Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon rushed for 251 yards and three touchdowns, inching closer to the NCAA single-season rushing record, to help power No. 18 Wisconsin (11-3) past No. 19 Auburn (8-5) to an overtime victory in the Outback Bowl. A missed field goal by Auburn secured a bowl victory for Barry Alvarez and Wisconsin, 34-31, on New Years Day in Tampa, Florida.
Wisconsin and Auburn traded scored from start to finish, but Wisconsin turned a game of touchdowns into a game of field goal kicking down the final stretch of the game. Down 31-28 with just under three minutes to play, Wisconsin drove deep into the Auburn end of the field in the final moments of the fourth quarter before having to settle for a game-tying field goal from Rafael Gaglianone. Gaglianone opened the overtime session with his second field goal of the game to give the Badgers an overtime lead on the first possession. Auburn was unable to move the football on offense on their overtime possession, forcing Daniel Carlson to attempt a long field goal that bounced off the goal post, giving Wisconsin the win.
Wisconsin tried dabbling with the passing game in the first half, but Joel Stave was picked off three times before Alvarez started going back to the big running game with Gordon and Corey Clement. Gordon turned in what may have been a game-changing play when he took off for a powerful 53-yard run on fourth and one. It was a gutsy call by Alvarez, but he was rewarded by Gordon’s amazing effort to stay in bounds to score a touchdown that put the Badgers in front at the time, 21-17. It was the second rushing touchdown of the quarter from Gordon, adding to his 25-yard score earlier in the half. Gordon was the story of the second half, but Auburn came up with an answer every time for a while.
Auburn struck right back with Nick Marshall playing well under center and making some very good throws. C.J. Uzomah hauled in a 20-yard pass down the right sideline once his defender was caught taking a look back. That allowed him to create just enough separation to race down field and score a touchdown to give the Tigers a three-point lead. With the ball back in Wisconsin’s hands, Alvarez stuck to what works best, and that meant running the football with Gordon and Clement. That move paid off with Gordon adding his third touchdown of the afternoon on a six-yard push up the middle to reclaim the lead. As was the story of the second half, the lead would be short-lived, as Auburn responded on the ensuing possession. The Auburn go-ahead touchdown — coming on a short run by Cameron Artis-Payne — was given an extra chance following a somewhat questionable defensive pass interference called on the Badgers in the end zone on a fourth-down play.
The win was a big one for the Big Ten, although the conference’s other bowl teams in action at the time were staring down some double-digit losses. Auburn was the fourth team from the SEC West to suffer a loss this bowl season, joining LSU, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Arkansas and Texas A&M won their bowl games, and Alabama will take on Ohio State later.
Moving forward, Wisconsin will hand the program over to Paul Chryst. Chryst will take over without Gordon, but Clement is a nice option to have in the backfield. Quarterback play will have to improve under Chryst, but this is one of his specialties. Auburn is not going anywhere either. The Tigers will once again be a dynamic team in the SEC in 2015, and the addition of Will Muschamp to the coaching staff figures to help the defense improve.