Wisconsin football’s recent string of January swoons continued into 2014 after the Badgers suffered a 34-24 defeat at the hands of South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
In their final game together, running backs James White and Melvin Gordon combined for 250 rushing yards. White and Gordon combined for 3,053 rushing yards this season, the best mark by a duo in FBS history. Despite the Badgers’ constant ability to run the ball this year, the other areas of their game caused their undoing.
Quarterback Joel Stave was out to a solid start, going 9-13 for 80 yards, two touchdown passes, and a fluke interception off a deflection. However, near the end of the third quarter, he took off scrambling and did not slide. Stave took a hard hit to his shoulder, and though he would remain in for a few plays, the injury forced him out of the game.
In stepped sixth-year senior Curt Phillips. Though Phillips came in with the Badgers already in Gamecocks’ territory and trailing by just three points, his lack of chemistry with the starters was evident.
With the Badgers down 34-24 midway through the fourth, they needed the move the ball quickly. However, Phillips had to huddle up on nearly every play, and the offensive pace was far too methodical.
He finished 7-12 for just 37 yards and two interceptions. All three of the Badgers’ fourth quarter drives ended in turnovers.
South Carolina’s Connor Shaw demonstrated to Wisconsin how significant a game-changing quarterback can be. Shaw did it all, throwing for three touchdowns, running for one, and even catching a touchdown on a trick play.
For the second consecutive game, Wisconsin’s secondary allowed over 300 yards passing and four touchdowns through the air. Freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton and senior safety Dezmen Southward were routinely beat on deep passes or were out of position to make a play on the ball.
The poor pass defense and reliance on a backup quarterback resulted in Wisconsin’s sixth bowl loss in seven years.
It is difficult to explain why a program in the midst of one of the best stretches in school history has had such little bowl success. After years of mediocrity and downright atrociousness, Wisconsin has appeared in a bowl game in 19 of the past 21 seasons.
Though they have gone 10-9 in those games, the recent bowl struggles have become magnified due to being on the big stage. Appearing in three consecutive Rose Bowls and losing them all will do that. High profile players like Russell Wilson and Montee Ball have also brought national attention to the Badgers.
Wisconsin is now one of the nation’s most prominent college football schools. However, in order for the Badgers to elevate themselves to the ranks of the elite, they must begin capitalizing on opportunities to end their seasons as winners.