Wisconsin hands Western Michigan first loss
The Sports Xchange
ARLINGTON, Texas — It wasn’t easy, but No. 8 Wisconsin downed previously undefeated No. 15 Western Michigan 24-16 on Monday afternoon in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium.
Though the Badgers (11-3) jumped ahead early and never trailed in their first appearance in the Cotton Bowl, the upstarts from the Mid-American Conference weren’t intimidated lining up against a traditional power on a national stage.
The win did help the Badgers bounce back from a disappointing loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Conference championship game. Under second-year coach Paul Chryst, Wisconsin won 11 games for the first since 2011.
The Badgers had their eyes on the Rose Bowl before falling apart in the second half against the Nittany Lions. The Cotton Bowl served as a New Year’s Six consolation prize for the Big Ten runner-ups.
The loss ended a storybook season for the Broncos (13-1) and their 36-year-old coach, P.J. Fleck. The Broncos hoped to finish off a perfect campaign with a statement win for the Group of Five.
Instead, the Broncos appeared to be overmatched physically for the first time this season. Western Michigan had grown accustomed to being the bully, winning all but two games by at least 14 points.
The Badgers were up 14-0 in the first quarter after two long scoring drives and seemed to be in control. Wisconsin rolled up 166 yards in the first quarter, with 104 coming on the ground.
The Broncos did recover and were down only 17-10 after a field goal early in the third quarter and had the ball back twice with a chance to pull closer. They couldn’t.
A costly interception thrown by Zach Terrell deep in Western Michigan territory early in the fourth quarter nearly ended any upset hopes.
Wisconsin backup quarterback Alex Hornibrook hooked up with Troy Fumagalli in the back of the end zone from 8 yards to push the Badgers’ advantage back to two touchdowns.
Western Michigan did mount one more touchdown drive, with Terrell finding Corey Davis on an improbable 11-yard pass on fourth down with 3:27 left. The extra point was missed, leaving the Broncos down 24-16.
The ensuing onside kick was almost fumbled away by Wisconsin, but the ball rolled out of bounds.
The Badgers were able to run out the clock in posting their third straight bowl win.
Fumagalli finished with six catches for 83 yards a touchdown. Corey Clement closed out his collegiate career with 71 yards rushing on 22 attempts and a score.
Terrell capped a brilliant season by completing 16 of 28 passes for 157 yards with one touchdown and a pick. Terrell finished the season with 33 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.
Davis and Terrell also connected on their 51st touchdown, tying the all-time FBS record. Davis caught six passes for 73 yards to finish his senior season with 1,500 yards receiving and 19 touchdowns.
The Badgers found little resistance on their first possession, driving 75 yards in 11 plays. Wisconsin ran it nine times, with Clement going the final 2 yards for the game’s first touchdown.
Another long touchdown drive followed to make it 14-0.
Dare Ogunbowale completed the 88-yard march by powering the ball in from the 1.
The Broncos did get on the board in the second quarter after converting a fourth down in Wisconsin territory. The 16-play, 65-yard march ended with Terrell scoring on a naked bootleg from the 2-yard line.
Wisconsin went into halftime up 17-7 on Andrew Endicott’s 30-yard field goal in the first minute of the second quarter.
NOTES: Chryst became the third Wisconsin coach to win at least 11 games in a season, joining Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema. ... Western Michigan’s appearance in the Cotton Bowl was its first New Year’s Six berth and just the second for the MAC. Northern Illinois was in the 2012 Orange Bowl. ... Wisconsin took part in its sixth New Year’s Six bowl, with the other five being the Rose Bowl. ... Wisconsin’s run of 15 consecutive bowls is tied for the sixth-longest active streak. ... The Broncos finished the season 2-1 against the Big Ten, having beaten Northwestern and Illinois in September. ... Wisconsin leads the all-time series against Western Michigan 4-1.