For the better part of three quarters, Wisconsin bore a strong resemblance to a well-heeled nobleman trying to walk gracefully down a city sidewalk while staying just ahead of a hot-headed chihuahua.
In the end, the Badgers, eighth in the AP poll and final College Football Playoff rankings, had enough space between heel and yapper to elude upset with an early 14-point lead and a very timely fourth-quarter interception to take down No. 12 Western Michigan 24-16 in the Cotton Bowl on Monday in front of an announced crowd of 59,615 at AT&T Stadium.
Wisconsin turned T.J. Edwards’ interception of Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell at the Broncos’ 12 into the backbreaking touchdown for the previously unbeaten Group of Five member from the Mid-American Conference hungry to prove it can play with the nation’s elite.
Edwards was selected the game’s outstanding defensive player. In addition to his interception, he had 10 tackles, including four solo. Badgers quarterbacks were efficient, setting up the pass with a bruising run game. Starter Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook were 13 for 14 for 178 yards.
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... When you dig a 14-0 hole against the eighth-ranked team in the country, it’s tough to climb out of. We struggled to get out of that all day long.
Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck
Their most-favored target was tight end Troy Fumagalli, the game’s offensive MVP who hauled in six receptions for 83 yards and an 8-yard TD catch from Hornibrook early in the fourth that stemmed Western Michigan’s momentum.
“I think their quarterback was doing a great job all game of reading our eyes and getting the ball out fast,” Edwards said. “We just needed a play to spark it, and I am just glad I was able to do that.”
Corey Clement, the game’s top rusher with 71 yards on 22 carries, had a 2-yard touchdown run on the game’s first drive, and Dare Ogunbowale followed with a 1-yard run for Wisconsin (11-3) after the Broncos (13-1) punted on their first possession.
Terrell was Western Michigan’s offensive leader, throwing for 157 yards and a touchdown to Corey Davis with 3:27 left that turned made a 24-10 game winnable even after a missed extra-point attempt. The ensuing onside attempt failed.
During its opening, two-touchdown onslaught, Wisconsin averaged 7.6 yards a carry rushing, though Western Michigan tightened rushing lanes by sending a defensive back up to the line. That opened up space for Fumagalli to work.
Fumagalli “has got the ability to be a matchup problem for a number of teams if they’re playing him man,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “He’s big, he’s skilled. He runs well enough and has a great knack to separate.”
7.6Yards per carry rushing on 14 running plays for Wisconsin during its first two possessions, both ending in touchdowns.
It didn’t take long for Western Michigan, 1-11 only three seasons ago, to realize it wasn’t in Kalamazoo anymore.
Western Michigan’s turnover was rare for both team and quarterback. Western Michigan was a plus-19 in turnover margin this season and, notably, didn’t commit a turnover until the seventh game of the season. The Broncos, however, fumbled three times, recovering each of them.
Terrell had four interceptions all season, though three of them came in the his last two games.
Even more rare for Western Michigan was a 14-point deficit, the largest the Broncos faced this season.
Wisconsin opened the game collecting large swaths of turf. In their first 18 plays, the Badgers had gains of 14, 23, 10, 20, 20, 20, 24 and 23 yards. The Badgers enjoyed an edge in time of possession of 11:11 to 3:49 in the first quarter.
Coach P.J. Fleck said his players used the team mantra, “Row The Boat,” to stay focused.
“Put your oar in the water and just keep rowing,” Fleck said of his message to players. “We’re in a storm right now and it’s pretty bad. But if we stop rowing, it’s going to get a lot worse. And we came out of it.
“But when you dig a 14-0 hole against the eighth-ranked team in the country, it’s tough to climb out of. We struggled to get out of that all day long.”
280 Total yards for Western Michigan. The Broncos had averaged 497 in going 13-0 this season.
As it was, Western Michigan was facing a drastic shortfall from its average of 497 yards per game, but it could have been worse. The bulk of the Broncos’ 114 yards in the first half was the result of a desperately needed 16-play, 65-yard scoring drive in the latter half of the second quarter. WMU finished with 280 total yards.
On the 16th play of the drive, Terrell took a naked bootleg around the right side, duping a Wisconsin defender on his way to a 2-yard TD run.
WIS—Clement 2 run (Endicott kick), 8:52
WIS—Ogunbowale 1 run (Endicott kick), 3:23
WMC—Terrell 2 run (Hampton kick), 5:27
WIS—FG Endicott 30, :18
WMC—FG Hampton 27, 10:00
WIS—Fumagalli 8 pass from Hornibrook (Endicott kick), 12:26
WMC—Davis 11 pass from Terrell (kick failed), 3:27
Time of Possession
RUSHING—W. Michigan, Bogan 16-58, Franklin 7-53, Terrell 7-14, Moton 0-0, (Team) 1-(minus 2). Wisconsin, Clement 22-71, Peavy 3-50, Cephus 2-34, Ogunbowale 5-22, Ramesh 1-10, Deal 2-9, (Team) 1-(minus 2), Houston 2-(minus 10).
PASSING—W. Michigan, Terrell 16-28-1-157. Wisconsin, Hornibrook 2-2-0-19, Houston 11-12-0-159.
RECEIVING—W. Michigan, Davis 6-73, Franklin 4-33, Thompson 4-32, Henry 2-19. Wisconsin, Fumagalli 6-83, Clement 2-28, Ogunbowale 2-28, Rushing 2-27, Wheelwright 1-12.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.