Fitting end to disappointing season

first_imgORLANDO, Fla. – Saturday was a chance for Wisconsin to right the ship, end the season on a four-game win streak and add a so-called “signature win” to a season’s resume lacking in that department. It was a chance for the Badgers to forget about the 19-point collapse in Michigan, the home blowout to Penn State, the four-game Big Ten losing streak and the last-second loss at Michigan State.But unfortunately for the Badgers, their performance against Florida State in the 2008 Champs Sports Bowl reminded them of the latter group of woes, the game proving to be a microcosm of the 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten) season that was.It was a virtual home game for the Seminoles (9-4, 5-3 ACC) and they gave their virtual home crowd much to cheer about, as they dismantled Wisconsin 42-13 in front of 52,692 fans packed into Orlando’s Citrus Bowl, most of whom were dressed in garnet and gold, performing the coveted “Tomahawk Chop” after every positive Florida State play.“This was definitely a home game for them,” UW senior cornerback and regular season team MVP Allen Langford said. “This is Florida and we wanted to use that as motivation, but obviously it didn’t work.”The Badgers outplayed the Seminoles in the first half, out-gaining and out-possessing them during that span, but went into halftime down 14-3. After a scoreless first quarter, the ‘Noles drew first blood by means of its defense. Junior quarterback Dustin Sherer tried a quick lateral to running back P.J. Hill, but the ball was batted just behind the line of scrimmage by Neefy Moffett, recovered by linebacker Derek Nicholson and taken 75 yards the other way. After the game, Sherer admitted to missing a wide open Garrett Graham down the middle of the field that could have led to a touchdown.“I kind of thought that it was down the line, something we could challenge,” Sherer said. “I thought they lined up a certain way, they didn’t have enough guys over there, but they kind of shifted the line and had a guy coming off the edge and I threw the ball right into him. I hit [Garrett] and it’s just a whole different ball game.“That’s on me and I guess it’s something that you learn from.”The Wisconsin defense kept the Seminoles’ offense off the scoreboard for nearly the entire first half. Up 7-3, the Seminoles got the ball on the Wisconsin 47-yard line. It took quarterback Christian Ponder and Co. only 33 of the 40 seconds remaining in the half to get the ball in the end zone. After a 26-yard third down completion to wide receiver Louis Givens, Ponder lobbed his next pass over the head of UW cornerback Niles Brinkey, where Greg Carr and his massive 6-foot-6 frame snagged it for the one-handed touchdown grab.“That was definitely a huge momentum swing, but on defense we’ve got to do our job,” Langford said. “We’ve got to read our keys and make plays. Our coaches put us in position to make those plays and we didn’t come up with them.”Philip Welch converted his second field goal in as many opportunities to begin the third quarter, but the Badger defense lost its first-half luster at about the same time. On the ensuing drive, it seemed as if safety Jay Valai came up with a Florida State fumble on the FSU 20-yard line. But the replay showed that wide receiver Bert Reed’s knee was down and the Seminoles retained the ball and marched the distance, capped off by a 6-yard Antone Smith touchdown scamper. It would be the first of four unanswered Florida State second-half touchdowns.“I thought that was going to be a huge momentum [swing for us]; I didn’t think that was going to get overturned,” Sherer said of Valai’s near-turnover. “We were looking at a 14-6 ball game on the 20-yard line, but we were never able to recover from it and we weren’t able to get off the field on third down.”Third down – on both sides of the ball – was an issue for the Badgers all night. They converted only 2-for-10 in that situation, while Florida State was 10-of-17.“Any time you’re in third down [on defense] you want to get off the field,” said UW head coach Bret Bielema, whose bowl record fell to 1-2 with the loss. “Hats off to their defense; they were successful several times on third down and that was a huge factor in the game.”Hill finished with 140 yards on only 15 carries, but Wisconsin‘s inability to convert yards into points once again proved to be the difference.“We ran the ball all over them,” Sherer said. “We played Wisconsin football, we just did enough stuff to shoot ourselves in the foot and that’s kind of the way it went all year.”Florida State punter Graham Gano was named the game’s MVP. Gano’s first three punts were all downed inside the Wisconsin 3-yard line.In the end, it was squandered opportunities and the failure to finish drives that led to the Badgers’ demise, things they’ll have to fix in order to be more competitive next season.“It was difficult and the only true problem that can happen is if we don’t take our guys that are returning and learn from this,” Bielema said. “Not only today’s experiences, but things that we experienced throughout the entire course of the season.“Unfortunately for us we weren’t able to send out a good group of [17] seniors on a positive [note].”last_img

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