INDIANAPOLIS — You can let out that sigh of relief now, Badger fans. The Wisconsin football team is indeed the Big Ten champion for the third year in a row.
At the hands of the most creative game plan offensive coordinator Matt Canada has made all season, Wisconsin (8-5, 4-4 Big Ten) blew out No. 12 Nebraska (10-3, 7-1) 70-31 in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game for its third-straight trip to the Rose Bowl.
“He obviously came up with a game plan,” head coach Bret Bielema said postgame.
“It was a mixed bag. Matt kept talking about having an indoor game, being able to execute certain things. There were probably a couple we haven’t used yet either that will remain a little secret. … Our kids have a little bit of fun with it, but it was still the meat and potatoes that got us where we were.”
Wisconsin came out of the gate quickly in its purest style — the run. But instead of punching it up the middle time and again, Canada designed the runs to go outside and streak down the sideline.
Redshirt freshman running back Melvin Gordon — who led all rushers with 216 yards on nine carries for an average of 24 yards per carry — scored his lone touchdown of the night on a sweeping run to the outside for 56 yards to put the Badgers on the board 7-0 only 1:59 into the first quarter.
“They told me [to focus on] the sweeps and stay outside,” Gordon said. “I kept telling myself this is a big game. I want to install some trust in my coaches and teammates so all practice, all week, I told myself, ‘Go hard. … Some good is going to come out of it.’”
While Gordon led the rushing attack in terms of yardage, both Montee Ball and James White also saw staggeringly productive days, as each surpassed 200 and 100 rushing yards, respectively. Ball’s 202-yard, three-touchdown performance earned him MVP accolades, while White’s 119-yard, four-touchdown day was only a portion of his role on offense. Overall, the run game accounted for 539 yards of the Badgers’ total 640 offensive yards on the night.
Canada called for Wisconsin’s “Barge” formation on several occasions throughout the game. The formation has seen limited success this season, making an occasional appearance in several of UW’s most recent games. However, the formation, quarterbacked by White, led to four Badger touchdowns.
With White taking the direct snap on six occasions, he twice ran for touchdowns, first for nine yards at the 1:01 mark of the first quarter and again for a yard early in the second. He also handed off to Ball for a 16-yard touchdown at the 7:15 mark of the second for the 35-10 lead (and game-winning score).
But the most notable score out of the Barge formation was Wisconsin’s sixth touchdown of the game with two seconds remaining in the first half. The Badgers had the Cornhuskers’ defense fooled, as it expected White to run to the outside for the touchdown. Instead, White dropped back and found a wide-open Sam Arneson in the back of the end zone for the first touchdown pass of his career.
“James really wanted to be recruited as a quarterback all year long and finally had that opportunity to show up out there today,” Bielema joked.
But White was not the only non-quarterback to make a pass, as redshirt junior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis showed off the talent he displayed at Wautoma High School as a quarterback.
On UW’s first drive of the second quarter, Wisconsin was facing a 1st-and-10 from Nebraska’s 28. Senior quarterback Curt Phillips handed off to Abbrederis on a reverse — a play the wide receiver is known for running.
Instead of running to the outside edge, Abbrederis slowed up and found a wide-open Phillips for a 27-yard pass that fell just shy of the end zone. White scored a play later on his 1-yard run out of the Barge.
“It’s always fun when you get those trick plays that you’ve been working on for a while,” Abbrederis said. “I wish I could have gotten a touchdown out of that one, but it led to a touchdown and that’s all I could really care about.”
WIth a quarterback carousel often grabbing headlines in 2012, Canada has faced much criticism for poor play-calling and a conservative game plan. Time and again the run-run-pass game plan was predictable — and in games such as Penn State, it was largely ineffective.
But on the biggest stage of their season, Canada & co. put together an unprecedented game plan they had been hiding for weeks.
“In our business and in this conference your job is to win the Big Ten and go to the Rose Bowl,” Canada said. “… We needed to win this game to win the Big Ten and that’s what we did. So whatever it took to get it done, that’s what we were going to do.
“We didn’t try to not be creative in the past, but certainly, yeah, let’s let it all hang out. We’re going to win the Big Ten. I mean, how many times do you get to do that? For me, I’ve never gotten to do this.”
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