Before delving into the intelligent and nuanced analysis that is expected of Goose’s Gabs, permit me a gripe and a juvenile pop-culture reference. TCU’s “Super Frog” (that’s the actual name) is the stupidest mascot I have ever seen. It would look more appropriate battling Pikachu than rallying the fans at Carter Stadium. The badger, meanwhile, is one of the most vicious animals in the world. Pit the two against each other, and Bucky would eviscerate the Super Frog. TCU’s ridiculous mascot alone should cost it a shot at the BCS Championship. Hopefully Auburn wins the whole thing, if only so that a mascot with some majesty can reign supreme.
As for the Rose Bowl itself, the Badgers’ biggest weakness got exposed. That weakness is their secondary. Wisconsin defensive backs just could not hang with the TCU receivers, and Andy Dalton ate them alive. Dalton completed 65 percent of his passes for 219 yards and touchdown (plus one rushing touchdown). On Dalton’s touchdown pass, Brad Johnson slipped behind the Wisconsin secondary, and all Dalton had to do was hang a floater out there for Johnson to run on to. The Horned Frogs also converted 60 percent of their third-downs, keeping the Badgers defense on the field for longer stretches.
The Badgers also committed six penalties for 41 yards, and they came into the Rose Bowl as one of the least-penalized teams in the league. Two of those penalties were for defensive pass interference, another way in which the Badgers’ defeat lies at the feet of their secondary. Both of those calls were questionable, yes, but a better secondary would have been able to time their hits to knock the ball loose without getting flagged. You know… like TCU’s.
Nineteen points doesn’t seem like much, but the reality of the Wisconsin offense is that it did better than any other team has against TCU. The Horned Frogs led the nation in fewest allowed points, passing and total yards, and they were ranked third in allowed rushing yards. The Badgers scored, passed and rushed more than TCU’s averages. Anyone who came into the Rose Bowl expecting a 70-point victory did not give nearly enough respect to TCU, a far superior team to those of Austin Peay or Minnesota. The offense did as much as it could, and it just wasn’t enough. They ran about twice as often as they passed, Scott Tolzien didn’t do anything to hurt the team, and the Badgers hammered the Horned Frogs at the line until they finally broke down. By the time the offense shifted to maximize John Clay’s power running, TCU’s defensive line was giving up big play after big play.
Which is what makes Bret Bielema’s decision to go with the spread offense on their fourth-quarter two-point attempt puzzling. Three yards on the ground is certainly not a guarantee. The Horned Frogs had shown that on any one play their speedy linebackers (especially Tank Carder, who had a fantastic game for TCU) could slip behind the line and break up a run. But both Clay and Montee Ball (132 total yards) had been averaging at least 6 yards per carry. Even if TCU would be expecting the run, the odds favor running the ball over passing it. At worst, you run play-action and try to hit Lance Kendricks or Nick Toon on a slant-route over the middle (which worked, when the Badgers did it). A coach should have some guts (as Bielema showed with his fake punt), but guts should only help you try a play you think has a high likelihood of succeeding. Whatever play the Badgers wanted to run on the two-point attempt, it never had a chance. Hindsight is always 20-20, but it’s strange that Bielema didn’t go with his best weapon with the game on the line. Tolzien had a decent game (12/21 for 159 yards), but it pales in comparison to the 231 rushing yards that Clay, Ball and James White (who had a very weak game, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry) combined for.
In the end, the Wisconsin offense may have left five points on the table, but it really did as much as could be desired against TCU’s stingy, speedy and shifty defense. TCU’s defense made maybe three more plays than Wisconsin’s defense, and that made the difference in the game. One Wisconsin sack, turnover or stopped third-down conversion might have been enough to turn the tide of the game. Barring any of those, even surer Wisconsin tackling might have swung the game in the Badgers’ favor. The Wisconsin defense had tremendous trouble bringing down the light-footed TCU receivers, as several times throughout the game TCU picked up a first down or extra yardage on their ability to shake Wisconsin tacklers. TCU’s defense, on the other hand, tackled with authority up until Wisconsin’s touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. The Horned Frogs usually brought the Badgers down without giving up extra yardage, and the resulting two or three extra downs gave TCU’s defense one or two more chances to halt Wisconsin before they got into scoring range.
Badgers fans are sure to feel disappointed after this loss, and rightly so. But this is not a team of seniors that will all graduate and leave the Badgers powerless. Clay may choose to play another year to increase his potential draft position (and to show NFL teams he can stay healthy for a season). Ball may do the same. The Badgers will lose Tolzien, but freshman Jon Budmayr has looked impressive in the limited playtime he got this season. The offensive line will lose Jon Moffitt and Gabe Carimi (a first-round draft pick), but the Midwest never lacks for bulky farm boys to play lineman. The biggest losses will be at receiver, where both David Gilreath and Kendricks are graduating. But the only big-name defensive senior is Jay Valai. The Badgers shouldn’t fall too far in the BCS rankings after this loss, and they should still be in great shape to challenge for the Big Ten Title again next year. This year began with a loss, but with any luck next year’s will begin with a win. On Wisc!