Eleventh heaven: Badgers bully Buffalo

first_imgThings couldn’t have started any better for the No. 9 Wisconsin football team, and things couldn’t have ended any better for a senior class that will go down as one of the most successful ever. “It’s been a special season,” senior Mark Zalewski said. “It’s really been a special four years. It’s a special group.”After the seniors stormed out of the tunnel, having their names called out over the P.A. system individually, they struck faster than a lighting bolt, intercepting a pass on the first play from scrimmage and scoring a touchdown on the second.Only 56 seconds into the game, the Badgers had all the points they would need, as UW dropped a pesky Buffalo squad 35-3 at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday. The win virtually assures a return trip to the Capital One Bowl on New Year’s Day against an opponent from the Southeastern Conference.”I realized there are only four teams in the country that have won more than nine games in the last four years, and we were able to do that,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said. “We put ourselves in a position to be 11-1 and finish as strong as anybody in the country. We did it with a backup quarterback two weeks in a row. We are a very good football team that deserves as big of a venue as we can get.”The win gave Wisconsin (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten) its first-ever 11th win in the regular season, adding yet another accomplishment to what has been a surprisingly successful season, that in any other year would have the Badgers all but a lock for a BCS bowl game. Instead, UW is left to only bang on the door futilely and prepare to make a third straight January bowl game for only the second time in school history.”I’m just happy at the way it ended,” said senior quarterback John Stocco, who was unable to play due to injury. “I think it’s a special group here.”Many of the seniors expressed that it was an emotional pre-game ceremony, and the Badgers played as such from the starting gun, as sophomore corner Jack Ikegwuonu intercepted a pass on Buffalo’s first play from scrimmage, giving UW possession on the 26-yard line. Junior quarterback Tyler Donovan then hit junior wideout Paul Hubbard across the middle of the field on the ensuing play, giving the Badgers a quick 7-0 lead. But Wisconsin would sputter for most of the first half, unable to build any offensive momentum and giving up a couple big plays to the Bulls.In fact, the game looked like it might turn against Wisconsin late in the first half. Holding a tenuous 7-3 lead, the Badgers turned the ball over after a short 22-yard punt bounced off of freshman Tyler Holland and was recovered by Buffalo. The Bulls then completed an awkward yet effective 43-yard screen pass that gave them first-and-goal at the UW 3-yard line.Faced with the threat of being down 10-3, the Badgers responded like they have all season and shut the door on Buffalo, blowing up three straight plays, and then watching Buffalo kicker Adam Tanalski miss wide left from 25 yards out.”We knew that the level that our defense has been playing at all season, it would really be an insult for them to get into the end zone,” Ikegwuonu said.Donovan played in place of Stocco for the second consecutive game and again made a strong case for the 2007 starting spot, throwing for 308 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-26 passing.”I can honestly say that in the back of my mind I was playing these last two games for him, because he has earned it,” Donovan said of Stocco’s last two games at Wisconsin.”Last week against Iowa, that’s unbelievable what he did,” Stocco said of his understudy. “And again this game, he just did awesome. Nobody deserves it more than he does.”Sophomore tight end Travis Beckum was again the dynamic force on the Badger offense, reeling in five catches for 135 yards, including a 62-yard bomb near the end of the first half that set up UW’s second touchdown and gave the Badgers breathing room.”We needed somebody to step up and take that role, and it just happened to be me,” Beckum said.Some players expressed frustration in the fact that they might be shut out of a BCS bowl game due to a technicality that allows only two teams from any conference to accept BCS bids.”I hate the BCS,” Ikegwuonu said. “It’s a shame the way it works. I can’t say enough about the way we played the season, as a unit … hopefully in the future there is a change to the system, because it’s real frustrating.”Nothing against the Capital One Bowl, I mean, it’s a great bowl and we’re going to play a great opponent, but I don’t know.”Still, most of the team expressed feelings of overall satisfaction as to how well the Badgers have played this season.”We tried for the Rose Bowl,” Beckum said. “We had a chance to beat Michigan, and we didn’t capitalize on it. But I still think we had a good season.””Coming into the season, not many people picked us to finish this high or with this good of a record,” senior Joe Stellmacher said. “It’s not disappointing. How can you be disappointed with an 11-1 record? We’re in a conference with the first- and second-ranked teams in the country. We’re not hanging our heads at all.”last_img

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