That was exactly the case as Wisconsin rolled up 548 yards of total offense behind the running of tailback Brian Calhoun and quarterback John Stocco on the way to a 24-10 victory. Much of the damage came in the first 30 minutes of action as the Badgers built a 17-0 lead at halftime on the way to the victory. Auburn sophomore cornerback Jonathan Wilhite said that the first half wasn't what the players had in mind coming into the game in terms of outcome or intensity.
"I don't really have a reason (why the team came out flat)," Wilhite says. "I don't think we came out offensively, defensively and special teams and played as hard as we can. I don't think we played the kind of Auburn football that is expected of us. We slacked around a little bit and then we realized what we had gotten into. By then it was probably too late. We'll just use this and build for next year."
Wilhite was part of a secondary that struggled against Wisconsin.
After getting dominated in the first half the Tigers came back with a better run in the second half before giving up a touchdown drive to seal the victory in the fourth quarter. Wilhite said that the success they had was strictly due to effort, something he said he doesn't believe was present early for whatever reason.
"I feel we went out in the second half and gave it all we had," Wilhite said. "In the first half we went out and they threw the first blows and we didn't respond. Not taking anything away from Wisconsin, they have a good team with probably the best running back we've played and some good receivers, but somehow as a team I don't think we clicked. That's a part of the game. Some you're going to lose and some you're going to win.
"They didn't do anything we didn't see all year," he added. "I just think it was a lack of execution. Defensively, we went out and gave up a lot of yards on the ground. We gave up a lot of yards in the air. That's something we didn't expect to happen when we came into the game. We're just going to rebuild and get better in the spring."
For a team that has played at a high level for the better part of two seasons without taking many plays off, much less games, the bowl performance is hard to imagine. Wilhite said that the night before the game the players had talked about finishing their season with a good performance, especially for the seniors, but it didn't happen on game day.
"Wisconsin came out and played hard," Wilhite said. "We didn't come out with that intensity that we should have had. We waited until the second half and by then we were down by too much. We had meetings Sunday night and we just said we were going to finish it. All we wanted to do was give them that wish and get a win."
Despite the outcome of the final game, the 2005 Tigers will be remembered as a team that overcame losing four first-round draft picks to win nine games and tie LSU for first place in the SEC West. Wilhite says that his first year at Auburn could have gone better, but one game isn't going to label this year as bad in his eyes.
"The season is a success," Wilhite said. "There are a lot of schools that didn't get to do what we did. They didn't get to come to a bowl game. The seniors finished off good. We went 9-3, we weren't 6-5. We played hard and went out and gave everything we had. I played for the guy next to me just like everybody else played for the man next to them. This season was far from a failure. We pulled off some big wins. Losing is in the game. We just have to accept that and get back after it."