After scaling the BCS mountain in 2009, the TCU football program and its fans realized that simply crashing the party wasn't nearly satisfying enough when their last-minute drive to win the Fiesta Bowl fell short. They rolled straight through their 2010 regular season schedule (minus a close-call against San Diego State) to finish 12-0 once again. This time, though, the BCS wasn't able to shove them aside to sit at the kid's table: they were sent to Pasadena to take on Big Ten champ Wisconsin in the Grandaddy of them all: the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2011.
A great deal of Frog fans got to spend New Year's Eve out in Los Angeles. I, on the other hand, flew out there the morning of the game. Either way, we all got to experience the friendly nature of the trim & tan Wisconsin fans before the game. Seriously, I've never seen so many arrogant fat people in my life...although it should be noted that I didn't grow up in Houston.
Once the Badger fans chanted halfway through the national anthem and the game finally began, the first play caused many of the purple-clad in attendance and watching on TV to have their life pass before their eyes when Montee Ball reeled off a 40-yard gain down to the TCU 28 yard line. After five more rushing attempts netted the Badgers 18 additional yards, Scott Tolzein was unable to connect with Nick Toon on a 3rd & 8 pass attempt and Wisconsin settled for a field goal to claim the lead, 3-0.
Then Andy Dalton went to work, accounting for every yard in a 10-play, 72-yard drive that drained 4:16 off the clock. He ran the ball 4 times for 19 yards, including an 11-yard scamper the gain the drive's initial first down. He was also 4-for-7 passing, including 3 completions to Jimmy Young. On 2nd & 7 from the Wisconsin 23, he sold an amazing pump fake to unlikely decoy Jeremy Kerley and found Bart Johnson open in the endzone to give the Frogs a 7-3 lead.
Whereas the Badgers had moved the ball mostly on the ground during their first drive, they went to the air the second time around. With the help of Tolzein connecting on all three of his pass attempts for 58 yards- including a 28-yarder to fullback Bradie Ewing to set up a 1-yard plunge by John Clay- the Badgers used just 2:56 to drive the ball 67 yards and retake the lead, 10-7.
Jeremy Kerley then returned Wisconsin's kickoff all the way out to the 43, giving the Frogs a short field with which to work. On the second play of the drive, Dalton again worked his pump-fake magic and found redshirt freshman Josh Boyce deep for a 44-yard gain all the way down to the Badger 12 yard line. From there, it was all Dalton- a 1 yard gain on a keeper, followed by a 7 yard run and then the 4 yarder into the endzone. The play was reviewed, but eventually ruled a touchdown. 14-10, good guys.
The Badgers, looking to re-take the lead, returned to the ground game on their next possession. They were able to move the ball 55 yards in 13 plays, eating up 6:58 off the clock, helped greatly by Montee Ball's 39 rushing yards on just 5 carries. They got the ball all the way down to the Horned Frog 22 yard line, where they lined up on 4th & 3 for a 39-yard field goal attempt that would've brought them to within 1...but Phillip Welch missed (barely) wide left. The three missed points seemed like a big deal at the time, and would feel a LOT bigger later on...
Looking to protect their 4-point lead, the Frogs got the ball back with 8:34 remaining in the quarter, but after a quick three & out they punted the ball back to Wisconsin with 7:04 left...and they wouldn't see the ball again for the rest of the half. They appeared to have the Badgers stopped on a three & out of their own, but an 11-yard gain on a 4th & 9 fake punt run by Brad Nortman gave the Wisconsin drive new life. Tolzein went 4-for-4 passing after that, and drove the Badgers to the TCU 21 where Welch made a 37 yard field goal as time expired to pull Wisconsin to within 14-13 at halftime.
The Frogs began the second half with the ball at their own 24, and drove into Wisconsin territory on a 33-yard pass from Dalton to Ed Wesley in which #34 bounced off two would-be tacklers and raced down to the Badger 25. A 12 yard completion to Jimmy Young and a 12 yard run by Matthew Tucker set up Luke Shivers' 1 yard touchdown run that concluded the Frogs' scoring for the game and extended their lead to 21-13.
From there, it was on the Horned Frog defense to hold the much-ballyhooed Wisconsin offense at bay and protect the 8-point lead. The Badgers' first possession of the second half began at their own 5, and a healthy dose of Montee Ball runs and Tolzein-to-Toon passes got them to the outer edges of field goal range. Then on 3rd & 6 from the TCU 37, Tank Carder burst through the line on a delayed blitz and absolutely smothered Tolzein. The sack cost the Badgers 8 yards and forced them to punt. The Frogs were then able to take 4:30 off the clock before Anson Kelton's punt was downed at the Wisconsin 3 yard line- where their last possession of the 3rd quarter resulted in a quick three & out. End of 3: TCU 21, Wisconsin 13.
TCU's first two turns with the ball in the 4th quarter took up a combined 5:19, and were sandwiched around a failed 6 play, 10 yard drive by Wisconsin that took up 2:29. So when the Badgers got the ball back at their own 23 with 7:32 remaining, just about everyone knew that this was their last chance to try to get back in the game. On the first two plays, John Clay busted up the middle for gains of 14 and 30 yards before the Badgers took a time out with a 1st & 10 on the TCU 33 with 6:31 left. White knuckle time.
Montee Ball managed just 4 yards on the next two plays, but Tolzein found Lance Kendricks for a 10 yard gain on 3rd & 6 to move the chains again for Wisconsin. John Clay got the ball on each of the next four plays, taking the ball to the TCU 14, 10, 8 and 4...all while the clock continued to tick. The Wisconsin line seemed to be having their way, and the Badgers had seized all of the game's momentum. Ball then scored from 4 yards out with exactly 2:00 remaining and the Badgers lined up for a potentially game-tying 2 point conversion try:
Honestly, it took a couple of moments for the reality of the play to sink in with me. The way Wisconsin had been driving the ball at will, I was almost sure they'd convert the try and tie the game up at 21 apiece. And as happy as I was with Tank's miraculous play, I knew that if the Badgers recovered the onside kick, there was a good chance they'd be able to score again to win it. Luckily, the sure-handed Bart Johnson was there to take the drama out of the onside kick and the Frogs were just one first down away from victory.
Matthew Tucker was stuffed for no gain on first down before Wisconsin took their last timeout with 1:52 remaining. Redshirt freshman Waymon James gained 6 yards on 2nd down, and then 5 on 3rd & 4 to seal the game for TCU. That was the first of about a thousand times that evening that I muttered to myself "we just won the Rose Bowl". An absolutely unreal feeling, and the proudest I've ever been to be a TCU graduate.
I realize it's a little silly of me to have just completely recapped a game that happened not even nine months ago...and that most of you either still have saved on your DVR or own on DVD. I also could've just posted this well-put together highlight video- but hey, you enjoyed reading this, right? Let's hear your Rose Bowl memories in the comments section.