In a bizarre season that saw Wisconsin become the first five-loss team to make a BCS bowl, the Badgers season ended with a familiar theme: a close loss and a bitter pill to swallow in the Rose Bowl.
"We don't what it is," said White, one of the many players at a loss for words following No.8 Stanford's wire-to-wire 20-14 victory in the game 99th edition Tuesday. "We have to play a full four quarter game. We started slow and we ended slow."
The Badgers have seen this script play out twice before at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, let alone throughout an entire 2012 season filled with late losses that occurred because it couldn't capitalize in crunch time.
After holding Stanford (12-2) to a field goal despite the Cardinal having a first-and-goal at the 11, the Badgers were given one opportunity to march 75 yards with 4:23 left. After twice moving the chains to get a second-and-five at the Stanford 49, senior quarterback Curt Phillips – who completed 10-for-15 passes to that point –saw his final pass tipped by nose tackle Josh Mauro and into the arms of cornerback Usua Amanam.
Stanford ran out the final 123 seconds to win its first Rose Bowl since 1972.
"There was a little miscommunication, but I saw him and I got to put (the pass) on him," said Phillips. "It just wasn't a good throw."
Stanford was credited with three pass breakups, but Mauro and Stanford's front were active in getting pressure on Phillips and putting the clamps on Wisconsin's running game. Led by Mequon, Wis., native Ben Gardner, who wasn't offered a scholarship by the Badgers, and his six tackles, Stanford adjusted to become more focus on senior Montee Ball.
"We knew they were going to be good up front," said offensive coordinator Matt Canada. "We knew their (defensive) ends we're going to be a concern. They were very good. Their safeties played deep. They took away any kind of passes that way … We just didn't play well enough."
The result was Ball rushing for only 13 yards on seven carries after a productive 87 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown in the first half. It was one of many offensive issues that faced Wisconsin in game 14 that plagued them in the big games throughout the season.
Receivers Jared Abbrederis and Chase Hammond along with White all dropped plays that could have made a big impact or kept drives alive. Senior left tackle Ricky Wagner missed a block on fourth-and-inches that cost the Badgers a score.
"At the end of the day they made more plays than we did," said Smith. "We had opportunities to make plays to change the game and we didn't capitalize."
The calling card of the Badgers from the beginning of the season with defensive strength, especially with returning 11 players who started games the previous season. Imagine their surprise when Wisconsin allowed 159 yards on Stanford's first two drives and saw five of the Cardinal 15 plays go for over 10 yards.
"We gave up those two touchdowns, which ended up being the difference in the game," said Taylor, as Stanford averaging only 18.5 yards on its final 10 drives. "We settled down after that but those two touchdowns hurt us."
Wisconsin was supposed to be the team with the pockets full of trick plays, but Stanford came out swinging with gadgetry that fooled the secondary. With Anthony Wilkerson handing off to Kelsey Young on a jet sweep out of the wildcat, Young pitched the ball to Drew Terrell on the reserve, only to heave a 34-yard pass to JR Paterson that the fully-extended senior hauled in over his head.
The Cardinal scored their first touchdown on the next play and continued attacking Wisconsin's defense throughout the first quarter. When the quarter ended, Stanford was averaging 13.2 yards per play compared to 4.1 yards for Wisconsin, as the Cardinal ended the season outscoring opponents 103-34 in the first quarter.
Coincidentally, the Cardinal also allowed only four opponents all season to score in the final quarter and none after October 27.
"Stanford had all month to prepare for us, so most of the plays they had big hits on were things we hadn't practiced," said Smith. "They were able to make adjustments off things they saw against our zone."
After a failed goal line conversion, Ball scored his 83rd career and final touchdown on the next series to cut the score to 14-7. Two drives later, Wisconsin finished a 10-play, 85-yard drive with Jordan Fredrick's first career touchdown catch that gave UW momentum going into the locker room knowing it was going to get the ball back.
"I thought that was a microcosm of their whole season," said Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez. "They fought back, got in the ballgame."
That was one theme. The other was close losses, as Wisconsin didn't score after halftime to finish 2-6 in games decided by seven points or less.
"We felt really good going into the fourth quarter, saying, ‘We're going to win this. We're going to win this,'" said Groy. "It didn't happen."