The Mighty Duck

He wasn't the game's MVP or the guy that scored four touchdowns but without sophomore wide receiver Jeff Duckworth pulling in a 36-yard pass on a fourth-and-6 to set up the winning touchdown, the Badgers would likely be in Florida for the post season and not Southern California.

INDIANAPOLIS - Never having much to say when a microphone is in front of his face, Jeff Duckworth's interview habits mirror his play. Overshadowed by senior wide receiver Nick Toon and sophomore wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, Duckworth had quietly been UW's third receiver, finding the regular season seventh on the team with 12 catches and sixth with 177 receiving yards.

So after not standing out for his first three seasons, Duckworth picked the Big Ten Championship game to go down in conference history.

Setting the tone for his day with a 3-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter, his first career score, Duckworth made the play of the season when he contorted his body, adjusted his route and hauled in a 36-yard pass on fourth-and-6 that gave Wisconsin a first down at the Michigan State 7-yard line.

Montee Ball scored the go-ahead touchdown one play later and the Badgers were headed to the Rose Bowl 3 minutes, 42 seconds later with a 42-39 victory over Michigan State that was in large part to Duckworth.

"It's great to get the first one, especially on this stage," Duckworth said. "It's fun being out there."

Even though Wisconsin had timeouts left, the Badgers knew it needed to roll the dice down five with just over four minutes to go near midfield. With the Spartans in Cover 1, quarterback Russell Wilson faced pressure from the interior of the line, scrambled to his left, planted and heaved the pass in the direction of Duckworth coming across the field running a deep route to the back corner.

Duckworth, who admitted to running a bad route, ended up out jumping both safeties and gave UW a renewed sense of life.

"Russell just threw it up and gave me a chance to make a play," said Duckworth, who matched his career high with three receptions for 53 yards. "Since the day he got here, he's been preaching to attack the ball and that's what I try to do in making the play."

From Wilson's perspective, it was a play he's seen Duckworth make all the time in practice.

"(The) catch was pretty unbelievable," said Wilson. "(He) works his butt off every day, and it pays off. I knew Duckworth … was my only shot, really and I just gave him a shot. I knew he would come down with it once I put it up in the air, and it was a pretty spectacular play."

Over two seasons, Duckworth hasn't been able to make many plays of any kind. After redshirting during his 2009 season because of lingering shoulder issues that required surgery, Duckworth tore his PCL on the first practice since getting cleared. His second scope last spring took care of a meniscus problem and cleaned up the knee. It put him behind schedule, but it didn't stop him from flashing his potential.

"Duckworth began to show signs last spring," said UW coach Bret Bielema. "He really showed up with his consistency, his work ethic, and he's got great hands."

Bielema and UW receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander started to see that the last four weeks, as Duckworth has caught six passes for 121 yards in the last four victories.

"(He's) kind of one of those guys that always finds a way and has been big down the stretch here in the last four games," Bielema said. "I'm excited because he's only a sophomore and getting better every day, and shows the big play mentality."

Duckworth was one of five Badgers that caught three passes from Wilson, and admitted after the game that this season has been a great experience being able to be healthy and contribute to the offense. Imagine how he's going to feel when he goes out to do his job in Pasadena.

"It's another dream come true and another goal we've accomplished," Duckworth said. "We're going to go out there and get a win."

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