Tampa, Fla.--The problems that led to Auburn’s four regular season losses were still there in the Outback Bowl and led to the Tigers’ fifth and final setback of a disappointing season, a 34-31 overtime loss to the Wisconsin Badgers.
Special teams play has been an issue for Gus Malzahn’s team and that was the case at Raymond James Stadium as Daniel Carlson’s 45-yard field goal to send the contest into a second overtime hit the upright and bounced away, ending the season for the Tigers who finished 8-5. Carlson also missed a field goal during regulation.
Auburn’s porous defense was exposed by the Badgers, who rushed for 400 yards led by an Outback Bowl record of 251 yards on 34 carries by Heisman Trophy runnerup Melvin Gordon, who scored three touchdowns. For the Tigers were out-gained in total yardage 521 to 435.
“Our key was to try to stop him,” Malzahn said. “Obviously, we didn’t. He made some big plays and that was a big factor in the game.”
Auburn has hurt its cause with too many penalties and that was the case again on New Year's Day with the Tigers being flagged nine times for 75 yards. Wisconsin was penalized just three times for 28 yards.
Another issue for the 2014 Tigers has been an inability to make enough big plays when games were on the line, something that was the difference between winning and losing on New Year’s Day.
“We are extremely disappointed,” said Malzahn, who added, “it went down to the end and we just didn’t make the plays to win the game at the end and they did. You have to give them credit for that.
“We have a lot of seniors and we are disappointed we couldn’t get those guys out on a positive note,” Malzahn said. “They have been very important to our program. They really helped get our program turned around in the right direction.”
Wisconsin kicked a 29-yard field goal with seven seconds to set up the overtime after driving 64 yards on 13 plays after Auburn pulled ahead 31-28 with 2:55 left. The key play for the Badgers was a seven-yard pass on fourth down and five at the Auburn 33-yard line with 56 seconds left.
Auburn won the toss for the overtime period and went on defense first. The Badgers kicked a 29-yard field goal to take the lead.
The Tigers then lost two yards on a run by Cameron Artis-Payne and gained no yardage on a screen pass to Sammie Coates. A throw-back pass to C.J. Uzomah back to Nick Marshall lost a yard, forcing the Tigers to go with a long field goal by redshirt freshman Carlson.
Malzahn noted the Tigers thought they had set up the trick play during the game and decided that was the right time to use it. “Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t,” he said.
The coach added, “We had other plays we could have won the game with and we didn’t.”
Wisconsin struck first, scoring on its opening possession after stopping the Tigers. It took the Badgers just five plays to move 89 yards. Auburn helped Wisconsin when Jonathon Mincy was called for pass interference to keep the drive alive. Corey Clement scored on a seven-yard pass from Joel Stave.
The Tigers scored on their third possession by moving the ball 58 yards on eight plays, mostly on passes by Marshall, including a 19-yarder over the middle to Quan Bray to the two-yard to set up a run up the middle for the score by Cameron Artis-Payne. Carlson’s PAT tied the score at 7-7 with 2:16 left in the first quarter.
It took the Tigers just two plays to capitalize on the first turnover, a pick on third an long by Trovon Reed.
After a short gain by Corey Grant on a sweep, Marshall threw a perfect deep ball to Ricardo Louis on the Tigers’ version of the statue of liberty play. Louis, running a deep slant route, beat the coverage and raced into the end zone to put the Tigers up 14-7 with 8:01 left in the second quarter.
Ricardo Louis scores for the Tigers. He ran for 41 yards on three carries and caught one pass.
Wisconsin hurt its cause with another interception in the period when Jermaine Whitehead caught a pass that deflected off a receiver, making a diving catch to give the Tigers the football at their own five-yard line with 3:23 left before halftime.
Halftime Numbers: The Badgers held a 218 to 177 advantage in total yards. Wisconsin rushed for 141 yards on 25 carries while the Tigers ran for 46 yards on 16 carries. Auburn hit 8-12 passes for 131 yards while the Badgers hit 8-15 for 77 yards.
Wisconsin wasted no time in scoring to open the third quarter by moving 75 yards on six running plays. Melvin Gordon scored from 25 yards out to tie the contest at 14-14.
Auburn regained the lead on the next possession, moving 42 yards on eight plays before Carlson kicked his collegiate longest field goal of 51 yards to put the Tigers on top 17-14 with 9:32 on the clock.
The Tigers had a chance to add to the lead, but Carlson missed a 44-yarder. Wisconsin then moved ahead by driving 73 yards on six plays. On a fourth and inches call at the Wisconsin 47-yard line, Gordon broke free on a run up the middle to put the Badgers up 21-17 with 20 seconds left in the third quarter.
Auburn responded with one of its best possessions of the day, moving 81 yards on nine plays.
The Tigers took the lead at 24-21 on a 20-yard pass with 11:21 left to play on a perfect pass from Marshall in the corner of the end zone.
The Tigers try to pressure QB Joel Stave.
Wisconsin responded with a 70-yard touchdown drive on seven straight running plays. The final one, from six yards out by Gordon, put the Badgers up 28-24 with 7:58 to play.
Auburn’s offense came through again by driving 71 yards on 10 plays with Artis-Payne putting the Tigers ahead 31-28 with 2:55 left one play after AU converted a fourth down and 11 at the 15-yard line when a pass to Sammie Coates in the end zone drew a pass interference call.
The Badgers then sent the game to overtime with their drive for a field goal to finish the season with an 11-3 record. “That product we put on the field against Ohio State wasn’t us,” said Gordon, who came through in his final college game with an MVP performance. “We wanted to go out and show what we are really capable of doing.”
Stat of the Game: The Badgers averaged 7.4 yards per rushing play while Auburn averaged 5.1.
Worth Noting: The Badgers’ game plan was to keep the ball away from the AU offense and did that with a 33:04 to 26:56 advantage in time of possession. Wisconsin ran 81 plays, 15 more than the Tigers.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Marshall hit 15-22 passes for 217 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.