UW, Wilson didn’t flinch this time

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Michael Hunt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Monday, December 5, 2011

On face value, the first Big Ten championship game didn’t seem like such a good idea.

There were empty seats inside Lucas Oil Stadium, as if the Indianapolis Colts were using the place.

The game forces fans to make economic choices, as if the budget would stretch to cover what are essentially two bowl games.

But put Wisconsin and Michigan State together, and the practical concerns go away, sort of like Russell Wilson dodging yet another would-be tackler.

Say what you will about the Miracle of East Lansing the first time these teams met this season, this one will be remembered in a similar shade of wow.

How Michigan State won the first time, go to the replay forever.

How Wisconsin got back to the Rose Bowl will be a part of the Badgers’ rich two-decade renaissance for a long, long time.

Fourth-and-6 with 4:25 left, and Wilson somehow completes a 36-yard pass to Jeff Duckworth?

Montee Ball scores his fourth touchdown of the game to put him easily in reach of Barry Sanders’ all-time touchdown record?

On the accompanying two-point conversion, Wilson ducks and rolls and weaves like Muhammad Ali on one of his better days and somehow finds Jacob Petersen?

But wait, it gets better.

The Badgers won by the mind-bending score of 42-39 Saturday night and were able to hang on because … a Michigan State player ran into the Wisconsin punter with less than 2 minutes to play?

Believe it, because this is why Wilson became a Badger in his final year of eligibility.

He’s taking Wisconsin back to Pasadena, and what a journey it has been.

Lose once to Michigan State during the regular season on a silly play.

Lose again the next week to Ohio State pretty much the same way.

OK, no harm, no foul, the roses were still there, except that it looked like the Badgers had grabbed a big handful of thorns.

Up by 14 points?

Ball looking like he might break Sanders’ NCAA record and make a Seabiscuit-type Heisman Trophy run at the 11th hour?

Both gone under an avalanche of Michigan State scoring.

But give the Badgers this:

They blinked once against the Spartans.

They blinked again against the Buckeyes.

When it mattered most, they didn’t flinch, as the athletic director likes to say.

When Wisconsin was behind by one point at a reasonably late time in a reasonably big football game, you had to go all the way back to the first half and ask yourself:

Has a third-and-3 with less than 3 minutes to go in the first half ever seemed so important to an offense that typically moves the football ball with such impunity?

That’s because the Badgers were feeling the heat from Michigan State. And not the kind that comes from freakish last-second touchdown passes.

This was genuine, palpable concern on the part of the Badgers. With not a whole lot of time left in the first half, you could sense that they knew the only way they could stop Sparty was with their offense.

Ball had 13 carries for 105 yards in the first quarter. Michigan State barely gave up 100 yards in an entire game during the regular season. And then the Badgers abandoned the run, completely took it out of their playbook, because they were that leery of MSU’s offense. In the second quarter, Ball ran three times for two yards.

Again, give Wisconsin this—the Badgers made a stop to begin the second half. They made some plays. They took advantage of some really silly Michigan State penalties and scored on the first of many crazy Wilson moves when it looked like the Spartans had control.

This time, there would be no end-zone mistakes from the UW quarterback, only plays that would carry them to their original goal.

And now the Badgers are going back to Pasadena—with Wilson in control.

Last updated: 7:11 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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