PASADENA, Calif. – The way Wisconsin’s season played out, a third consecutive Rose Bowl loss fit right in.
The unranked Badgers were beaten 20-14 by No. 8 Stanford on Tuesday, another thorn in a season full of them. Three overtime losses. Coach Bret Bielema quit to go to Arkansas. Star running back Montee Ball attacked and left with a concussion in August.
Even the return of Barry Alvarez, who won three Rose Bowls while reviving Wisconsin’s program, couldn’t turn things around.
When you fall behind 14-0, I thought it was a microcosm of their whole season, the athletic director turned one-game coach said.
The Badgers weren’t supposed to be in Pasadena. They lost three of their final four games, including consecutive overtime defeats to Ohio State and Penn State. But they got into the Big Ten title game when those two teams – ahead of them in their division – were ineligible for postseason play.
It’s been a bizarre season, Travis Frederick said.
Two of their early losses were by a combined six points.
It’s been a frustrating season, Chris Borland said. We’ve been in close games, but close doesn’t count. We have too much talent on this team to lose six games.
Wisconsin crushed Nebraska 70-31 to earn a New Year’s Day berth. Then Bielema quit in a surprise move, and the seniors contacted Alvarez to lead them back to where he had found great success.
It brought everybody together and excited everybody, Borland said. It calmed guys’ nerves.
With new coach Gary Andersen looking on, Alvarez relied on his coordinators to handle the game plan while overseeing coaches that will now follow Bielema out the door.
He had a chance to watch practice this week, Alvarez said of Andersen. They had a chance to evaluate the players and have an idea in their minds what they have here, what they have to recruit, the strengths and weaknesses of the team. We have a very good nucleus coming back next year.
And they’ll have unfinished business.
The Badgers (8-6) failed to avenge tight losses in their last two trips to Pasadena. Last year, they were beaten 45-38 by Oregon after a final-play review went against them. In 2011, they lost 21-19 to TCU when their final pass got batted down at the line of scrimmage.
This time, they got shut out in the second half as the first five-loss team to reach the Rose Bowl.
It stings just as much because we fell short, extremely short, when we had the opportunity to win, said Ball, who was the game’s leading rusher with 100 yards on 24 carries.
Ball scored his 83rd career touchdown on an 11-yard run in the second quarter, making him the first player in the game’s 99-year history to score touchdowns in three different Rose Bowls and the first to rush for 100 yards in each game.
This is not the way I want to be remembered, he said. I felt like I did a great job of leading the team through adversity this season and in past seasons did a great job of capitalizing on big plays. But a very unfortunate situation for us.
The Badgers gave up touchdowns on Stanford’s first two drives of the game, leaving them in a 14-0 hole.
But Wisconsin rallied in the final 9 minutes to close to 17-14 at halftime.
After Ball’s touchdown, Curt Phillips hit Jordan Fredrick on a 4-yard touchdown pass, giving the Badgers momentum heading into the second half.
The teams forced each other to punt seven times while notching just three first downs in the third quarter.
It was two heavyweight fighters, Stanford linebacker A.J. Tarpley said. We expected a close game.
The Badgers had a chance to win on their final possession. Melvin Gordon, Ball and James White took turns running the ball before Phillips hit Kenzel Doe with a 5-yard pass at the Stanford 42-yard line.
I just felt like maybe we were a team of destiny, Alvarez said. I just felt like somehow we were going to find a way to score.
On the next play, Phillips was intercepted by Usua Amanam at the Stanford 42.
It’s heartbreaking, Borland said. Like Coach said earlier, it’s kind of been a microcosm of our whole season. We’ve faced some adversity, fought back, and came up short.
Ball and his fellow seniors tied Wisconsin’s class of 2007 as the winningest in school history, with a four-year record of 40-14.