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Rose Bowl finish hard to forget, or forgive

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Michael Hunt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
January 4, 2012
— You could almost see Wisconsin giving up 621 yards to Oregon. Swallowing entire football fields in a single beak-full is what the Ducks do.

You could certainly forgive a kid like Jared Abbrederis for putting the football on the ground near the end of the game. For what he did Monday—320 total receiving and return yards—and all year long for that matter, well, those things happen.


But for Wisconsin to blow a second consecutive Rose Bowl in basically the same freakish way it dropped two games in a 2011 season that now seems completely wasted in the aftermath of the 45-38 loss to Oregon, that is hard to forgive or forget.


Bad things don’t happen to talented teams like UW on sheer randomness. They happen because of a lack of preparation and poor coaching decisions.


Only Bret Bielema, it seems, could have an 11-3 record and a good number of the Badgers’ fandom prepared to gather torches and pitchforks at the gate.


There is ample reason for this.


At Wisconsin, it is no longer enough just to show up under the purple mountains majesty that is the Rose Bowl. Losing back-to-back to TCU and Oregon is no way to carry on the legacy.


Then there were the hair-yanking blunders against the Ducks, followed by another excruciating loss. Those kind of things seem to dog the Wisconsin coach a little too often for any of this to be a coincidence.


Bielema got emotional on the post-game podium. I’d feel bad, too, if I felt like I contributed to another silly loss in the one year the Badgers had a shot to go for it all with their first real quarterback in ages.


Or, as Russell Wilson put it at the conclusion of a 14-game UW career that ended badly, with a spike and a drained clock: “We lost three games, basically, with a total of maybe 40 seconds. It’s pretty wild.”


“Wild” would be one way to describe it. “Unacceptable” would be another.


Rotten luck? The refs? Nope, sorry, neither explains the Rose Bowl or the last-possession losses to Ohio State and Michigan State.


Give Bielema this—the 13 or so seconds that ran off the clock near the end of the first half as Nick Toon seemed to get out of bounds looked like a blunder on the part of the officials. By the time the Badgers had regrouped, only six seconds were left, not enough time to do anything.


But the fact that the Badgers were out of timeouts with 1 minute, 57 seconds left as the Ducks bled the clock was just the result of poor game management.


Bielema called the first early in the third quarter because, he said, “We had a formation bust. It was basically, for the lack of a better term, the wide receiver was on the side opposite of what we had lined up.”


Fine, but the coaches need to accept responsibility on the preparation end.


The second timeout was just a waste. Bielema called it because he thought an Oregon returner had crossed the goal line. But the ball did not cross the line. The timeout was charged in appeal to the refs to look at the play, which wasn’t going to happen, and could the Badgers have ever used it at the end of the game.


“I was trying to get a read from my sideline official if we could review forward momentum,” Bielema said. “He didn’t understand the question where I was at, and that’s why they charged me a timeout.”


OK, so how about the absurd way in which the game ended, with Wilson spiking the ball and time expiring at the Oregon 25?


“It was designed as soon as the official went away we were going to spike the ball as fast as we can,” Bielema said.


He put himself in that situation because he had no timeouts. Buy the ticket, take the ride.


“I didn’t think that two full seconds ran off the clock there,” Wilson said.


Maybe. Maybe not, as the play held up to replay scrutiny. But those kind of things happened to the Badgers this season because they put themselves in positions for those things to happen.


On further review, they lose again because they helped create those perfect storms of absurdity.


Look, Bielema did the right thing on the failed fourth-down play because the Badgers were going to need all the points they could get against Oregon. Anyway, they got them back on a defensive score.


Afterward, Bielema said he’s not going to apologize for a team that won a Big Ten championship and made the Rose Bowl. But he should to the players and the fans, because this is getting really old at a place like Wisconsin, where precision and the Rose Bowl matter.


Michael Hunt writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.



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