SAN DIEGO – When it came down to crunch time, Wisconsin wasn’t going to be denied.
The Badgers delivered on their chance to add a statement win to its 2015 resume in crunch time, registering a come-from-behind 23-21 victory over USC in the Holiday Bowl.
Wisconsin (10-3) built a 13-point lead midway through the third quarter after an Austin Traylor 4-yard touchdown, but USC’s passing game woke up to put 14 straight points on the board to take the lead early in the fourth quarter.
Wisconsin appeared to score the go-ahead touchdown to answer USC’s score, but Tanner McEvoy was incorrectly ruled out of bounds at the UW 46. Instead of a 73-yard touchdown, the Badgers had to punt six plays later. To compound the problem, Joel Stave had his nose inadvertently stepped on and was forced to the sidelines. That didn’t stop him.
After UW’s defense forced a three-and-out, a heavily-bandaged Stave, who was the game's offensive MVP after finishing 18-for-27 for 217 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers - delivered a pair of 17-yard completions to set up Rafael Gaglianone’s go-ahead 29-yard field goal with 2:27 remaining. Gaglianone, who has had his struggles all season, went a perfect 3-for-3 in the game.
On USC’s next possession, Jack Cichy, who had to sit out the first half because of a targeting call in the second half against Minnesota, delivered a quarterback hurry and a deflected pass off the arm of USC quarterback Cody Kessler. The wobbly pass ended up in the arms of Sojourn Shelton, giving a UW cornerback its first interception since November 2013.
The game's defensive MVP, Cichy finished with a team-high nine tackles and three sacks, which came on three consecutive plays in the third quarter.
Three straight run plays and USC burning the remaining timeouts gave the Trojans only 39 seconds to work with at their own 10. USC managed to get the ball to midfield but four straight incompletions, including a pass off Juju Smith-Schuster’s fingertips at the UW 20, clinched the game for the Badgers.
Because of its defense, Wisconsin dominated virtually every stat category in the first 30 minutes, as the Trojans could manage only 114 total yards, five first downs and only two plays over 15 yards. Most importantly, an offense averaging close to 450 yards per game could only stay on the field for 9 minutes and 49 seconds.
USC (8-6) finished with only 286 yards, including only 65 yards on the ground, because the Badgers held the ball for 37:18.
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9 plays, 50 yards, 3:44 TOP, 13:30 left
FG Rafael Gaglianone 28
Key Play: In his first game back since breaking his fibula Oct.24, Rob Wheelwright made an incredible one-handed catch on third-and-5 for a 21-yard gain, giving UW a first down at the USC 12.
6 plays, 74 yards, 3:19 TOP, 8:56 left
Corey Clement 6-yard run (Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: Wisconsin had four straight plays goes for 10 yards, including a pair of passes to its tight ends. Troy Fumagalli caught one from 19 and Austin Traylor came right back with a catch for 26 down to the USC 6.
9 plays, 55 yards, 3:39 TOP, 5:17 left
Justin Davis 1-yard run (Alex Wood kick)
Key Play: On fourth-and-four from UW's 36, Cody Kessler completed a first-down pass to Adoree Jackson, but Jackson turned it into a huge play when he broke tackle attempts from Natrell Jamerson and Tanner McEvoy to advance the ball to the UW 2.
12 plays, 71 yards, 4:51 TOP, :26 left
FG Rafael Gaglianone 33
Key Play: In his final college game, Derek Watt delivered the longest run of his career, a 19-yard burst up the middle that flipped the field position from the Wisconsin 37 to the USC 44. He even dragged some defenders along the way for good measure.
12 plays, 64 yards, 6:15 TOP, 7:49 left
Austin Traylor 4-yard pass from Joel Stave (Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: On third-and-5, Dare Ogunbowale peeled off a 17-yard run down to the USC 16.
5 plays, 55 yards, 2:15 TOP, 5:34 left
Justin David 4-yard run (Wood kick)
Key Play: It's hard to keep a good player down for long, as JuJu Smith-Schuster went 39 yards on the first play of USC's drive, getting the Trojans down to the UW 16.
12 plays, 82 yards, 5:08 TOP, 10:19 left
Darreus Rogers 7-yard pass from Cody Kessler (Wood kick)
Key Play: Wisconsin gave Kessler way too much time in the pocket to go through his reads, a no-no against a fifth-year senior quarterback. Kessler bought time and hit Rogers for the score after some miscommunication in the secondary while Kessler bought time in the pocket.
7 plays, 42 yards, 3:07 TOP, 2:27 left
FG Rafael Gaglianone 29
Key Play: After taking a cleat to the nose, a heavily-bandaged Joel Stave hit Austin Traylor and Troy Fumagalli for consecutive 17-yard completions to get UW down to the USC 18.
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