Staying calm key for Stocco

In big win over Michigan, quarterback settled down and converted a third down late in the second quarter, jumpstarting the Badgers' offense

MADISON — John Stocco's four-yard draw with 24 seconds left to beat Michigan last Saturday night guaranteed him a high pedestal in University of Wisconsin football lore.

The dramatic sequence that led to the Badgers' 23-20 victory, however, might never have been possible without a seemingly innocuous 12-yard completion late in the first half.

With less than four minutes to play before halftime, UW faced a third-and-10 at its 26, having only mustered 36 yards total offense.

You read that correctly. Through more than 26 minutes of football, the Badgers had 36 yards. They had punted on their first four possessions of the half and had gone three-and-out for a total of 18 yards on their last three drives.

Now, with the second quarter clock dwindling, UW was staring yet another three-and-out in the face.

Michigan had a 10-0 lead and all the momentum.

Stocco, having just thrown an incomplete pass intended for tight end Owen Daniels, was a meager 2 of 7 for 10 yards.

This time, however, he dropped back and found senior receiver Jonathan Orr on an in route for a 12-yard gain. First down, Wisconsin — for the first time since the game's opening drive.

"The first thing I was looking at was we had Brandon Williams to the sideline and he was running an out route," Stocco said. "And that's what I looked at first, but that wasn't there."

The Wolverines had rolled their coverage to the boundary, Stocco said, taking away his primary ready.

"Then I'm looking," he said. "I've got three guys. I've got Owen up the seam, I've got Brandon White coming underneath and then Jonathan coming a little bit deeper. And (I) just saw there was a nice hole in there for him, so just gave it to him."

Simple enough, right? Calmly read the situation and execute when an opportunity presents itself. Presto! A first down.

Through those first four drives, however, Stocco was feeling anything but calm and collected.

"I think I was a little excited early in the game," Stocco said. "A little too excited, and then I think at that point I had settled down a little bit."

After a four-yard Brian Calhoun run, Stocco completed successive passes to Calhoun (8 yards), Owen Daniels (15) and Brandon White (18).

The drive stalled at Michigan's 17, and Stocco's half ended with three straight incomplete passes. However, one was a very good throw to Brandon Williams in the end zone that was thwarted when Michigan safety Willis Barringer made an exceptional play to get a hand on the pass. Stocco was hit as he threw that ball, and was hurried on the third down that followed.

Crucially, UW got on the board with a 35-yard field goal with 1:17 left in the half.

"It helped a bunch," co-offensive coordinator Brian White said regarding that series. "It helped our team to know that we could move the ball and get into a rhythm. We started out that first series (of the game) we got into a nice rhythm, then we stalled and then all of a sudden field position dictated a lot but we had three straight three-and-outs. All of sudden you start to press.

"That third-down conversion was as critical a play in that game, in my opinion, as any. It really got us into rhythm and we took it from there. We really played pretty good football the rest of the way."

The throw to Orr was not a calming influence. Rather, Stocco said he had dampened his eagerness before that throw.

"It was before the half, wanted to get something going and I think that third down to Jonathan was a big play for us," Stocco said. "That kind of got things going a little bit."

Stocco has, for the most part, been very effective as UW's signal-caller this season. But he was frustrated with his play for much of the Michigan game. The trick is to package those moments where everything seems to click — like that last drive before halftime — and maintain that level consistently throughout the course of an entire game.

"It was like every throw I made was right on, every read was right on," Stocco said. "And I've got to figure out how to do that the whole game.

"That's the thing that's frustrating to me is because I know what kind of player I am, I know how good I can be. I've just got to figure out how to do it throughout the course of a whole game."

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