The heaps of promotional material Wisconsin has sent out touting running back Ron Dayne as a Heisman Trophy contender probably would cover the foot and a half that stood between the Badgers and a critical first down late in their game against No. 4 Michigan today. But Dayne himself could not bridge the gap on a fourth-down carry, leaving the Badgers helpless in an eventual 21-16 loss at Camp Randall Stadium.
In fact, Dayne was unable to gain a single yard in the game's second half, curtailing his quest for both the Heisman and the Division I-A rushing record, which remains 1,105 yards away. With a total of 88 yards on 22 carries, he also did little to quell the impression that he cannot handle high-pressure situations, although after the game Coach Barry Alvarez was much more concerned with the loss than with his star.
"I'd love to see Ron win awards, but it's about winning games--I've got 130 guys in the locker room who practice hard every day," Alvarez said. "The most important thing is winning.
"When you play a game like this, the team that makes the most plays wins, and I think that's exactly what happened. We had opportunities, and we didn't cash in on them."
The loss was particularly crushing for No. 20 Wisconsin, which was trying to rebound from an upset loss to Cincinnati last week, and particularly frustrating for Alvarez, who couldn't even watch the game from the sideline. Hobbled so badly by a kneecap injury that he barely can walk, Alvarez was forced to sit in the press box high above the 79,037 screaming fans and coach using a set of headphones.
At alternate moments in the game, Alvarez pounded on the table in front of him and yelled at his team through a thick pane of glass. He cringed when Dayne was unable to give the Badgers that crucial first down with less than 12 minutes to go and didn't look much happier even after Wisconsin (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) made a final attempt to get back into the game by scoring a touchdown about 10 minutes later. When the Badgers' onside kick failed to get them back the ball, he didn't need to see the Michigan players jumping up and down on the sideline to know the game was over.
"We're a very banged-up football team right now, but we have a lot of guys who are playing with courage and heart," Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr said. "Do we have an improvement to make? Yes we do, but you can't tell me this is not an outstanding win in a tough place to play."
Both Michigan (4-0, 1-0) and Wisconsin lost their starting quarterbacks to minor injuries in the fourth quarter, although Michigan had been alternating quarterbacks throughout the game anyway. Fifth-year senior Tom Brady was at the helm for the first quarter, utilizing some key Wisconsin penalties to turn Michigan's first possession into a 90-yard touchdown drive.
In response, Wisconsin just stuttered. Wide receiver Chris Chambers, who missed the Badgers' previous two games with a broken finger, was having trouble catching the ball even as quarterback Scott Kavanagh (bruised elbow) was having trouble throwing it.
Dayne, recovering from a sprained ankle, had only spurts of success with the run, fumbling the ball with less than two minutes left in the first quarter. Michigan took advantage of the turnover by striking just two plays later, giving the ball to wide receiver David Terrell on a double reverse and then watching him weave through a maze of red jerseys over the 45 yards it took him to get to the end zone.
"They called it and it worked pretty well," Terrell said, referring to Carr and wide receivers coach Erik Campbell. "Even Coach Campbell could have walked into the end zone on that one."
The 14-0 score finally seemed to jolt Wisconsin out of its malaise, and although Chambers dropped what should have been a touchdown in the end zone, the Badgers seemed to gain some confidence from the ensuing field goal. The 14-3 score also energized the crowd.
This time, when Michigan again began marching toward the end zone, the Badgers put up a fight, preventing a third-down conversion and blocking a field goal attempt. They then set about the business of scoring their first touchdown, finishing a six-play, 70-yard drive with a 34-yard run from Dayne.
But despite cutting the score to 14-9 by halftime--the Wolverines blocked Wisconsin's extra point attempt--the Badgers stalled in the third quarter, even after their defense handed them excellent field position. The Wolverines did more with less, breaking open the game with a 91-yard touchdown drive before Brady had to leave the game "shaken up" on a hard hit.
After the game, Michigan linebacker Ian Gold was asked about Dayne and the yard-and-a-half that never was.
"I couldn't care less," he said. "Heisman-Schmeisman."