Defense lifts Wisconsin past USC in Holiday Bowl

By Jay Paris, The Sports Xchange  |  Dec. 31, 2015 at 10:15 AM
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SAN DIEGO -- It took more than six decades, but Wisconsin finally beat the Southern California.

Rafael Gaglianone kicked three field goals, including the game-winning 29-yarder with 2:27 remaining, and the Badgers rallied to beat the Trojans 23-21 in the Holiday Bowl on Wednesday night.

"They are one of the staples of college football," Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave said of the Trojans. "When you think of college football, you think of USC, so that's who you grow up watching."

The Badgers (10-3) defeated the Trojans (8-6) for the first time in seven meetings. The initial matchup came at the 1953 Rose Bowl, a contest that, like Wednesday's, featured more running than passing.

"I think this game kind of summed up our season," said Badgers linebacker Jack Cichy, the defensive player of the game. "We were down, but we found a way to get over that hump, and I think that's a great testament to our team."

Stave, selected the offensive player of the game, threw for 217 yards and a touchdown while completing 18 of 27 attempts.

USC quarterback Cody Kessler was 18 of 31 for 221 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception.

Kessler's pick came in the final two minutes. He was hit from behind by Cichy, causing an erratic pass that was intercepted by cornerback Sojourn Shelton.

"When I was coming forward, he hit my arm," said Kessler, a senior playing his final game for USC. "The last thing I remember is him hitting me.

"They had a relentless effort to the ball. That is a good defensive team that is going to make plays. It happened to make a play at a critical moment."

The Trojans seized their first lead of the game, 21-20, with 10 minutes remaining when Kessler clicked with wide receiver Darreus Rogers on a 7-yard touchdown pass. Kessler was flushed from the pocket and extended the play before spotting Rogers streaking across the end zone.

USC running back Justin Davis' second touchdown run, from 4 yards in the third quarter, sliced the Trojans' deficit to 20-14.

The Trojans then forced a three-and-out and took over at midfield. However, Cichy had three consecutive sacks to derail USC's momentum.

"I was out the first half, so Coach (Paul Chryst) put me in and was kind of easing me into it," Cichy said. "I was blitzing every time, but I didn't expect I would come free for all three, especially the third time."

USC coach Clay Helton agreed that the Badgers were relentless.

"They do a great job of getting to the quarterback," he said. "That is one of the best defenses in the country, and we knew they had one of the best fronts in the country."

The Badgers took the second half's opening possession and marched 64 yards, capped by a 4-yard scoring pass from Stave to tight end Austin Traylor. That pushed Wisconsin ahead, 20-7.

Gaglianone's 33-yard field goal in the first half's closing minute gave Wisconsin a 13-7 advantage.

The Trojans pulled within 10-7 with five minutes left in the half on Davis' 1-yard plunge on fourth down. It was the second fourth down the Trojans converted on the 55-yard drive.

Running back Corey Clement pushed the Badgers' lead to 10-0 when he rushed over from 6 yards midway through the second quarter. Clement's fifth touchdown of the season came when the original call was overturned, after Clement was ruled down at the 1. On the drive, Stave had completions of 11, 18 and 26 yards.

The Badgers scored early in the second quarter on Gaglianone's 27-yard field goal to go ahead 3-0. Wisconsin nearly had a touchdown on the nine-play drive, but Stave's third-down, 8-yard pass to Alex Erickson went off the wide receiver's hands in the end zone. The possession's key play was a one-handed catch by wide receiver Robert Wheelwright for 21 yards.

NOTES: USC and Wisconsin met in a third bowl game, but for the first time, it wasn't in Pasadena. The Trojans beat the Badgers in the 1953 and 1963 Rose Bowls. ... Wisconsin's Holiday Bowl appearance was its 14th consecutive bowl game. That is the longest streak in the Big 10 and seventh-best in the nation. ... Chargers RB Melvin Gordon, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season at Wisconsin, was on the Badgers' sideline. ... This was the second time USC had played a 14-game season. In 2013, the Trojans were 10-4.

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