No California Love

The looks on the faces of members of the fourth-ranked Wisconsin football game and the muffled sounds of their voices told the whole story - this was one that got away. From missed opportunities to tough decisions that went the other way, No.4 Wisconsin swallowed a bitter 21-19 pill in the 97th Rose Bowl against No.3 TCU.

PASADENA, Calif. – The message had been preached to them and engrained in their heads since No.4 Wisconsin qualified for the 97th Rose Bowl: finish the deal, because nobody remembers the losing team in the Granddaddy of them All.

Maybe it's a good thing then for the tens of thousands of Badgers fans that turned the Rose Bowl Stadium into ‘Camp Randall West' for the fourth time in 17 years that the memory may fade over time, but the occurrences that took place inside the stadium will haunt members of the Wisconsin football team for the rest of their lives.

Not only did No.4 Wisconsin lose a two-point game in the Rose Bowl, a 21-19 decision to No.3 TCU in front of 94,118 fans that were mostly decorated in cardinal and white, it's the way they lost it that will create the painful sting.

"You could tell by the expressions (in the locker room)," an emotional UW Coach Bret Bielema said, "this is going to be something that burns in their memory for a long, long time."

Pick your poison with this one: penalties, questionable decisions and the inability to convert on golden opportunities inside their opponent's 25-yard line.

TCU Coach Gary Patterson questioned the media Friday, wondering aloud if the press would say his team won the game or the Badgers' lost the game. The answer, at least from the Wisconsin locker room, was the latter.

"I think we (gave it away), just because we slipped up on opportunities that came and bite us in the end," running back John Clay said. "It was too late by the time we started getting hot."

Wisconsin (11-2) reached TCU's territory on five of its first six possessions, but only managed 13 points. The Badgers drop 55 yards in 13 plays, but saw kicker Philip Welch, who had been 5-for-5 on field goal attempts between 30-39 yards this season, push a 39-yard kick wide left.

With TCU (13-0) throwing a number of blitz packages at Wisconsin, senior quarterback Scott Tolzien was forced to make quick decisions. Tolzien finished 12 of 21 for 159 yards, but it could have been better had he seen a wide-open Jake Byrne on a play-action pass on UW's three-yard line in the third quarter. Make that play with the convoy around him, Byrne may have run all the way to Anaheim.

"We knew it was going to go into our favor if we could get them into third down and long situations," Patterson said. "Tolzien is a really good quarterback. He's very efficient, he does his job. We just happened to come up two points ahead."

Just like fans remember Wisconsin's triumphs here in 1994, '99 and 2000, this breed of UW fans will remember the final two-point decision.

Having 35 days off between its Big Ten clinching victory Nov.27 and kickoff of the Rose Bowl, Bielema and his staff, after poring over hundreds of hours of film, saw a weakness in TCU's top-ranked defense that would yield success in a two-point conversion situation … should the Badgers need it.

"That two-point play was something we worked on and repped for TCU for the last three weeks," Bielema said.

After Montee Ball (22 carries, 132 yards, 1 TD) rumbled four yards and dove over the goal line with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin needed that film study to pay off

The play was there – Jacob Pedersen alone one yard deep into the end zone – and the opportunity was there. Problem was, Mountain West defensive player of the year and Rose Bowl defensive MVP Tank Carder was there, as well.

Carder got one of his hands up on a pass rush on the right side of UW's mammoth offensive line, followed Tolzien's eyes and blocked UW's fourth Rose Bowl win since 1994.

"I figured it was going to be a run (because) they had been effectively running the ball for three or four yards all game," Carder said. "I went to go blitz, got blocked and couldn't get through the hole, so I just stopped, backed up, saw him cock his arm back and I jumped, and that was the end of it."

Hindsight is 20/20, especially when the stakes are the highest they've been for a Wisconsin program since last winning here in 2000, but armchair quarterbacks are guaranteed to have a debate about the call.

Wisconsin had no semblance of a passing game, as the Horned Frogs threw enough pressure to where Tolzien was sacked twice and forced to make split-second decisions that interrupted timing and flow.

But the Badgers stayed close thanks to a running game that finished with three running backs gaining 231 yards on the ground, and Clay was the reason why. Carrying the ball only five times through the first 53 minutes, Clay (76 yards, 1 TD) looked like the freshest player on the field when Wisconsin started its last drive.

Clay broke back-to-back rushes through the middle for 14 and 30 yards, the latter of which got Wisconsin down to the TCU 33. Starting with Clay and ending with Ball, the Badgers ran the ball nine times on the 10 play, 77-yard drive, using a power running game that had put them back on to the national stage.

But even with the Horned Frogs' gashed, the Badgers went into a shotgun formation as Clay watched from the sideline.

"Wisconsin's a very good team," Patterson said. "When (they) have to play from behind, they put in John Clay and he bangs at you. They did that in the final drive, and we got fortunate that we were able to run out the clock.

"Sometimes, it just happens that way."

Fortunate would be accurate from Patterson's perspective, seeing as Pedersen's shadow received the wrong signal. Calling a blitz where the safety and linebacker were supposed to come off the edge, the back side safety thought the blitz called for both linebackers to rush, not him.

Unfortunately for Wisconsin, the linebacker blitzing was Carder, who finished his six tackle (three for loss) and one sack performance with the biggest play of his career.

"I felt real confident with the play call," Tolzien said. "It looked like man coverage with zero pressure. I thought we had a guy open. You give credit to them. They batted the ball down, and that's what good football teams do. They find a way to make plays when the game is on the line."

The Badgers' fate would also might have been different had Wisconsin made plays in a frustrating second quarter. Holding the ball for 13 minutes, 30 seconds and limiting TCU to only three offensive plays, the Badgers twice drove inside the TCU 22, and came away with only three points.

It certainly could have been more, but Bielema, despite converting a fake punt on fourth-and-nine, elected to play it safe when facing a fourth-and-one on TCU's 21 with 46 seconds left.

Welch made the 37-yard boot, redeeming himself from a 39-yard kick he missed on the previous drive, and UW, despite outgaining TCU 234 to 141, went into halftime down 14-13 and with all three timeouts in its pocket.

"We were content with taking the points," Bielema said. "I couldn't get clarification as much as I wanted of how close we were. All they kept saying was (fourth down). So at that point, I didn't want to call a timeout and disrupt Phillip."

One thing disrupted was Wisconsin's chemistry. Entering the game leading the nation in fewest penalties per game (2.92), Wisconsin recorded a season high in penalty yards before the 11 minute mark of the third quarter.

A pass interference penalty on cornerback Devin Smith on TCU's opening drive of the second half – only the third pass interference penalty called on UW all season but second of the game - proved costly. It gave the Horned Frogs a first down, and they eventually cashed in with a touchdown run, instead of facing a third-and-13 in its own territory.

"What got us here was clean execution and clean disciplined football, and we didn't do that today all around, myself included," said Tolzien, as Wisconsin finished with a season high in penalties (6) and yards (41), resulting in a season low in points. "That's why it's the greatest game, because you don't execute and you're on edges. The other team's going to find a way to beat you."

The highest scoring first quarter in the game's 97 years was not an indication of things to come.

Each team scored on both of its possession and each put up big chunks of yards against the other's supposedly stellar defense (TCU 133 yards, UW 132), but Wisconsin got behind in the shootout when, even after a 40-yard run by Ball on the game's first offensive play, its drive stalled after a drop by Nick Toon in the redzone, a sign of missed opportunities to come.

Welch's 30-yard field goal did little to shake TCU's high-octane offense, as TCU senior quarterback Andy Dalton completed two third-and-long passes and lofted a perfect touch down pass to receiver Bart Johnson over the defense for a 23-yard touchdown.

Dalton's moxie was unchallenged, and it showed up again after Tolzien helped Wisconsin retake the lead with three 14-plus yard completions. After Clay bulled in from one yard, giving UW a 10-7 lead, Dalton again torched UW's secondary, airing out a perfect pass to freshman Josh Boyce, who had a step on senior cornerback Niles Brinkley.

The result was a 42-yard diving catch and a first down at the 13, and Dalton – named the game's offensive most valuable player - retook the lead with his four-yard scramble, and TCU never looked back.

"Coming out of high school, I think I ran the ball maybe two or three times the whole year," said Dalton. "So it's something I had to get used to … We took advantage of it early on."

Sitting stoic at the media podium, junior defensive end J.J. Watt, a virtual non factor with three tackles and one pass breakup, was asked how tough it was to live with this result. The tears that came streaming down his face and the multiple pauses he needed to regroup spoke just as loud as his words.

"The Wisconsin badgers will be back to the Rose Bowl," Watt said. "I haven't made made my decision, but if I'm back, if I go, the Wisconsin Badgers will be back to the Rose Bowl. I don't know if it will be next year, but … the Wisconsin football program does things the right way.

"No doubt about it, the Badgers will be back. They'll be back better than ever. When they come back, they'll win."

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