Gary Andersen was at a loss for words after Wisconsin's stunning setback at Arizona State.
By BENJAMIN WORGULL FS Wisconsin
TEMPE, Ariz. — Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen didn't complain when asked about the lack of adversity his team faced leading up to its road test at Arizona State. The way the
Badgers' first-year head coach saw it, his veteran team was well-equipped to handle the variety of challenges that would test their mental mettle.
He also refused to complain after it appears No. 20 Wisconsin had a possible victory stolen away from it.
A game-winning field goal attempt was never kicked, as chaos ensued on the field in the final 18 seconds and Arizona State celebrated a 32-30 win in front of 66,155 fans. The Wisconsin sideline was up in arms with no explanation in sight.
"It's hard when you lose a game like that," said Andersen. "That's all I am going to say about that."
Wisconsin (2-1) had given up back-to-back fourth-quarter scores to a high-powered aerial offense but the Badgers battled back. The Badgers dialed up the fake punt they had been practicing all week to give them a 23-yard gain, leading eventually to a touchdown that cut the lead to 32-30.
Wisconsin's defense — torched by the 352 passing yards of Arizona State junior quarterback Taylor Kelly — finally came up with a big stop to give the Badgers the ball back with 1:36 remaining and no timeouts. Jeff Duckworth caught a 51-yard pass on third-and-4 to get the Badgers in field goal territory.
In order to give kicker Kyle French a 32-yard field goal attempt in the middle of the field, quarterback
Joel Stave ran a play that the Badgers had practiced. He ran between the hashes, apparently took a knee, dropped the ball with 14 seconds left and got ready to spike the football to stop the clock.
The Arizona State players thought it was a fumble and jumped on it and the Pac-12 officiating crew never spotted the ball. Time expired, the officials huddled and then ran off the field with no explanation despite Andersen up in arms.
"I would like to get an explanation," Andersen said. "I wish I would have gotten one out there (on the field) ... It's just gut-wrenching."
Everyone knew adversity was going to strike Wisconsin sooner or later, but the question was how the Badgers were going to react when it happened. By the looks on their faces, it wasn't well.
All Jared Abbrederis could do was laugh. Melvin Gordon could hardly say anything. Beau Allen just shook his head. Jacob Pedersen stood there and smiled when he was asked more detailed questions and Chris Borland called Saturday the worst loss of his career.
"Too late, I guess," said quarterback Joel Stave.
After beating up on two opponents by a combined score of 93-0, Wisconsin was ranked as one of the best teams in the country statistically. But some questioned how good the Badgers really were considering their opponents had combined 2012 records of 4-19.
The spokesmen for Wisconsin's veteran roster — 14 returning starters and 51 returning lettermen — were candid and honest about the level of competition they'd face, but downplayed the fact that they hadn't played from behind or weren't put under tremendous game pressure.
The trip to Arizona State was viewed as a dress rehearsal for the big challenge that waits at the end of the month. While the Badgers host Purdue next week in the Big Ten opener, the toughest task on UW's schedule is a trip to No. 4 Ohio State, which has won its first 15 games under the direction or Urban Meyer and has beaten Wisconsin three straight times at home.
With no games against Michigan, Michigan State or Nebraska on the schedule and hosting Northwestern and Penn State, arguably their other two tough conference tests at home, Wisconsin is viewing that as its statement game considering they are the three-time, reigning conference champions.
Time will tell if Wisconsin will be able to win a fourth consecutive conference championship, but the results of the Badgers' first true road test of the season show plainly that Wisconsin still has a lot of growing to do, and has another heartbreak to get over.
"I was very proud of them," said Andersen. "I am unbelievably proud of the football (team). There was a lot of adversity and there wasn't a lot of quit in those teams. ... It's emotional for me to be in (this) position when they played so hard."