December 30, 2009

Champs Sports Bowl Champions

ORLANDO, Fla. - The game plan was simple: play tough physical football, control the clock and leave the Champs Sports Bowl with a win and a 10-3 season.

That's exactly what the Wisconsin Badgers did Tuesday night, dominating the No. 14 Miami Hurricanes 20-14 at the Florida Citrus Bowl. Considering it was essentially a home game for Miami, the result was especially impressive on a cold night in Orlando.

"What you have to understand a little bit with Wisconsin is we kind of take a boxer's mentality offensively," head coach Bret Bielema said. "Wear you out, wear you out, throw the body punches. Eventually that cumulative effect will be a 'W,' and that was what was able to happen."

After just 23 seconds, however, the game appeared to be headed in a different direction.
On the game's opening kickoff, Miami's Graig Cooper took the ball back 84 yards to the Wisconsin six yard line. Following a 10-yard penalty for an illegal block in the back, Cooper took the ball outside for 16 yards and the score, putting the Hurricanes up 7-0 early.

The game's final 59:37 was all Wisconsin, though.

Behind quarterback Scott Tolzien and running back John Clay, the Badgers did exactly what Bielema wanted them to do. They wore Miami down until they were unable to stop the UW rushing attack.

Clay, who was named the game's MVP by the media, finished with 121 yards rushing on 22 carries and a pair of touchdowns despite missing significant portions of the second half due to injury.

Tolzien, a junior who surprised many people when he earned the starting role in fall camp, was poised and effective, passing for 260 yards while completing 19 of 26 attempts. He did have one turnover, an interception in the second quarter, but the Wisconsin defense backed him up as Miami lost 19 yards on the drive and punted after going three-and-out.

After the game, Tolzien credited his strong performance to his development throughout the 2009 season.

"There's no substitute for game experience," Tolzien said. "One thing I've tried to do forever since coming into the program was stick to the plan and trust the coaches, trust the system and work hard.

"That combined with all the talent we have on our offense has really made my job come along real smoothly throughout the year."

Aside from the usual star performers, junior tight end Lance Kendricks showed what the Wisconsin coaches knew about him all along: he has the ability to be a major playmaker in the Badgers' offense.
With the Miami corners effectively shutting down the UW receivers, Kendricks and Tolzien exploited the coverage of the Hurricanes' linebackers over the middle, as they connected seven times for 128 yards in the game.

"We had a long preparation, I put a lot of time into it, our scheme was well thought out and whenever the ball came to me, I took advantage of it," Kendricks said. "I was the open guy, so that's just how it came out."

Defensively, the Badgers made things difficult for Miami all night, holding them to just 188 yards through the air and 61 yards on the ground, the 10th straight opponent to rush for fewer than 100 yards against the UW defense.

The result was just 14 points for an explosive Miami offense as quarterback Jacory Harris struggled to find a rhythm, completing just 16-of-29 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown while taking five sacks.

With seniors O'Brien Schofield and Chris Maragos on their side of the ball, the performance by the UW defense came as little surprise.

"After they got that onside kick, and I had to go back out there for defense, I was really excited," Schofield said. "I knew, you know, being on the field, I had a chance to win this game. So, it really meant a lot."

Wisconsin's final defensive stand, which lasted just 39 seconds and featured four plays for a loss of three yards by the Hurricanes, was the final statement made by a team that came to central Florida looking to show the nation what it could do.

After leaving the same stadium with an embarrassing 42-13 loss a year ago against another Florida team in Florida State, the Badgers' 20-14 victory over Miami showed a marked difference in the 2009 version of the Wisconsin football team from that of 2008.

According to junior defensive end J.J. Watt, the Badgers' dominating performance in Hawaii earlier this month played a huge role in that difference.

"This makes a big statement," Watt said. "It was prime time television, a lot of people were watching and we're really excited about the statement we sent today. Wisconsin football is back to where it belongs, Wisconsin football is power football, tough football and it's going to be a tough team to beat.

"We're really excited about what we did today."

With a Champs Sports Bowl victory under their belts, Watt and several other Badgers plan to stay in the Sunshine State a few extra days to celebrate.

"I'm going down to Miami to hang out with a couple of my teammates for a few days, then my family's coming down and we're going on a cruise," Watt said. "It's safe to assume that I'll be wearing red all over Miami.

"I saw the "U" a lot today, so I'm excited to throw up the "W" all over down there."

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