The Big Ten, and Wisconsin in particular, had taken its lumps all season long. The Badgers came into the game with five losses, three recently of the overtime and heartbreaking variety.
On Saturday night, however, it was the two-time defending conference champions that were doling out the beat-downs.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Curt Phillips, having recovered from three torn ACL surgeries on the same knee in a 13-month span, only completed six passes on a mere eight attempts — but it did not matter. Wisconsin’s rushing attack hardly allowed then-No. 12 Nebraska a chance to breathe in the dome in Indianapolis, throttling the Cornhuskers to the tune of a 70-31 dismantling.
Coach Bret Bielema’s squad, much maligned all season long for inconsistent play and failure to produce in the clutch, now becomes the first in the history of The Grandaddy of ‘Em All to enter the game with five losses.
Wisconsin became the first team to represent the conference in three-straight Rose Bowls since Michigan back in the ’70s, on the same night that the program saw two men rush for more than 200 yards apiece for the first time in school history.
Montee Ball and redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon indeed made Saturday a night to remember. Ball continued to pile up the gaudy statistics in what is now one of the most impressive resumes in the history of college football, rushing for 202 yards on 21 carries with three scores. His lunge from the four-yard line to paydirt was the type of effort that defines more than a moment or a night, but a highly decorated career.
Ball matched former Miami of Ohio star Travis Prentice’s FBS record for most career games with multiple touchdowns (25) while topping the 5,000-yard mark in the process. He was named the game’s MVP. He also broke Prentice’s record for rushing TDs in a career (73) and now has 76.
Gordon, not to be outdone, found a way to actually outshine his superstar teammate. After rushing for 112 yards on eight carries against UTEP and 96 yards on, again, eight carries against Indiana, Gordon showed off his big play ability against actually competitive competition.
His 24 yards per carry average can attest to that. Gordon would finish out the evening with what would be far and away a career high, 216 yards, on only nine attempts, one carry short of tying a career high set against Minnesota.
Hardly anyone was watching the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but all eyes were turned on Indy in Championship Saturday, and not to be outdone, James White began warming up for the presumed starting job in 2013 with a record-setting night of his own.
If this sounds like a broken record, imagine how Nebraska was feeling by the time the fourth quarter was rolling around.
White broke the century mark himself, rushing for 109 yards on 15 attempts. However, it was his knack for finding the end zone, in more than one way and far more than one time, that helped White stand out while everyone around him was setting records themselves.
White rushed for four scores, and while Phillips may have only thrown eight passes, Bielema and offensive coordinator Matt Canada obviously still trusted the passing game — only not in its standard form. White, lining up as the team’s Wildcat quarterback, threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Sam Arneson with only two seconds remaining in the first half.
The pass put the Badgers up 42-10, and the team would trot into the locker room at halftime without a care in the world.
Well, expect perhaps how good they might look heading over to Hollywood, as the team now must begin preparations for a Stanford team who will be far more prepared defensively for the Badgers’ multi-faceted rushing attack than was Nebraska’s shaky blackshirt unit.
It will be tough, as Stanford has already knocked off another elite rushing team in previously undefeated Oregon. The 17-14 overtime win came on the road, and the Cardinal lost to the nation’s only undefeated bowl-eligible team, Notre Dame, by one measly point.
To earn their meeting with the Badgers, the team had to beat UCLA twice in a six-day span, once being in the Bruins’ home stadium: You guessed it, the Rose Bowl.
The Badgers certainly made the most of the second life following a third-place finish in the Big Ten Leaders division, proving their ground game is as potent and talent-laden as it ever has been.
They have the chance to prove it once again as they take on one of the nation’s most stout defensive fronts. Should their third-straight trip to the Rose Bowl prove to be the charm, this potential win will be the exclamation point on the long, strange trip that has been the careers of Montee Ball, Bret Bielema and the rest of the Badgers squad over the last half-decade.
For them, as well as for the rabid, slightly drunk members of Sconnie Nation, a win over Stanford would truly prove to be The Grandaddy of ‘Em All.
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