Big Ten Championship 2012: These Are the Badgers We Expected to See All Year
Wow. What is there to say but just "wow"? Wisconsin unloaded a season's worth of frustrations on an unsuspecting Nebraska defense, and the result was a shocking 70-31 beatdown in Indianapolis on Saturday night for the Big Ten title. That means Wisconsin, with all of its five losses, is off to the Rose Bowl to face fellow ground game powerhouse Stanford.
Now, it's easy to just think of Wisconsin as an unranked, five-loss team, and we're not about to pretend that either fact isn't true. But look: It's still Wisconsin. The same Wisconsin that just set a school record with 564 rushing yards against Indiana a few weeks prior. The same Wisconsin that averaged almost 43 points a game over the last two seasons on the back of that ground game. The same Wisconsin that went to Rose Bowls in those last two seasons—and is now going back for a third season in a row.
This is certainly an unusual route back to Pasadena for Wisconsin, and suffice it to say the Badgers are never getting another Big Ten football championship invite after going 4-4 in conference play ever again. But hey, a dominant ground game, a conference championship, an unrepentant desire to light up the scoreboard—that's exactly what we expected from the Badgers all year.
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The final statistics in this game are borderline pornographic. Wisconsin racked up 539 rushing yards on the day. Melvin Gordon led the way with 216 yards with a score on only nine carries. Montee Ball had 21 rushes for 202 yards of his own and three scores. James White? A downright pedestrian 109 yards on 15 rushes...and four touchdowns.
Any worries about whether Curt Phillips could throw the ball on Nebraska's defense were effectively put to rest—mainly because he never had to. Phillips was 6-of-8 passing on the entire day for 71 yards, and his biggest play of the day was a 27-yard reception from Jared Abbrederis. That was a cheeky throwback to last year's Big Ten Championship, when Montee Ball found Russell Wilson on a trick play early in Wisconsin's victory over Michigan State.
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But while Wisconsin wasn't afraid to run trick plays—its last touchdown of the first half was a pass by James White out of the Wildcat formation to backup tight end Sam Arneson—it didn't really need to; the Badgers could do whatever they wanted on offense.
Wisconsin finished with nine rushing plays of 20 or more yards, and all three of its featured tailbacks had rushes of 57 yards or more on the day. Melvin Gordon was particularly lethal on the jet sweep, busting big runs off of pre-snap motion over and over to the point where he had 198 yards rushing after just five carries.
It was a beautifully choreographed performance by Wisconsin's offense and offensive coordinator Matt Canada. The straight-forward runs sliced through Nebraska's defense with surprising ease. The tailbacks motioning in and out of the backfield confounded Nebraska's linebackers. The offensive line mashed and mashed and mashed.
All in all it was vintage Bret Bielema and it was vintage Wisconsin. If anything, it's a shame that a team capable of playing this well had to take on five losses before the Big Ten Championship. The Badgers are much, much better than their record, and anyone facing them who thinks otherwise is in for a rude awakening.
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