Wisconsin's season ends on a different note after avoiding second half slump in Cotton Bowl
That feeling was lingering again.
It was the same hunch everyone had back on Dec. 3 in the B1G Championship, when Wisconsin surrendered a touchdown to Penn State late in the second quarter to take some momentum into halftime. The Nittany Lions went on to outscore the Badgers 24-3 in the second half and claim a conference title.
Wisconsin led 14-0 over Western Michigan in the first half and recovered a Jarvion Franklin fumble with a chance to potentially take a three-score lead into the locker room. Instead, his elbow was ruled down before the ball popped free and the Broncos retained possession.
Western Michigan punched the ball into the end zone after a 15-play, 63-yard drive that lasted 8:46. When the half ended, the Badgers had just a 17-7 lead at halftime.
Deja vu was setting in.
The offensive line was dominant, running backs were finding gaps, and Troy Fumagalli was making improbable catches that made you believe Wisconsin was in complete control. But the Badgers had only a two-score advantage, just like the B1G Championship.
— Mike Leslie (@MikeLeslieWFAA) January 2, 2017
But unlike the game a month ago in Indianapolis, Wisconsin didn’t allow Western Michigan to build on that momentum they gained just before the half. Though the Badgers weren’t nearly as effective offensively in the second half of the game, their defense was just as stingy.
Corey Davis and Zach Terrell were major concerns for the Badgers. Though they came up with a few big plays, the defense held them in check. The Broncos offense was never able to get into a rhythm.
That was a sign of progress after Trace McSorley and Penn State’s receivers appeared to expose a glaring weakness in Wisconsin’s otherwise-dominant defense.
Maybe the second half wasn’t played as well, but Wisconsin didn’t have the same letdown they suffered in the B1G title game. That’s a pretty significant accomplishment for the Badgers.
Corey Clement opened the game with 42 yards and a TD on Wisconsin’s first possession. He was shut down after that, earning just 29 yards the rest of the game. And after halftime, the Badgers reached the end zone just once. It proved to be just enough.
Sure, the Badgers end the year with 11 wins, a B1G West title and Cotton Bowl victory. But aside from the win over LSU in the season-opener, the Badgers really didn’t have that marquee win. And in losses to Ohio State and Penn State, they blew first half leads after holding two-score advantages.
This could’ve been the same old story.
Instead, Wisconsin played midnight to Western Michigan’s Cinderella story in the 24-16 win. In a game of significant importance, the Badgers didn’t squander another opportunity.
That’s big for the players that are returning next season. Rinsing the taste of that B1G title loss and finally closing out a game against a ranked opponent – one with nothing to lose, by the way – should be a confidence booster heading into the offseason.
When a familiar feeling started to sink in, Wisconsin pushed it away. The Broncos tried to ride the wave of momentum at the end of the half, and the Badgers took away the oars.
That feeling is a much sweeter one.