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January 1, 2014

Opposing view: Shaw's heroics sink Badgers



ORLANDO, Fla. - Coming into a Capital One Bowl matchup against No. 8 South Carolina, Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen wanted his No. 19 Badgers to be aggressive. He wanted them to run the ball, to stop the run, to come at South Carolina with intensity on every play and to keep that intensity the entire game.

Wisconsin did all that and more, but still fell 34-24 to the Gamecocks in Orlando on New Year's Day.

The Badgers rushed 43 times for 293 yards and held one of the SEC's best tailbacks in Mike Davis to 43 yards on nine carries. They ran inside the tackles, outside the tackles, collected more first downs and held a South Carolina team that averaged over 205 rushing yards a game to just 117 in Citrus Bowl Stadium.

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But Wisconsin fell victim to the heroics of Connor Shaw, as the senior completed 22 of 25 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns, ran for 59 yards and another score, and added a 9-yard touchdown reception - the only catch of his career.

"Connor is an unbelievable competitor, I knew that coming in," said Andersen after the game. "I saw it on tape. I believed it. I'd heard about him from afar. He lived up to his billing."

Andersen marveled at the ability and guile Shaw showed in the final game of his career.

"Just as impressive -- I'll get to the receivers -- is his ability to understand pressure even when we got him tricked, running free hitters at him," Andersen said. "He's hard to get on the ground, he makes good decisions, and he breaks out of pressures coming from the field.

"The last one he scrambled, he did a nice job of getting 10 yards down the field, or 15, whatever it was to get that first down. That's a veteran quarterback move. You don't just wake up one and decide, 'okay, I'm going to go do this.' He's coached very well by coach Spurrier and he's a very good quarterback."

Though the Badgers bullied the Gamecocks on the ground, Andersen saw South Carolina's dominance of the passing game -- Shaw and Ellington combined for 321 yards and four touchdowns through the air -- as paramount. Andersen considered sophomore receiver Shaq Roland's 49-yard catch on a jump-ball between two Wisconsin defenders a defining moment in the game.

"Their receivers made contested catches. They're fast, they can run, they run good routes -- we knew all that coming in," Andersen said. "But the defining moment to be a great receiver is you have to make great plays on contested footballs, and that's really the identification of a talented defensive back.

"They should all be able to run; they should all be able to change direction. But when that ball is in the air and it's contested, who's going to get it? Today, South Carolina won that many times. It's a defining moment for us, and we need to understand it and get better."

Andersen also credited South Carolina with how it defended Wisconsin senior receiver Jared Abbrederis. The Gamecocks blanketed the former walk-on, often assigning two defenders to keep the Badgers' best deep threat from torching the secondary on play-action passes. Abbrederis caught five passes -- tying Wisconsin's all-time reception record with 202 -- but amassed just 30 yards.

"They did a nice job on Jared," Andersen said. "He was taken out of the pass game unless you're going to throw -- you're not going to get it over the top on these guys. They made that very clear very early, and they were physical with him on the line of scrimmage."

Andersen called the game "tremendous," something he would remember for the rest of his life, but lamented that his seniors couldn't go out with a win. Andersen praised the fight they, along with the rest of the team, showed in their swan song against South Carolina.

"There's no quit, you can't faze them," Andersen said. "They kept on battling, and that's shown its head many, many times this year and it did again today. Again and again and again they kept on fighting. I'll forever be indebted to those kids."

Wisconsin finishes the season 9-4, and the team's 22-man senior class exits just one victory from tying a school-record 40 wins. But after a back-and-forth game where Andersen never saw his players hang their head, he won't let the loss put a dampener on what Wisconsin accomplished this season.

"I'm not taking anything away from this group of kids," Andersen said. "They won nine games. They played their tails off every single week. Football is unbelievably important to them. The University of Wisconsin is unbelievably important to them, and again, I'm proud of them."

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