Stocco, offense come up short

Badgers lack firepower in 24-21 Outback Bowl loss to Georgia

TAMPA, Fla. — Plain and simple, Wisconsin's offense did not measure up Saturday.

The Badgers mounted just 230 yards total offense in their 24-21 Outback Bowl loss to Georgia. Of that tally, 133 came on just five plays in the second half.

Wisconsin's first half bounty: 54 yards on 29 plays, a dreadful 1.9 yards per play.

"We've been inconsistent offensively all year," Badger head coach Barry Alvarez said.

Aside from two drives in the second half, Wisconsin was anemic with the football in it is hands. On two first-half drives that resulted in long field goals, the Badgers totaled 16 yards. They went backwards on 5 of 13 offensive possessions.

The Badgers running game struggled against a Bulldog defense that clogged the line of scrimmage, with safeties Greg Blue and Thomas Davis frequently crashing the box. Star tailback Anthony Davis was held to 79 yards on 21 carries, including just 19 yards on 10 carries in the first half.

Wisconsin's biggest problem, though, was an ineffective passing game. Quarterback John Stocco connected on only four of 13 first-half passes for 37 yards, including a long of 13 yards. He finished the game 12 of 27 for 170 yards and a touchdown. He lost two fumbles and was sacked seven times.

"I thought he was off to start the game. He missed some throws early on that could really have given us the momentum," Alvarez said.

Starting strong is something that Stocco struggled with throughout the season. Often, though, he has bounced back with strong second halves and clutch drives, helping in tough road games at Arizona and Purdue.

That was very nearly the case again Saturday, but this time Stocco could not overcome the struggles that plagued him for most of the day.

The difficulties were not for lack of opportunities. The Badgers' receivers did a good job getting open against Georgia's secondary but Stocco could not hit his targets. He overthrew senior receiver Darrin Charles on a deep pass on Wisconsin's first possession when a well-thrown ball might have resulted in a touchdown. On third-and-12 three plays later, Stocco threw too far behind his target for Charles to adjust.

"That's a big responsibility for me," Stocco said. "Early on in the game I've got to hit those throws."

A Georgia fumble and a shanked punt gave Wisconsin possession at the Georgia 22 and 49, respectively, over the course of three first-half possessions. But Stocco went 1 of 4 for 11 yards and was sacked twice on those drives, each resulting in a field goal.

"If you don't throw the ball accurately consistently you are not going to have a very consistent passing game," Alvarez said.

Stocco and the Badgers' offense came to life after Wisconsin fell behind 24-6 with 6:33 left in the third quarter. Stocco hit Charles for 20 yards, then found junior tight end Owen Daniels for 30 over the middle of the field, to set up a 19-yard touchdown pass to Charles to make it 24-13. Charles made a one-handed reception in the front of the end zone on that play.

"Our quarterback made a couple throws and I think that just kind of got the adrenaline going and he got a little rhythm," Alvarez said.

"We got moving and I think that picked up our entire sideline," Alvarez said. "The momentum swung back to us for a little over a quarter and gave us a chance."

Stocco was 4 of 5 for 75 yards on the touchdown drive. On the first play of Wisconsin's drive he found junior receiver Brandon Williams for a 39-yard gain. A Davis run for no gain, an incomplete pass and one of Georgia defensive end David Pollack's three sacks stymied the drive, however. Senior Mike Allen then missed a 37-yard field goal wide right.

The Badgers' last two offensive possessions ended with Stocco losing fumbles after sacks by safety Thomas Davis and Pollack. Pollack's fumble recovery came after a blown assignment, when right tackle Morgan Davis jammed down on a defensive tackle, rather than helping tight end Tony Paciotti with Georgia's All-American defensive end.

Pollack earned Outback Bowl Most Valuable Player.

"He's an effort player. He's a guy that you probably want to know where he is," Alvarez said. "That's why it's really disappointing when at the end of the game we turn him loose down in the red zone. Down in there deep. When the game's in balance."

Wisconsin's offense was too sub par to succeed Saturday.

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