Although the Badgers looked like they had a case of senioritis, Wisconsin achieved their goal and made history doing it.
Jack Ikegwuonu picked off Buffalo quarterback Tony Paoli on the opening play from scrimmage and Tyler Donovan threw a touchdown pass to Paul Hubbard on the very next play for a lead Wisconsin wouldn't relinquish, winning 35-3 on Senior Day.
Wisconsin put the Bulls on their hooves just 56 seconds into the game when Ikeqwuonu jumped a slant route to give Wisconsin possession on Buffalo's 26. From there, Donovan and the Badgers came back with a slant of their own, hitting Paul Hubbard across the middle for the 26-yard touchdown.
Wisconsin wouldn't strike again until late in the second quarter, when P.J. Hill scored his league leading 15th rushing touchdown of the year to push the Badger lead to 14-7. Just under a minute later, Donovan, who threw for 232 yards on 12 completions in the first half, found junior Luke Swan wide open in the end zone for the touchdown and to give Wisconsin the cushion they needed.
"We didn't do things the way we wanted to, but the way we closed out that first half was an outstanding performance by Tyler and the couple of throws he made," head coach Bret Bielema said.
Junior quarterback Tyler Donovan, stepping in for injured Badgers' quarterback John Stocco for the second straight game, made another solid push to be Wisconsin's starter in 2007, completing 16-of-26 passes for 308 yards passing and two touchdowns.
"We knew coming in that we would have to establish ourselves and get points on the board early," Donovan said. "We struggled a little bit early, but I think we can say that we finish strong … I've been here awhile and I know what's expected of me on and off the field. It feels good to get out there and play."
"Tyler probably surprised some people again by what he was able to accomplish again today," Bielema added.
The second half began where the first half ended for the Badger offense, as Wisconsin added touchdowns by running backs Lance Smith and senior Dywon Rowan to cap Wisconsin's scoring on the afternoon. It was fitting that a senior got the last touchdown, capping off a remarkable season and a home career for the Badgers seniors, a career that saw the Badgers go 22-4 at Camp Randall over the last four years.
"Who we played for today [were] the seniors," Donovan said. "We wanted to send them out on the right note and it was special to help get them the win."
Wisconsin was far from perfect on the day however. Whether it was an Iowa hangover, the unseasonably mild weather or the Bulls persistent special teams (they'd blocked two punts, two field goals and an extra point on the season), Wisconsin's special teams could not find a rhythm.
Taylor Mehlhaff uncharacteristically missed two field goals, one banging off the crossbar and another being blocked, and Wisconsin's punt return team yielded another turnover, with a ball bouncing off Tyler Holland's leg and into the hands of Buffalo.
Wisconsin also was ineffective stopping the kickoff and punt returns, allowing the Bulls to find holes in Wisconsin's special teams.
Even with the tough spots that the special teams put them in, Wisconsin's defense stepped up when they had to. With Buffalo having a first and goal on Wisconsin's three-yard line, the Badgers put up a wall, stopping the Bulls on three straight end zone attempts and put enough pressure on Buffalo's special teams to cause kicker Adam Tanalski to miss a 25-yard field goal.
Even with the negatives, Bielema was adamant that his team got better this weekend and that they are staying focused on the good things.
"I rather focus on the positives," Bielema said. "I thought our defense really played well. We moved the football on offense, but we just couldn't put any points on the board … This team really believes in one another, the way they talk and communicate with each other and how they put themselves in the position to have success."
Regardless of problems, Wisconsin finished with 11 wins in the regular season for the first team in school history and finished their home record an unblemished 7-0. Now, the Badgers have nearly a month and a half to prepare for their likely trip to Orlando and the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day, something that would have seemed unimaginable just three months ago.
"We put ourselves in a position to be 11-1, finish as strong as anyone in the country and do it with a backup quarterback two weeks in a row," Bielema said. "We're a very good football team that deserves the biggest venue that we can. Where ever we are going, I know there's going to be a lot of Wisconsin people there. It's going to be fun."