Stocco was 15 of 32 for 147 yards passing, with -14 rushing yards, an interception and a rushing touchdown. But in Wisconsin's 23-20 win over Michigan here Saturday night, it was that touchdown, on a quarterback sneak, that counted the most. That is what got Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez his first and only win against Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.
"John did what he had to do to win," Alvarez said. "I think he said it best (earlier in the press conference), you don't look at the numbers and say, ‘Wow, that's impressive' but he managed the game and moved the sticks and got the ball where it needed to be."
After a sluggish first quarter, in which he was 1 of 3 for 7 yards, Stocco found more of a groove in the second quarter, completing 5 of 11 passes for 56 yards. That included an 18-yarder to receiver Brandon White to the Michigan 17 on a drive that resulted in a field goal by sophomore place kicker Taylor Mehlhaff for Wisconsin's first points of the game.
"I think I was a little too excited when the game started," Stocco said. "It was just an unbelievable atmosphere (in the stadium). I think toward the second quarter, I started to settle down a little bit and started to find a rhythm. I just wanted to stay in that rhythm and keep the chains moving."
A late fourth-quarter drive made all the difference in the world. Down 20-16 with less than five minutes remaining, Stocco calmly orchestrated a 52-yard, four-minute drive that ended in a quarterback sneak into the end zone for the game-winning score, a play that surprised Wisconsin's personnel.
"I thought it was a good call," Alvarez said. "[Wide receivers coach] Henry Mason is the one that mentioned it on the sidelines, he said, ‘Look, look at them inside, they're flying out of there,' and I thought it was a good call rather than to hand it off or throw it in the end zone. I thought it was very safe because we had an extra timeout and we had another throw."
After receiver and punt returner Brandon Williams signaled fair catch on a Michigan punt at Wisconsin's 48-yard line, tailback Brian Calhoun ran for 11 yards on three rushing plays. Stocco completed a nine-yard play-action pass to Williams to move the Badgers to the Michigan 32-yard-line before Calhoun rushed for nine yards and had 19 receiving yards on two passes from Stocco to bring UW down to the Michigan 4. With 38 seconds left Stocco threw two incomplete passes before the quarterback sneak.
"We expected them to run the football on that down because they had time left," Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr said. "Even if the run isn't successful, the way they had run the football, we fully expected them to run on that down. They just did a good job of executing a good play."
Stocco's night had its blemishes. He was sacked three times, all in the first half. He was 2 of 6 passing in the first half prior to UW's last drive before halftime, the one that led to Mehlhaff's first field goal. And two plays after backup strong safety Johnny White intercepted a pass from Michigan quarterback Chad Henne, Stocco threw one himself, giving possession back to Henne. The result of that Wolverine drive: a 49-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mario Manningham on a flea-flicker pass.
But Stocco will not be remembered as the quarterback who threw an interception in the Michigan game that resulted in a Wolverine touchdown. Rather, he will be remembered as one of an elite few quarterbacks in school history to beat Michigan.