An Old, Familiar Tune

Failing to score an offensive touchdown after halftime, seeing its final three drives end in turnovers and not executing in critical situations, No.19 Wisconsin's latest bowl loss - 34-24 to No.8 South Carolina - is become a familiar, frustrating trend.

ORLANDO, Fla. - Chris Borland and Joel Stave are on the opposite ends of their career. Borland's career is over – a spectacular one filled with highlight-reel players and being the face of the program. Stave's is just past the midway point and believes his best football is in front of him.

But with eight combined years at Wisconsin between them, they can agree on one thing: the Badgers' failures in bowl games are starting to get old.

"We're a good team, we can play with anyone, but we've got to finish," said Stave. "I think that's going to be the goal going into the offseason … We have to make sure we're finishing these opportunities."

The theme of the post game from the players who faced the music following Wisconsin's 34-24 loss to No.8 South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl was simple, yet repetitive. UW has a habit of not finishing and not executing in its season finale.

How else can one explain losing three Rose Bowls by 15 points and now another tripping up in another winnable bowl game by 10, one that Wisconsin led by four midway through the third quarter?

"I don't know if it's one thing," said Borland. "We've played well in our bowl losses. I don't think today was a great performance. But it's not due to a lack of preparation or effort. We played hard. We prepared well. I'm not sure. I'd like to send the seniors out a better way but I can't put my finger on exactly what we need to do better other than execute generally."

Dating back to October 2009, Wisconsin has suffered 18 defeats – all by 10 points or less. In the last three seasons, UW has won only three games by seven points or less.

Players admitted that Wisconsin (9-4) fought to the end against the Gamecocks – a talented SEC program that has gone 11-2 for the third straight year and has a senior leader under center, multiple projected first-round NFL draft picks on its defense and athleticism at every position. However that only goes so far, according to Stave.

"We just have to make sure when we're getting down to the end of the game, getting into those opportunities to win the game, we have to make sure we're executing," said Stave.

Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig hinted earlier in the week that Wisconsin was going to go back to its roots as a power-running team with a little bit of play-action passing mixed in. He was true to his word, as the Badgers put up 159 rushing yards in the first half and 293 for the game against the second-best rush defense in the SEC, while UW's two short passing touchdowns were off a fake dive and passes to the flat.

More importantly, they represented scoring drives in which Stave responded to adversity.

After his screen pass ricocheted off Rob Haventstein's leg and into the hands of true freshman linebacker Skai Moore, resulting in a 39-yard touchdown pass on the next play, UW's quarterback led a six-play, 71-yard drive where he went 3-for-3 for 48 yards and a key 11-yard completion to Jared Abbrederis on third-and-7.

He one-upped himself just before halftime, countering South Carolina's 5:57 touchdown drive with a 6:35 scoring drive of his own, as Jeff Duckworth's 3-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left gave Wisconsin a 14-13 lead at halftime.

The second half was a different story, as Wisconsin threw for only 53 yards – averaging 3.8 yards per pass – while South Carolina's Connor Shaw threw for 179 yards and two touchdowns. Named the game's MVP, Shaw completed 22-for-25 passes for 312 yards and three scores, rushed for 47 yards and a score and even caught a 9-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

"Football becomes really hard when you get yourself into a position where you can't throw it on offense and you can't cover them on defense," said Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen.

It's also not easy when a team doesn't convert on its chances, another developing postseason trend. Jack Russell missed a 42-yard kick wide right that would have given Wisconsin a 20-13 advantage, the Badgers failed to stop the Gamecocks offense on a fourth-and-seven from UW's 44 (leading to a touchdown) and UW's offense twice failed to convert on fourth-and-one in South Carolina territory.

Of the two, the crusher was Melvin Gordon – who couldn't pick up the first down on third-and-one a play earlier- being tackled for no loss at the South Carolina 26 because of a missed assignment. Instead of UW potentially scoring on the drive to go up 24-20, the Gamecocks scored six plays later to make it 27-17.

"I was trying to stick my nose in there and get it," said Gordon.

After Gordon's missed opportunity, Wisconsin saw its final three drives in South Carolina territory end with a turnover. South Carolina scored seven points off Wisconsin's four turnovers. The Badgers scored zero off the Gamecocks' two.

"Those are huge factors when you need points out there and you end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard, you can always say that's where the game turned," said Andersen. "I don't think there is a momentum shift where we're not playing hard. That's where the game shifts. Quite simply, they made some plays down the field in the late game and again the credit goes to South Carolina."

In his opening remarks, Andersen called it a tremendous bowl game that he and his players will remember for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately the main thing that fans will remember is another bowl game got away.

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