PASADENA -- Many times, in talking about what his team did to get to a share of the Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl bid, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema went back to their Oct. 2 loss at Michigan State.
As he saw it, Bielema's team managed an 11-1 record with big wins over then No. 1 Ohio State and on the road at Iowa because of what they learned from the Badgers' loss to the Spartans. Had it not been for that game, they wouldn't be where they are today.
Ironically enough, nearly three months later, the issues that cost Wisconsin in its only regular season loss were much the same problems they had in the Rose Bowl against TCU. The Badgers couldn't get off the field on third down and left plenty of points on the board through missed opportunities in the close loss.
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"I don't think anybody can beat us but ourselves," said left guard John Moffitt. "I think we beat ourselves today. We didn't do what we needed to do."
From the beginning -- literally as Montee Ball ripped off a 40-yard run on the first play from scrimmage -- the TCU defense struggled to stop the potent Wisconsin offense. It was the Badgers themselves that did most of the work in keeping points off the scoreboard.
Unfortunately for the Big Ten champions, they followed Ball's big run -- which brought them form their own 32-yard line to the TCU 28 -- with a false start penalty on Nick Toon. When the drive came to an end, the Badgers put three points on the board on a 30-yard Philip Welch field goal, which came on 4th-and-8 at the 13-yard line.
On the previous play, Toon added a second mistake, dropping a pass over the middle. Had he not been called for the false start penalty, however, the Badgers would have been in a 1st-and-Goal situation on that series, rather than 1st-and-10 at the 15.
"What got us here was clean execution and clean disciplined football," quarterback Scott Tolzien said. "We didn't do that today all around, myself included."
Tolzien, normally as efficient a quarterback as you'll find, went just 12-of-21 for the game, passing for 159 yards while getting sacked twice.
On their first drive of the game, Wisconsin left a potential touchdown drive out there, but managed to salvage it with a field goal. When they opened the second quarter with another long drive, they weren't so lucky.
After moving the ball down the field from their own 23-yard-line to just outside the red zone, Wisconsin faced 4th-and-3 at the TCU 22-yard line. Trailing 14-10, Bielema sent Welch out once again for the 39-yard attempt. He missed it, wide left, for another three points left on the board.
"I just think we missed out on a lot of opportunities that we had," left tackle Gabe Carimisaid. "It's really just missed opportunities through and through."
The missed opportunities and sloppy play were not limited to the offense, either.
A pass interference call on Devin Smith played a role in TCU matching Wisconsin's early field goal with a 10-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that took less than 4 1/2 minutes off the clock.
Later, on what was perhaps the worst pass of the day from TCU quarterback Andy Dalton, free safety Aaron Henry couldn't come up with what could have been a game-changing interception.
On the first play following Welch's missed field goal, a pass intended for Jeremy Kerley went through Henry's hands over the middle. While he broke up the pass effectively, it was a very catchable ball for Henry.
Whereas the Badgers continually missed out on opportunities and left plenty of points on the board, the Horned Frogs always seemed to make the right plays at the right time. In the end, that made a big difference in a game decided by just two points.
"It is definitely unfortunate man, but sometimes that's just the way the ball bounces," Henry said of the loss. "They made a few more plays than we did. But this team fought hard every step of the way, and hats off to my teammates. But TCU, they did a tremendous job and unfortunately, they just made a few more plays than we did."