When Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco lined up on third-and-goal from the four, the Badgers had less than 30 seconds to make something happen and get in the end zone. No one could have known for sure that it was going to be the game-winning play in Wisconsin’s 23-20 upset of the No. 14 Wolverines.
Wisconsin lined up with two wide receivers to Stocco’s right and one to his left. The Badgers’ star running back Brian Calhoun was the lone back in the backfield, deep and offset slightly to Stocco’s left.
Stocco dropped back and the offensive line was in a pass-blocking formation. But then Stocco took off. He broke a tackle and snuck into the end zone. Game over.
“They just did a good job of executing a good play,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “It was a good call on their part, but we felt like we were in a decent defense. We expected a run on that down, but they executed their assignments, and it won the game for them.”
But what does the anatomy of a blown play look like? Where were the key players on the Michigan defense?
The Wolverines lined up Alan Branch, Gabe Watson, Pat Massey and LaMarr Woodley on the defensive line. Watson was over center. To him, it looked like a regular drop-back pass. After spending all of last week analyzing film of the Wisconsin Badgers offense, Watson had learned that when Calhoun lines up to the left like he did on that play, the tendency is for the Badgers to pass. And he was right that they weren’t going to Calhoun.
“And it seemed like a pass at first,” Watson said. “But then at the last second you could see that it was a draw form. And then he scored on it.”
Even after Stocco sprinted past him, Watson still wasn’t sure that he would make it across the goal line. He said it was just hard to watch. Woodley was watching too. He was lined up at right defensive end, just a couple spots over from Watson. He forced his way up field past Wisconsin’s left tackle and was in the backfield when Stocco made his move. Woodley saw Stocco take off, but by that time it was too late.
“I had a guy like 6-foot-7 in front of me, so you know, I didn’t see too much,” Woodley said. “It was just kind of surprising. Not seeing that they really ran (a quarterback draw). It was just a nice play they called.”
Massey said that the Wolverines were in what he described as “a good enough defense for it.” He saw the play forming, but said that he and his teammates just didn’t break to the ball fast enough. If it wasn’t for Massey, the Wolverines may not have even been in that position. Two plays earlier, he batted down Stocco’s pass at the line of scrimmage, the first of two incomplete passes that series.
The play after the batted ball – one before the game-winning score – cornerback Leon Hall had been the hero. On a fade to senior Jonathon Orr, Hall made an acrobatic, left-handed tip to break up the pass. But on the third down play, he couldn’t do anything but watch. Hall was covering one of Wisconsin’s three receivers and couldn’t get to the middle of the field fast enough to make a play on the ball.
“I was way out there on the outside,” Hall said. “I saw that it was a draw. The inside guys and the outside guys and the DBs didn’t get up there. We didn’t recognize it soon enough.”
Maybe they didn’t recognize. Maybe they didn’t execute. Maybe they just got beat. But no matter what, on that play, the Wolverines gave Wisconsin the lead for the second and final time of the game. And it sent them home contemplating about the anatomy of a loss.