6 Wisconsin had the lion's share of the 60,774 fans -- a fact cited by Badgers special teamer Ben Strickland, who blocked a punt.

"You could hear our fans," Strickland said. "That motivated us. We've got to get respect around the country now. Arkansas is a great team, and it was a tremendous opportunity for us to play the SEC runner-up."

Stellmacher, the Badgers' spiritual leader, went around and shook each teammate's hand in the defensive huddle before Arkansas began a key fourth-quarter series trailing 17-14.

"I told them the game was on us, and we needed one more play on defense to win it," Stellmacher said. "And we got it." Arkansas reached the Wisconsin 40, but a holding penalty caused the march to stall.

Badgers linebacker DeAndre Levy breathed a sigh of relief. "Darren McFadden and Felix Jones are great players, deserving of the hype," Levy said.

But Wisconsin middle linebacker Mark Zalewski said, "It's about time people started calming down on the SEC in the Capital One Bowl and giving our (Big Ten) conference some credit."

Badgers linebacker Jonathan Casillas chirped, "We beat a great SEC team and it's a great feeling."

During the 30-minute, on-field celebration after the game, Wisconsin Outland Trophy winner Joe Thomas donned a bowl champs cap and said, "I think we should be in the top five. We're not the best athletes or the most honored, but when you put us all together we make a great team."

Badgers tight end Travis Beckum, who caught five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown despite extra attention from Arkansas, said, "We saw a weakness in their defense in the second half. We knew there would be open spots in their man coverage."

Wisconsin receiver Luke Swan (four catches, two drops) explained, "We knew we could run a lot of rub routes, with guys crossing. We could pick off guys. That's how Hub (Paul Hubbard) scored. I ran right at the defender but never touched him. It was legal."

Bielema called it a total team effort, right down to Wisconsin's final clock-milking drive.

"I told Stocco to run around on our last play and he said, 'You want me to run all 14 seconds?'" Bielema said. "I said, 'No, just run as long as you can.'"

He didn't run out the entire clock, but like his game performance, it was just enough to secure the win.


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