While campus froze over winter break, the Wisconsin football team put the finishing touches on its 2013 season in sunny Orlando. It wouldn’t have been Badger football without a grueling Big Ten schedule and some controversy along the way. This is how the season shook out, with the quotes that defined it all:
August 2, 2013: For the third consecutive season, fall camp began with a quarterback competition, this one a three-horse race between Joel Stave, Curt Phillips and transfer Tanner McEvoy.
“Quarterback, what’s left to say? We’ll see. Here we go. We’ll get them out there, and they’ll all compete early. We’ll get it done.” — Gary Andersen
Twenty-nine days later, Stave took the first snap under center against UMass and never relinquished the starting spot.
August 31, 2013: The Wisconsin defense stepped onto the field for the first time and pitched a shutout. At the time it was regarded as a marginally impressive performance.
“It is a good feeling to get that zero. Zeros are rare in college football nowadays so this is one that we are going to enjoy but we still know there is stuff for us to correct on film.” — Ethan Hemer
Soon enough, that defense would be regarded as one of the best in the nation.
September 6, 2013: While the defense pitched another shutout, James White and Melvin Gordon plugged away, each tallying more than 100 yards rushing. However, it was freshman Corey Clement that outdid both of them with 149 yards on the ground in just his second game.
“It’s been fun … We’ve probably got the fans just sitting there like, ‘who’s next,’ so it’s fun to go out there and compete and make those plays.” — Melvin Gordon
September 13, 2013: Wisconsin’s first road trip of the season turned heads all across the nation, but not because of the football played on the field. Instead, it was the late-game decision-making of the Pac-12 referees which cost Wisconsin the opportunity for a game-winning 32-yard field goal.
“I don’t have a lot to say, I’m proud of my kids and they played hard. ASU is a good team. It is a shame that it went down that way.” — Gary Andersen
The Pac-12 conference would later make a statement and impose sanctions against the referees of that Saturday night game. Nonetheless, the Badgers were now 2-1 and headed to conference play.
“The senior class will have a hard time absorbing that. We will get on the plane and take some deep breaths and get ready for the Big Ten. The key is to not let ASU beat you twice.” — Gary Andersen
September 21, 2013: Wisconsin would respond thanks to the usual suspects of the 2013 team, a dominating defense and relentless rushing attack.
Purdue garnered just 10 points at Camp Randall and it was business as usual for Gordon and White, who gained 147 and 145 yards, respectively. After the game, the focus was pretty clear that Wisconsin was ready for its next opponent, Ohio State.
“Obviously everyone’s really fired up about this game. You’ve got to stay steady, I guess, but we’re all fired up for it.“ — Beau Allen
September 28, 2013: Wisconsin’s second road trip of the season wound up with the same result, a deflating defeat, this time at the hands of Braxton Miller, who torched the Wisconsin secondary for four touchdowns, one a 40-yard back-breaker right before halftime.
“He’s not just an athlete running around out there, he is a tremendous athlete, but I thought he was very poised, he was composed, he picked his spots, he ran his team very well.” — Gary Andersen
Quarterback-turned-safety Tanner McEvoy would make four tackles and Kyle French missed a field goal, both foreshadowing aspects for the rest of the season.
October 12, 2013: The schedule didn’t lighten up, but with a bye week to prepare, Wisconsin ousted a battered No. 19 Northwestern team without much difficulty.
“I’m not stunned. I mean we got beat by a football team that played a lot better than we did today. When you don’t play well, days like today can happen.” — Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.”
October 19, 2013: Wisconsin then took its show south to Champaign, Ill., where it would find its first road victory of the season. They definitely worked for it throughout the 56-32 win as Gordon’s 147 yards and three touchdowns rushing led the way.
“Been around a lot of good running backs … but nobody quite as dynamic in the run game as Melvin is.” — Gary Andersen
November 2, 2013: And for how well Gordon shined that day, two weeks later it was his running mate White that took the spotlight when Wisconsin topped Iowa, 28-9. While Gordon struggled to break any long runs against the Hawkeyes’ defense, White was much more effective, rushing for 132 yards and two scores.
“Everybody wants to look at yards per carry and everything that was there, but it was tough sledding against a very good defense, and he kept pounding away the whole football game and was very, very consistent and broke the runs at the end of the game to seal the deal for us” — Gary Andersen
November 9, 2013: A nearly-ranked BYU squad brought the Badgers a break from conference play and the Badgers’ defense brought quarterback Taysom Hill likely his toughest opponent of the season. Hill struggled until late in the fourth quarter, completing just 19 of 41 passes.
“We didn’t want him rushing for too many yards. Obviously he’s a very talented guy with a lot of potential. We did a pretty good job with that today. Always have to improve on that, but overall it was a good job.” — Brendan Kelly
November 16, 2013: It took just one play for the Badgers to take control of their next game against Indiana, a 93-yard record-setting touchdown run by White.
“Yeah, that was awesome. I looked up at my guy, missed a tackle and he was off to the races. It was an awesome first play.” — Ryan Groy
The Badgers outscored the Hoosiers 44-3 the rest of the way as they geared up for the annual Axe Game with Minnesota the next weekend.
November 23, 2013: The Axe Game had a slightly different feel as the Badgers found a ranked opponent in then-No. 25 Minnesota. Furthermore, the Badgers found themselves trailing in the second quarter after a Stave interception was returned for a score. However, the Wisconsin defense held Minnesota to nothing more as the Badgers claimed Paul Bunyan’s Axe for a 10th-consecutive time.
“Ten is a solid number. It has been a good decade for us.” — Chris Borland
After the game, a scuffle between the teams would give Andersen his first real taste of the rivalry.
November 30, 2013: With just one more game in the regular season, the Badgers left the Camp Randall crowd underwhelmed as Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg torched the Wisconsin secondary for 339 yards and four touchdowns.
It put a sour taste on the end of the season and knocked the Badgers out of contention for a BCS bowl bid.
“Losing is unacceptable. And if you’re willing to accept it, you’re a non-competitor. And you don’t belong at the University of Wisconsin in the football program … If there’s somebody on this team that doesn’t want to prepare well for the Bowl game, then they’ll miss the flight.” — Gary Andersen
December 20, 2013: Although he had split carries for his entire career, Gordon strongly considered his prospects of playing at the next level. Less than two weeks before the Capital One Bowl, the redshirt sophomore cleared things up for Badger fans.
“I love the University of Wisconsin and feel that there is still a lot of room for growth. Academically, another year in school will help me get closer to completing my degree and on the field I hope to help my team get back the Big Ten championship.” — Melvin Gordon
January 1, 2014: South Carolina, a top-10 SEC opponent, met the Badgers in Orlando and gave them all they could handle. Joel Stave left the game with an injury, leaving sixth-year senior Curt Phillips to control the offense. It didn’t go very well as the Badgers lost their fourth-consecutive bowl game 34-24.
Andersen made time for some reflection in his post-game press conference.
“They won nine games. They played their tails off every single week. The University of Wisconsin is unbelievably important to them. And again, I’m proud of them.” — Gary Andersen