Wisconsin jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and never trailed as it beat Western Michigan, 24-16, Monday in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The No. 8-ranked Badgers (11-3) got early touchdown runs by Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale and a big day from junior tight end Troy Fumagalli to give No. 15 Western Michigan (13-1) its first loss of the season.
Western Michigan scored on an 11-yard pass from Zach Terrell to wide receiver Corey Davis with 3:27 to play but Wisconsin recovered the ensuing onside kick and then ran out the clock to win its third straight bowl game.
Wisconsin out-gained Western Michigan 362-280 and edged the Broncos in time of possession by 10 seconds, 30:05-29:55. The Badgers didn’t turn the ball over, while getting the lone takeaway in the game on an interception by linebacker T.J. Edwards in the fourth quarter.
Five things we learned
1. Paul Chryst had his Wisconsin players ready to play. Give credit to Western Michigan for handling Wisconsin’s early surge and for making it a one-possession game three different times, but the Badgers played with poise. It’s something they’ve shown throughout the season, so it was only fitting they closed out the campaign this way.
2. Junior tight end Troy Fumagalli has a future playing in the NFL. He caught six passes for 83 yards and one touchdown. He was a constant mismatch in favor of the Badgers. His 26-yard reception from quarterback Bart Houston in the fourth quarter helped seal the victory. His diving one-handed catch for 20 yards from Houston on third-and-13 from the Western Michigan 32-yard line kept Wisconsin’s opening drive alive. That drive resulted in Clement’s 2-yard touchdown run. Fumagalli used two hands in the third quarter to make a 28-yard reception despite tight coverage. His 8-yard reception in the fourth quarter gave Wisconsin a 24-10 lead. He did have one drop that would have been a touchdown in the second quarter, but he more than made up for it with his other plays.
3. Despite Davis’ late touchdown catch, Wisconsin did a good job in defending the Western Michigan All-America player. Davis had just five catches for 62 yards before winning a jump ball in the end zone for the game’s final score.
4. Western Michigan came into the game leading the nation in turnover margin (plus-19) but Wisconsin forced three fumbles by the Broncos and had another overruled by replay. The Badgers didn’t recover any of those fumbles but the defense’s aggressive style forced Western Michigan to play conservatively and didn’t allow for any big plays down the field.
5. Houston ended his Wisconsin career by completing 11 of 12 passes for 159 yards. His only incompletion was Fumagalli’s drop of a would-be touchdown in the second quarter. He was 4 for 5 on third down for 68 yards.
Linebacker T.J. Edwards intercepted his third pass of the season, giving Wisconsin the ball at the Western Michigan 12-yard line with 13:52 left to play and the Badgers holding on to a 17-10 lead. Western Michigan had forced a Wisconsin punt but took possession of the ball at its own 3 after Anthony Lotti’s 42-yard boot. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Fumagalli three plays later to give Wisconsin some much-needed breathing room.
How would Wisconsin handle the loss against Penn State in the Big Ten championship game? Very Wisconsin-like, as it turns out. The Badgers were hardly flashy but they came out focused and then handled the gutsy performance by Western Michigan to get back into the game.
How does Wisconsin replace 13 seniors who leave after winning 41 games the past four seasons? There are likely to be a few other departures but the seniors were the heart of this team, leading it to 11 wins against a schedule that included seven ranked teams.
Wisconsin out-gained Western Michigan 166-46 in the first quarter, including 104-4 in rushing yards, as it jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
What it means
After losses by Michigan and Ohio State, the Big Ten finally gets a win in this year’s New Year’s Six bowl games.