It came down to the wire, but this time the Badgers were able to hang on against a tough opponent. It was a hard fought game by both teams, and even though Wisconsin held the lead for a large portion of the game, it always felt like USC was a few plays away from taking the momentum. In the end, it was a fitting way to end the season, as Wisconsin’s elite defense held USC from getting into field goal range with under a minute left, sealing the victory for good.

As I talked about before the game, holding USC’s explosive offense under 30 points was the ultimate key to victory (they averaged roughly 35 per game on the season prior to this game). Dave Aranda’s group certainly was up to the task, as they managed to hold the Trojans to only 286 yards from scrimmage, a measly 65 of which came on the ground (2.3 YPC).

In the third quarter, it felt like USC was threatening to put the momentum on their side with the help of theĀ large Trojan fan base that made the two hour drive to the game. Justin Davis ran for his second touchdown of the game to make it 20-14, and the Badgers were then forced into their first three and out of the game. With the Trojans ready to attack and the crowd making noise, it became Jack Cichy time.

Cichy, a redshirt sophomore, had a decent season but was largely lost in the midst of the Badgers’ insanely deep linebacking core. He entered the game with two career sacks (both against Maryland this year), then proceeded to record sacks on THREE CONSECUTIVE PLAYS for a combined loss of 29 yards! I don’t recall ever seeing a player make three sacks in a row like that. It was a huge moment for the Badgers, and one that helped keep control of the game in their hands. Suddenly, losing Joe Schobert to the NFL draft doesn’t feel quite as awful as it did.

Senior Trojan quarterback Cody Kessler was solid if unspectacular, but he put the Trojans up 21-20 with a nice seven-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. For most of the game, however, the Badgers were able to put enough pressure in his face, and Sojourn Shelton intercepted him (off a pressure by Cichy) with under two minutes left to help the Badgers hold on to the win.

Before the game, my two other keys to victory were a solid, turnover-less game from Joel Stave, and winning the rushing battle. The Badgers had gone away from their rushing identity throughout the season, mainly due to injuries to star running back Corey Clement and a multitude of injuries along the offensive line. They were able to control the game by running the ball and dominating time of possession, 37:18 – 22:42.

Clement wasn’t amazing, but he, Ogunbowale, Deal, McEvoy and fullback Derek Watt all contributed to 177 rushing yards on 46 carries, good for 3.85 yards for carry. Rushing for under four yards per tote isn’t ideal, but it was enough to win, and it’ll hopefully carry over (get it?) into next season so that the Badgers can re-establish the running game with a healthier offensive line.

Crucially, Stave played one of the most complete games of his career, even if his stats don’t jump off the page. He was 18-27 for 217 yards and a touchdown, and most importantly, zero interceptions. He managed the game well, making solid decisions and routinely stepping up in the pocket, especially in the second quarter. He didn’t solely rely on Alex Erickson either (5-54), spreading the wealth nicely between six different receivers. It was a nice way cap a bizarre career for Stave, who, in the end, did just enough for the Badgers to win.

The team’s next focus? Pay Dave Aranda! This team cannot afford to lose him to a head coaching position somewhere else. Thanks for following Sconnie Sports Talk’s Badger coverage throughout the season. It has been a treat to cover the team and we really appreciate all the support we’ve received. Until next time.

Game Notes

  • Wisconsin outgained USC, 394 – 286
  • The Badgers had 21 first downs to the Trojans’ 16
  • Fullback Derek Watt had a 19-yard run, the longest of his career.
  • Robert Wheelwright made the catch of the Badgers’ season. He will need to step up and stay healthy next year with Erickson graduating.
  • Both teams struggled on third down, but USC was 2-3 on 4th down, both of which came on a touchdown drive in the first half.
  • Wisconsin outside linebacker Vince Biegel said after the game he will return to the Badgers next year.
  • With this victory, Wisconsin becomes one of only eight Power 5 schools (Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Stanford, Michigan State, Oklahoma & Clemson) to average 10 wins over the last 7 seasons.

Sources:

espn.com
uwbadgers.com

Photo courtesy of: bleacherreport.com