Sitting in a darken tunnel after their 21-17 loss to Tennessee in the Outback Bowl, the Badgers compared their performance in the first half exactly to the way things went in State College.
"We just didn't bring that attitude and that passion," linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. "I don't know why though. Nobody had that energy or that passion that we played with after the Penn State. The first half today was exactly like that game."
The Badgers mustered just 144 yards in the first half despite holding over a six minute time-of-possession advantage over the Volunteers.
"Usually we are the team that comes out swinging first," junior DeAndre Levy said. "It doesn't matter how good you finish if you don't start at all and that's kind of what happened to us today."
But the downfall of Wisconsin wasn't so much the lack of production in the first half as the inability for the defense to get off the field on third and fourth downs. Tennessee went 9-for-18 on third down and a perfect 1-for-1 on fourth down.
What really hurt the Badgers was third-and-long. Of the nine third down conversions for Tennessee, six were in a third-and-six situation or longer.
"God, it killed us," junior Jack Ikegwuonu said. "We were playing so well in first and second down and then we were getting them in third and really long and we couldn't get off the field. Playing against a team like Tennessee, if you can't get off the field on the third down, it's really going to hurt you in the end and it came back to bite us."
The Badgers still have a chance to right their wrongs when they obtained possession of the ball with 1:26 left on the clock. The problem was that the Badgers had only one timeout to work with after wasting their first two earlier in the half.
The Badgers had to burn their first one just 3:01 into the third due to play confusion and the second one came right after a media timeout when receivers Travis Beckum and Paul Hubbard lined up incorrectly.
"Some of the calls were coming in and different guys heard different things," Hubbard said. "There was a lot of miscommunication during the game and that hurt us a lot. We could have used those timeouts at the end of the game."
Graham Steps Up
With junior tight end Travis Beckum being the focal point of the Wisconsin offense for Tennessee, Badger sophomore Garrett Graham once again found himself highly involved in the offense. Catching only five passes in the team's last four games, Graham made seven receptions for 75 yards, establishing personal career highs in both categories.
"I can't say enough about Garrett," Donovan said. "Tennessee was eyeing Travis the entire game and that allowed (Graham) to find some space and make some plays for us."
Out on Top
Clutching his white No.3 jersey in his right hand and wearing a smile on his face, it was hard to tell looking at Ben Strickland if the Badgers had won or loss the Outback Bowl. The first ‘non-starter' to be elected team captain since 1997, senior Ben Strickland, according to Bielema, resembled the ‘characteristic of the entire team.'
Playing in 44 career games prior to the bowl, Strickland capped his season with his first career start, taking the place of injured Aaron Henry. He finished the game with seven solo tackles – the second best mark on the team.
"It's a little bit bittersweet. Winning would have been a great experience to end (my career on), but I am just happy to be able to play with these guys one more time. I'll miss it, but I have a lot of memories to look back on."