Crooks' gift: nearly a victory

True freshman linebacker scores touchdown on 19th birthday

TAMPA, Fla. — The second time Andy Crooks reach the end zone this season it actually counted. The true freshman mike linebacker gave Wisconsin a chance Saturday, intercepting an attempted screen pass and taking it 11 yards into the end zone to help draw the Badgers within 24-21.

Crooks' score came just three plays after UW quarterback John Stocco fumbled, giving the Bulldogs possession with a only 5:38 left to play and a 24-13 lead.

Wisconsin, though, had an idea Georgia would try a screen pass facing a third-and-7 at its 19-yard line.

"I yelled at him, ‘Screen! Screen!' I knew they had a pretty good tendency to go to the screens and draws," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said.

Crooks heeded Bielema's advice and made a terrific play, first diagnosing the screen pass then baiting Greene into throwing the ball.

"He was supposed to not look at the back except there was a blitz coming," Crooks said.

The blitz, with linebackers LaMarr Watkins and Mark Zalewski coming off the edge, forced Greene to look for his target more quickly than he would have liked. It was the first touchdown of Crooks' young career, on the day he turned 19. He should have had a touchdown back in September, when he ripped the ball out of Arizona tailback Mike Bell's hands and fell into the end zone. The officials, though, ruled that Bell's forward progress had stopped.

Crooks left no doubt Saturday.

"It was alright," Crooks said of his birth-day touchdown. "It's a loss and everything."

Following Crooks' play, however, Georgia milked the final 4:13 off the clock. Georgia freshman tailback Thomas Brown ran for 49 yards on six carries during the drive, including a nifty cutback run on third-and-five at the Wisconsin 19 that brought the Bulldogs near a first down.

"We really had him cut off at the point of attack and then it's a broken play and now it gets down to athleticism and trying to make a play," Bielema said. "Their guy was able to do it and we couldn't."

With less than a yard to go on fourth down, Brown dashed around left end for 11 yards.

"That's tough because we had a chance," Crooks said. "We could have won the game if we could have stopped them and drove. It's just hard to take."

Crooks first start this season came in place of injured sophomore linebacker Reggie Cribbs in an Oct. 16 game at Purdue. Crooks started the two following games as well before Cribbs' returned. He supplanted a healthy Cribbs in the starting lineup for Wisconsin's regular season finale against Iowa and maintained that role for the bowl game.

"It feels great to earn the starting spot," Crooks said. "I'm just going to have to work hard and keep it and just help the guys around me."

Crooks had seven tackles Saturday and finished with 38 in his first campaign, including 20 in his last two games.

Defensive call troubles Bielema

Bret Bielema said Saturday he will have a hard time forgetting the defensive call he made prior to Georgia's third touchdown. With the Bulldogs facing a second-and-20 from the UW 29, the Badgers sagged off defensively and Thomas Brown made them pay, taking a draw play 29 yards for a touchdown.

"It's one of those things where as soon as I said it I wish I would have pulled it right back out," Bielema said. "It's still an answer but it just didn't put us in the best situation."

Pope blocks to victory

On Brown's 11-yard first-down scamper to clinch Georgia's win, Leonard Pope, a 6-foot-8, 253-pound tight end not known for his blocking, drove Wisconsin defensive end Jonathan Welsh five yards off the ball to help clear a path.

Pope was also a big part of the Bulldogs' passing game, catching three passes for 65 yards, all in the first half.

"That's the guy that I felt out of their whole offense, that was the guy that we really put as an emphasis," Bielema said. "He was the difference early in that ballgame especially."

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