PASADENA - TCU head coach Gary Patterson might have said it best following his team's 21-19 win over Wisconsin.
"If you watched the film, the guy was wide open and Tank Carder knocked it down," Patterson said, in reference to the Badgers' failed two-point try that would have tied the game with two minutes to play. "Sometimes you make some plays that you wish you're glad that you did, and some days like last year we didn't."
Let's set the scene.
Trailing by eight points with seven and a half minutes left, Wisconsin had yet another opportunity to chip into TCU's eight-point lead that it held since the conclusion of the first drive of the second half.
Having had much success throughout the course of the game rushing the ball, particularly between the tackles, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst dialed up his junior horse John Clay in the most meaningful drive of the season.
Having pounded for 14 yards on the first play of the series, Clay broke the ensuing play for 30 yards before being tracked down by Tejay Johnson. With an anxious, and overwhelming Wisconsin fan base revved up, Chryst continued to pound the rock.
Following a timeout following Clay's long burst, Chryst dialed up two more runs before eventually throwing to Lance Kendricks for a critical 10-yard gain on third and six, extending the drive.
Just five rushes later, Montee Ball scored a touchdown from four yards out to set up the dramatic two-point conversion attempt.
Of the 10 plays it took to score on the drive, nine were rushes that went for an average of 7.4 yards-per-carry. So when lining up three yards from a potential tie ball game, Chryst decided to dial up a shotgun pass.
"That two-point play is something that is worked on and repped for TCU for the last three weeks," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "It had an opportunity to get it in there, but their defender made a nice read on the quarterback's eyes, got his hands up and blocked it."
But knowing the type of success that was had throughout the course of the drive, was it necessary to shy away from what got you there?
"No," Scott Tolzien said. "I have 100 percent faith in every single one of our coaches and notably coach Chryst. There is not a doubt in my mind when he calls a play that it's going to work."
To Chryst's credit, Jacob Pedersen appeared to be wide-open just past the goal line, but when Tolzien let go of the pass, Carder just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
A misstep here or a push there and things might have totally been different. The game could have been tied and could have easily gone into overtime. Who knows what the outcome could have been at that point.
"I figured it was going to be a run," Tank Carder said. "I guess coach Patterson saw something else, but they had been effectively running the ball for three or four yards the whole game. Fortunately they got a shotgun, and Coach P. called a blitz. I went to go blitz and got blocked and couldn't get through the hole.
"So I just stopped, backed up, saw him cock his arm back and I jumped. That was the end of it."
It also marked the end of a great season, one filled with nothing but one memory after another. Unfortunately, the sting of the loss has overshadowed the facts of an 11-2 season.
"It's very painful," Ball said. "We're all mature enough to accept it because there is nothing you can do about it now. Make sure that we hang our heads high and keep moving forward."
Staying or going?
J.J. Watt entered the post game press conference fully padded and still wearing his helmet. He approached the media table and sat down with his face rather downtrodden as one may expect.
When asked how a two-point loss would linger and how tough it was to take knowing that it may have been his last game, Watt got emotional. Through the tears, the junior defensive end attempted to explain some of his pain, but it washed away with the streaky tears falling down his face.
Though he said he has yet to make a decision on his NFL future, Watt plans to go through the motions and educate himself the best he can. Inside the locker room, Watt was the last player in pads, seemingly reluctant to take them off for what could be a final time.
"The Wisconsin Badgers will be back to the Rose Bowl," Watt said. "I haven't made my decision, but if I'm back, if I go, the Wisconsin Badgers will be back to the Rose Bowl. I don't know if it will be next year, but Coach Bielema is an outstanding football coach. The Wisconsin football program does things the right way. And coach (Barry) Alvarez leads the athletic department the right way.
"No doubt about it, the Badgers will be back. They'll be back better than ever. When they come back, they'll win."
-When asked about his NFL prospects, junior running back John Clay said he has yet to make a decision as well.
"I don't know that yet," Clay said. "I'm going to sit down with coach Bielema when we go back and talk about the options I have and see what best fits me for the future."
-Hours after UW's loss to TCU, junior wide receiver Nick Toon tweeted his intentions for next season.
"I want to say thank you to all of my followers," Toon said on Twitter. "Sorry we couldn't get it done today. I will be back next year, and we will make this right."
Just shy of history:
Entering the game, John Clay needed only 64 yards rushing to topple the 1,000-yard mark for the season. He finished the game with 76 on 11 carries.
At the same rate, Montee Ball needed 136 yards to reach the milestone. Unfortunately, the sophomore back fell 12 yards shy of the plateau. Had he reached the 1,000-yard mark, UW would have become the first school in college football history to boast three running backs with 1,000-plus yards rushing in the same season.
Odds and ends:
-TCU and UW's combined 24-point outburst in the first quarter marked the highest scoring quarter in Rose Bowl history. The 21 points TCU scored were the fewest from a winning team since the 2000 Rose Bowl, one where UW logged a 17-9 victory over Stanford.
-Neither team committed a turnover in Saturday's game marking the first time that's happened since the 2000 Rose Bowl.
-TCU head coach Gary Patterson on the Wisconsin football team:
"Let me just say first about the two young gentlemen that just left here (Scott Tolzien and J.J. Watt). I think anybody that's been part of the Rose Bowl can understand after you got done watching that ball game that both teams have a lot of class. They're a special team and they have special kids. Their alumni are special.
"I said earlier about the fans of Camp Randall and Wisconsin, and I can't even say anymore or anything less that I can about the TCU fans that have followed us here to L.A. and have been part of the Rose Bowl."
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