In six years as a head coach, Wisconsin's head man has had few brushes with adversity. The biggest dose came in the 2008 season when the Badgers' season spiraled to four straight losses following a crushing loss at Michigan. Bielema often says the team grows more when they are losing rather than winning.
So after experiencing another first, back-to-back losses in the most excruciating of ways, there's no question that this is his biggest challenge as a head coach.
Sitting pretty in the national polls and in the BCS standings, Wisconsin has gone from a shoe in for the Big Ten title game and a national championship contender to a national title pretender and fighting for their Big Ten lives after dropping back-to-back, last-second primetime road games, the latter a 33-29 crusher to unranked Ohio State in front of 105,111 at Ohio Stadium.
"These things are just so overwhelming negative," Bielema said. "Unfortunately, this is a learning experience the only way you get it is by going through it. It's going to be disappointing for our players, our coaches, our families, our fans, all the Wisconsin people from coast to coast that had such high expectations and aspirations."
It wasn't a 44-yard Hail Mary this time that dealt Wisconsin's Rose Bowl chances a serious blow, but it sure was close. With only 20 seconds left, true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller scrambled out of the pocket and drew the eyes of cornerback Marcus Cromartie and safety Aaron Henry allowing wide receiver Devin Smith to slip behind the coverage for a wide-open 40-yard score.
For a cruel touch of irony, the Big Ten officials reviewed the play, leaving Wisconsin holding its breath for a positive turn in its direction, a turn that for the second week in the row didn't come.
Boom, faint title hopes gone, controlling their fate in the conference title race gone and making sense of it all gone.
"They are going to be tested in the most unbelievable fashion after these last two weeks," said Bielema, as Ohio State passed for just 89 yards.
"Replay booth has definitely not been our friend here as of late."
But unlike the sudden heartbreak Wisconsin felt last weekend, the Badgers' death was drawn out over the final 20 ticks. Wilson made it interesting, as two defensive penalties on the final play resulted in Wisconsin getting one untimed down from the OSU 45 and ushers shooing dozens of eager Buckeyes students off the field.
As it turns out, the storming of the field was only slightly premature, as the massive crowd rushed out to jump on the big scarlet ‘O' at midfield just as Wilson's final pass came nowhere close to bailing out the Badgers.
"You learn a lesson, whatever it is, watch the film and figure out what lessons can be learned as football players and individuals," said Wilson, who finished 20-of-32 for 253 yards and three touchdowns. "We have to stick together … We have the right guys and right coaches, we just came up short against two great teams."
The whole debacle extends beyond the final heave and the ensuing review, however, because frankly, the Badgers put themselves in a position to lose for the second straight week.
- Wisconsin was outscored 23-7 in the first 26 minutes of the second half, including another blocked punt resulting in an easy score.
- The Badgers allowed the Buckeyes to convert 11 of 20 third downs, including a third-and-1 with 43 seconds left when Dan Herron (160 rushing yards on 33 carries) bulled through the defensive line and into Wisconsin's linebackers.
- A fast start, going on a 69-yard touchdown drive on its second possession, fizzled into almost zero output until the two-minute offense in the second half. Wisconsin's four touchdown drives averaged 57.5 yards, while the Badgers other 10 drives averaged just 11.2 yards.
"We just lacked urgency in the beginning of the game," said junior running back Montee Ball, who averaged just 2.8 yards per carry if you take away his 40-yard fourth-quarter run. "Every play matters. There are a couple plays we just failed to capitalize on."
How do you keep picking yourself after keep getting punched in the gut? Is it even possible?
"It's got to be," tight end Jacob Pedersen said. "We've got four games. Anything can happen."
As of right now, being optimistic is all the Badgers can do after seeing things implode in such drastic fashion.
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