Lifeless Performance Leaves BCS in the Dust

It was there for the taking for No.14 Wisconsin - a number of program records for wins for its senior class and a chance to play in its fourth straight BCS bowl. But because of a uncharacteristic play on both sides of the ball, the Badgers felt the sting of a 31-24 defeat to Penn State in the regular season finale for the second straight year.

MADISON - Having not missed an entire game in his four year career, senior safety Dezmen Southward has been around a lot of highs and a handful of lows during his 53 games played at Wisconsin.

So when he calls a defensive performance "unacceptable," the end results probably don't have much a positive spin to it.

"It's not something I want to be a part of, it's not something the guys who are on this team want to be a part of," said Southward. "It's not the way we play the game."

Stating he wants to be a part of a defense that's smart, sharp, consistent, lines up and plays hard, Southward and his teammates were befuddled why No.14 Wisconsin waited until senior day to play its worst game of the season in a 31-24 loss to Penn State at Camp Randall Stadium.

It will go down as Wisconsin football's 11th-straight loss by seven points or less, but the reality of the matter was that the final score didn't indicate that Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) was out schemed and out played by a Penn State team who was 0-3 in true road games and had been outscored 27.7 points per game in those contests.

"It just feels like a terrible loss," said senior defensive tackle Beau Allen. I think we're all pretty devastated, to be honest."

The devastation stems beyond Wisconsin losing for just the third time at home the last four seasons. The loss eliminated the Badgers from having the opportunity to play in a BCS game for the fourth straight season and go undefeated at home for the third time in the last four years. Orange Bowl officials were at a UW home game for the first time this season, but the duo in the orange sport coats were nowhere to be found post game, a tough pill to swallow for a 26-member senior class trying to create another first in program history and make up for a couple tough road losses in the month of September.

"It's supposed to be a special day," said senior linebacker Chris Borland. "We have what we believe is a great senior class. It stinks to go out this way … We really don't deserve (a BCS bowl) after that performance."

The way Wisconsin went out was uncharacteristic of how the Badgers had played at home all season long. The Badgers had allowed just three touchdowns in six home games, with opponents averaging just 6.0 points per game.

Those stats started to rise after the fourth play of the game – a 68-yard touchdown pass from Christian Hackenberg to Adam Breneman – and continued to skyrocket. Penn State scored 24 straight points from the end of the second quarter to the beginning of the fourth, turning a 14-7 deficit into a commanding 31-14 advantage.

"Players have to make plays," said cornerback Sojourn Shelton. "We were put in good positions and good spots. We just came up short."

Unable to register any quarterback sacks and only two quarterback hurries, Wisconsin allowed Hackenberg to look like a fifth-year senior instead of a first-year freshman starter, throwing for 339 yards and four touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his passes without an interception.

He was also a big part in Penn State overwhelming Wisconsin with curveballs to the game plan that the Badgers were not expecting, nor had they seen on film.

"They changed the pace," said Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen. "Honestly, that was very unusual for them. In that personnel group that they were changing the pace was very unusual, something that we had not seen. Didn't handle it well. There is no excuse why we should have been and could have been on the field or in a position to be on the field, but we weren't."

In addition to not allowing its three previous Big Ten opponents score an offensive touchdown, the Badgers had allowed only one play over 50 yards in the 721 plays they had faced this season. Against Penn State, the Badgers were gashed for four such plays.

"We really didn't get into a rhythm after that first series," said Borland. "We fought back, but it was too little, too late."

Breakdowns were the overwhelming theme. Nate Hammon missed tackles that allowed the 68-yard touchdown and a 52-yard completion on the second drive, and Tanner McEvoy and Peniel Jean allowed Eugene Lewis to get behind them to haul in a 59-yard touchdown for Penn State's final touchdown

On UW's third drive, UW ran one play with nine players on the field, another with 10 and one with 12. UW was also unable to call timeout when it had the wrong personnel grouping on the field, leaving Lewis wide open for a 3-yard score that tied the game before halftime.

"That's where it starts and it ends – we weren't sharp," said Southward. "… We need to be a lot sharper. We need to come out with the intensity from snap one."

It looked like it was going to be a banner day for UW's seniors. There was the pair of first-half touchdown catches by little used seniors Brian Wozniak and Jeff Duckworth, and the blocked field goal attempt by Allen that kept the deficit at 7-0 in the first quarter.

But the offense, especially the running game, was virtually nonexistent.

Quarterback Joel Stave threw three touchdown passes, including two to Wozniak, but it was the throws he didn't make that were costly. Not only did Stave overthrow senior Jared Abbrederis multiple times, he threw three interceptions in Penn State territory that cost Wisconsin points, including his touchdown-tying heave with nine seconds left.

Wisconsin's running game was held to 120 yards, its second-lowest output of the season, as the Badgers have gone the last seven quarters without a run over 15 yards. The passing game hasn't been much better with no completions over 23 yards the last two games.

"Just not capitalizing on the big plays that we had or the chance to make big plays," said senior James White, who was held to 56 rushing yards, when asked what was the most disappointing aspect of the loss. "We have to make those opportunities if we're playing good teams, or trailing in the football game."

Likely heading to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, there are still things to accomplish for Wisconsin. The Badgers haven't won a bowl game since 2009 and will have an opportunity to validate their season against a very good SEC opponent, liking the loser between Auburn-Missouri or South Carolina.

It will also give the Badgers their fourth 10-win season in the last five years and give the seniors 40 wins, matching the school record with the 2007 and 2012.

Members of Wisconsin still believe they are a great team, but now have to wait a month to prove it in a bowl game outside the BCS.

"Today was kind of an anomaly," said Borland. "So we'll go back to what has made us successful and work harder than ever."

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