The message was loud and clear: we belong and we deserve respect. That is what the Wisconsin Badgers proclaimed to the country this past Saturday night in their Big Ten championship game win. In demolishing the Nebraska Cornhuskers 70-31, the Badgers vindicated their being in the title game and the Rose Bowl berth that came with their win.
How the Badgers got this win was no secret and shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed or seen any Badgers football over the past 20 years: their running game. Ever since Barry Alvarez‘s days on the sideline as coach of the Badgers, a power running game combined with an even more powerful offensive line has been the core offensive philosophy of the Badgers.
When Bret Bielema took over as coach, the philosophy remained the same. The only difference is that the power running game has morphed into a power/speed hybrid as the Badgers still go after bigger running backs, but speed & overall talent now trump power mostly. This hybrid was able to produce the best game of Bielema’s tenure as Badgers’ coach.
Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon were all involved in Saturday night’s win. All of them scored at least once, Gordon & Ball each gained over 200 yards on the ground while White rushed for four touchdowns and threw another.
To be frank: this is what the Badgers’ running attack should have looked like all season. Once the offensive line issues were taken care of early in the season and the quarterback issues were only beginning, the Badgers should have gone to a play-calling strategy that focused almost entirely on the run. It sure worked Saturday night.
It wasn’t just the yards and the touchdowns that the Badgers running backs put up that made this performance overly impressive, it was the ease in which they did it and the ease in which they asserted their will. Each of the three men who dominated the Badgers’ rushing on Saturday pulled off long and powerful runs as if they were playing a high school or FCS team.
It was evident early that each team’s record and how their respective regular seasons went were meaningless and that everyone got it wrong in assuming that the Badgers were unworthy of being in the game. Already I’m reading articles that mirror the sentiment that I saw coming, and wrote prior to the game, that the win made the Badgers no more worthy of a spot in the Rose Bowl than they were before the Big Ten title game.
And I say that is a giant load. Yeah, an 8-5 record isn’t impressive, especially for an entrant in a BCS bowl game. However, a deeper look into the Badgers’ record (the specifics of their games) tells a different tale. It tells a tale of a team doomed in close games as their five losses came by a total of 19 points.
It tells a tale of a team that always had problems closing games as they were one fourth quarter defensive stop from beating the Michigan St. Spartans, they took the Ohio St. Buckeyes and Penn St. Nittany Lions to overtime after tying each game late before losing, and only lost to the Cornhuskers the first time around due to a big second half comeback. Also, their games against the Oregon St. Beavers and Utah St. Aggies turned out to be tough games against quality opponents, something few expected when the schedules were released.
What I’m getting at is that this performance from the Badgers was a slaughter for the record books, a slaughter to be remembered because of the circumstances of the game. It was the Badgers living up to their full potential as well as showing what they are capable of when everything goes right. This was a welcome site for Badgers fans and general football fans from Wisconsin as the last few seasons have been close defeats due to self-inflicted wounds, poor play-calling from the head coach, last-second tragedy, and general poor play.
All of that frustration manifested itself into a dominating conference championship game win that had me in awe the whole way. When it was 14-0 early I wasn’t too pumped as this was how the Badgers started last year’s Big Ten title game, and that lead didn’t last long. But when the Badgers never turned off the gas and never stopped scoring, then I truly believed they were going to win without the climactic fourth quarter action of last year’s conference title game. And then when it kept going and going and going, it was hard for me to find the words to properly describe not only my viewing experience of the game, but the game itself.
The word “unbelievable” kept coming out of my mouth as I watched with my brother, and that still seems to be the proper word to describe what took place at Lucas Oil Stadium just a few nights ago.