With that, the 2008 season is over.
It was a strange game to watch. You read the box score and the Noles crushed the Badgers. They did. But it never felt that way until the second fumble return for a touchdown, and that was to start the 4th quarter.
At the half, I actually felt pretty good. The defense shut down the Noles, save for the last 33 seconds of the half, where they seemed to play like the half was already over. Ponder was nearly broken from hits he sustained from our line and linebackers. Sure, it was 14-3, FSU, but 7 of those points came from a flukey 75-yard bad screen-pass turned fumble recovery going the other way for a score on what had been a very promising drive. Another good drive ended in a field goal (to make it 7-3). So all in all, not that bad.
The second half started well, with a solid drive to kick another field goal making it 14-6, a one-score game (I might have gone for it on 4th and 2 the way we had run the ball), but taking the points was reasonable, probably the better decision). FSU's first series of the half, Valai forces a fumble, recovering it on the Noles' 22-yard line. Now we're in business. Or not. The fumble recovery is overturned. Tough for me to say that was the right call, but it was understandable, and being a Badger fan, of course I didn't like it. It was probably the right call. Then the Badgers surrender 22 yards on a 3rd and 19, and after a nearly 8 minute drive, FSU scores to go up 21-6. Still, the Badgers have had three very good drives out of the last four.
A big run from Sherer, and the Badgers are back in business. From FSU's 31, Hill drives up the middle for 6 yards, churning, twisting, turning, dragging players, . . . fumbling. Ok, down 15 points and driving, we really needed that, but the defense played so well in the first half and again forces a three-and-out. Except that Nzegwu was called for roughing the kicker on the punt -- without even touching the kicker. Bizarre. Still, doesn't excuse giving up the ensuing drive for a touchdown.
Now it's 28-6, and with only 18 seconds left in the quarter, it's looking a little desparate, despite the Badgers not looking that bad. We need points and execution the rest of the way. A big play, another 15-yard personal foul against FSU, and the Badgers are back in business at the Noles' 41. Sherer drops back, feels pressure, gets hit, fumbles, FSU recovers and . . . returns it for a touchdown. Game Over.
From then on, everyone plays like it's over. The offense goes three and out, the special teams give up a 17-yard punt return, and the defense allows a 41-yard scoring drive. At 42-6, in come all the reserves. The Badgers add a late touchdown against FSU's scrubs, and there it ends, 42-13.
I don't know that there was a single turning point, but if I had to pick one it was Valai's non-fumble recovery. To that point the defense played well. Afterwards? Not so much. But the Badgers were still in it, even after another fumble inside the Noles' 30, when the non-penalty against Nzegwu gave FSU another chance on their subsequent drive. Even then, we had a chance. Sherer's fumble ended the chance.
By the way, the ESPN announcing was really, really, really bad. Paul McGuire is awful, and Nestler and Griese are justifiably relegated to 4th tier status by the "World Wide Leader." Just awful.
So? Does this one go in the ever growing list of Bielema coached games with ugly second halves despite quality starts? Probably. Bielema didn't give up the turnovers and it was the defense, not Bielema, that gave up the plays allowing the long touchdown drives in the 3rd quarter after what seemed like stops. But it was Bielema's coaching.
Disappointing. Not really that we lost; it was that kind of a season. More that a game we could have won ended so ugly.
Disappointing that the senior-led defense wasn't more resilient when things didn't go their way. Disappointing to have three very costly fumbles and not get any turnovers the other way. Disappointing to dominate the run game the way we did and not come away with a touchdown until garbage time against FSU's scrubs. Disappointing that we got blown out, and that people reading the box score will think we were outclassed from the opening kick-off.
Thud. 2008 is over.