Finishing Move

No.15 Wisconsin has blown out opponents with great regularity but it's been the two-minute sucker punch at the end of the first half that the Badgers have delivered that sets the tone in each of their victories.

MADISON - At the end of every Wednesday practice, Wisconsin's offense competes against its defense in a variation of a two-minute drill.

To understand how important those weekly repetitions have been to the Badgers, take a look at the numbers.

In the 10 games Wisconsin has won, it's scored in the final three minutes of the opening half. In the two games the Badgers have lost, they've failed to score in even the second quarter.

Two touchdowns in the final 130 seconds of the first half Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium gave No.15 Wisconsin the momentum it needed to cruise past No.20 Penn State 45-7 and clinch the Big Ten Conference Leaders Division title.

The Badgers (10-2, 6-2 Big Ten) will play Michigan State (10-2, 7-1), the champion of the conference's Legends Division, next Saturday in the inaugural Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.

"We're all about finishing," said Wisconsin junior running back Montee Ball, who scored four touchdowns to move within five scores of Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders for most touchdowns in a single season (39). "We do that in Wednesday practices. We really take pride at the end of practice in doing the two-minute drill. Coach (Bret Bielema) leaves us with like a minute, 20 seconds left to go in the half or in the game. We just practice it hard and carry it forward to the game."

Holding a 14-7 lead over the Nittany Lions, the Badgers extended their advantage with a 2-yard touchdown run by Ball with 2 minutes, 9 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

After sophomore linebacker Conor O'Neill forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Wisconsin senior quarterback Russell Wilson engineered a six-play drive that ended with Wilson completing a 4-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Nick Toon with 37 seconds remaining that stretched the Badgers' lead to 28-7 heading into halftime.

"The fact that we can score so quickly, especially with two minutes or less, is a thing that great teams and great offenses have to have," said Wilson, who tossed two scores to tie Texas Tech's Graham Harrell for most consecutive games with a passing touchdown (36). "That's trusting in our offense and knowing the offense in terms of playing quarterback and also great communication. You have to have great communication during those short time periods. Guys capitalized on some big plays and we've been doing it all season."

Wisconsin has scored 18 times (15 touchdowns, 3 field goals) in the final six minutes of the first half this season and 11 times in the last two minutes of the second quarter.

Trailing Nebraska 14-13 on Oct. 1, the Badgers scored two touchdowns in the final 2:03 to take a 27-14 advantage heading into the locker room. The team used that late first-half boost to pull away from the Cornhuskers for a 48-17 win.

A late second-quarter surge even helped Wisconsin against South Dakota. Following a somewhat sluggish start against the FCS Coyotes, the Badgers scored three touchdowns in the final 5:48 of the first half to stretch a 10-3 lead into a 31-3 advantage.

"I think it comes down to just players making plays," Wisconsin sophomore offensive lineman Travis Frederick said. "A lot of times, we're getting the chance in two minute(-drills). We're just taking more plays in less time, so I think it comes down to Russell's getting the ball, making good reads, the skill guys are making catches."

A late score in the first half has helped the Badgers even when trailing.

A 1-yard touchdown run by Ball with 2:55 left in the second quarter against Illinois Nov. 19 pulled Wisconsin to within 14-7. While the Badgers surrendered a late field goal to the Fighting Illini to end the first half, the Badgers used momentum from Ball's score to add three touchdowns in the first 18 minutes of the second half and hold on for a 28-17 victory.

"We (run the 2-minute drill) every single Wednesday against our defense and that's one of those things that we go back and forth," Wilson said. "It's just good experience, and come game time, you're used to it."

In each of its two losses, Wisconsin has executed poorly in the final moments of the second quarter.

Michigan State outscored Wisconsin 23-0 in the second quarter of its 37-31 victory over the Badgers on Oct. 22, and the Spartans scored two touchdowns in the final 80 seconds of the opening half.

Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins hooked up with B.J. Cunningham for a 35-yard touchdown pass with 1:20 remaining, and after a three-and-out by Wisconsin, the Spartans recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown to take a 23-14 lead at halftime.

In a 33-29 loss to Ohio State on Oct. 29, the Badgers also had an underwhelming finish to the half.

After a touchdown by Ball in the first quarter put Wisconsin ahead 7-0, the Buckeyes kicked a field goal with 2:55 left in the second quarter and the Badgers stalled on two late possessions in the opening 30 minutes.

Even with the struggles in the two losses, Wisconsin has outscored its opponents 114-37 in the final six minutes of the first half.

"We have done that quite a bit," said Badgers senior offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler of scoring quickly. "I don't really know how it works. I just think we have the right play calls in at the right time, and if everyone does their jobs, it works out."


Badger Nation Top Stories