Following a 24-21 loss to Georgia in the Outback Bowl, there was senior free safety Jim Leonhard, choking back tears as he answered reporters' questions. There was offensive coordinator Brian White and defensive coordinator Bret Bielema with tears welling in their eyes.
For the University of Wisconsin football team, the mood has been similar the last three games. After starting the season 9-0, the Badgers ended their season Saturday with three consecutive losses.
"All losses are hard. I can promise you that," White said. "We really wanted to finish with a win against a quality, quality opponent and have a 10-win season."
Instead, the fourth 10-win season in school history will have to wait for another time.
"It's tough. You always want to get that next win," junior tight end Owen Daniels said. "We had three shots at it. Especially for our seniors we want to send them out with a win. We want to end their season on a winning note. It's just tough."
Despite the sour taste of Saturday's loss, Leonhard felt that one of the team's proudest moments came in the second half against Georgia. The Badgers trailed 24-6 with 6:33 left in the third quarter after the Bulldogs scored on consecutive possessions. At that point, it looked like Georgia was on the verge of routing Wisconsin. The Badgers, though, responded with a touchdown drive of their own and used a defensive score to close within a field goal before falling short at the end.
"I think one of the greatest achievements was today," Leonhard said. "Coming back. It looked bad there for a while. Everything was in their favor and all of a sudden, boom, boom, we made a couple plays. We made it a game again."
Watkins fills in for Sanders
Junior linebacker LaMarr Watkins struggled through a trying 2004 campaign. He entered spring workouts penciled in as the Badgers' starting will linebacker but lost that job to junior Dontez Sanders early in fall training camp.
Watkins then battled injuries throughout the season, including a broken toe that held him out of action for about four weeks.
Saturday, though, Sanders injured his left shoulder midway through the first quarter, after getting spun around by Georgia running back Thomas Brown in the open field following a pass reception. After Brown evaded Sanders, though, senior cornerback Scott Starks put his helmet squarely on the football, jarring loose a fumble that senior safety Jim Leonhard recovered.
Watkins, who also subbed for Sanders during Georgia's fist offensive possession, played the rest of the game at will linebacker.
"Probably like the first three series it took me to get the speed of the game," Watkins said. "That team was a lot faster than they look on film. They were a lot faster than I expected."
Watkins had started eight career games prior to this season but participated in just four games this year, recording seven tackles. He had not played extensively since starting the Music City Bowl last year. He had two tackles in the Outback Bowl Saturday.
"It's been a really hard year," Watkins said. "It's been mentally tough, stressful."
Brandon Williams set a new UW career kickoff return yardage record Saturday but struggled in his return role on his record-setting day.
Williams averaged just 9.8 yards per return Saturday, with a long of just 18. After Georgia took a 24-6 lead with 6:33 left in the third quarter, Williams made a poor decision in handling a kick that was sailing out of bounds. Immediately after catching it he stepped out for a zero-yard return that gave the Badgers possession at their 12.
Williams, who needed just six yards to set the record prior to the game, returned five kicks for 49 yards and now has 1,752 kick return yards in his career.
The junior receiver also led Wisconsin with 56 receiving yards Saturday and finished the season with a team-leading 42 receptions and 520 receiving yards.
Greene claims total offense record
Georgia quarterback David Greene established a new SEC record for total offense Saturday, finishing his career with 11,270. He broke the record previously held by former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning (11,020)
Greene set a number of impressive records in his standout four-year career at Georgia, including the NCAA record for career wins (42) and the SEC record for career passing yards (528).
Starks gets another big play
During Tuesday's Orange Bowl broadcast, UW senior cornerback Scott Starks will learn if his game-winning fumble recovery and touchdown return against Purdue earlier this season has been selected the "Game Changing Play of the Year."
Against Georgia Saturday, Starks forced a first-quarter fumble that led to a game-tying field goal. It was not nearly as dramatic as Starks' play at Purdue, but it was significant nonetheless.
If Starks' play in West Lafayette wins the game-changing award, the University of Wisconsin will receive $100,000 for its general scholarship fund. Voting takes place online at http://espn.com/Pontiac and is available up until Jan. 4.
Starks forced two fumbles this season and recovered two more.