Penalties and a tough Texas Christian defense stunt Wisconsin’s chances
Wisconsin players looked up into the Rose Bowl stands Saturday and saw a familiar sight:
A sea of red courtesy of Badger Nation.
But when Wisconsin’s offense ran out on the field during the second half against Texas Christian, it repeatedly looked out upon acres of turf between the line of scrimmage and the end zone.
Poor field position, courtesy of TCU’s special teams, and uncharacteristic penalties proved too much for Wisconsin to overcome in a 21-19 defeat to a TCU team that finished the season 13-0.
“Little things add up to a big pile of junk sometimes,” said Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, who had a potential score-tying two-point conversion pass batted down late in the fourth quarter.
Wisconsin (11-2) did not commit a turnover, outgained TCU, 385 yards to 301, and held the ball 13 minutes longer than the Horned Frogs. But second-half drives that would have helped the Badgers overcome a 14-13 halftime deficit repeatedly stalled against a defense out to prove it was the nation’s best for the third consecutive season.
It was Wisconsin’s lowest point total this season. The Badgers scored 20 points in a one-point victory over Arizona State in September.
“We kind of stuttered and didn’t finish drives like we wanted to,” said sophomore running back Montee Ball, who ran for 40 yards on the Badgers’ first play from scrimmage, but saw the drive end in a field goal. “We had opportunities but we let them slip through our hands and it was downhill from there.”
Wisconsin fought a mostly uphill battle because punter Anson Kelton and the Horned Frogs coverage team forced the Badgers to start second-half possessions on their five-, three- and 11-yard lines.
“We had to shrink our playbook just to get positive gains and move the ball,” said Ball, who rushed for 132 yards and scored a touchdown with two minutes left.
The Badgers also didn’t help themselves against a TCU team that did not commit a turnover and was penalized only twice.
Philip Welch kicked two field goals, but was wide left on a 39-yard try in the second quarter, his first miss from 39 yards or closer this season. The least-penalized team in college football during the regular season accrued six for 41 yards, several stunting Badgers drives and others keeping TCU’s offense on the move.
“You can attribute it to whatever you want — the layoff, people weren’t focused — but the No. 1 thing was we just didn’t get it done,” senior offensive tackle Gabe Carimi said of the penalties. “Obviously, that affected our game because that’s what helped us to become a great team this year.”
Trailing, 21-13, early in the third quarter, Wisconsin could not penetrate past the TCU 45 on any of its first three second-half possessions. Meantime, the Badgers defense eliminated first-half mistakes and stifled the Horned Frogs’ offense.
Wisconsin finally got decent field position with 7 minutes 32 seconds left, starting its final drive at its 22. Junior running back John Clay went from spot duty to a major role during the drive, carrying six times for 59 yards before Ball pulled the Badgers to within two points with his touchdown.
Linebacker Tank Carder, however, batted down Tolzien’s pass on the conversion attempt and the Horned Frogs recovered an onside kick before running out the clock to preserve the victory.
“Too many penalties and we just never got into a groove until the end,” senior offensive lineman John Moffitt said. “It was just too little too late.”