Nearly a week removed from Wisconsin’s 20-19 victory over Arizona State, it still remains supremely ironic that in a contest full of special teams miscues, two of the biggest plays the Badgers will witness this season came in the kicking game.You know the plays:With the second half drawing to a close, UW kicker Phillip Welch miss-hit a squib kick-off attempt and instead sent a line drive with the hang time of a Shaq free throw straight to ASU returner Kyle Middlebrooks with plenty of turf in front of him to accelerate. Middlebrooks made one move, and appeared to be gone, with nothing but 80,000 groans spurring him on. Just like that and the Badgers would have lost the lead, lost momentum and potentially lost the season.Instead, backup cornerbacks Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson never give up on the play, with Southward slowing Middlebrooks down around the 20-yard line and Johnson tracking him down one yard short of the end zone. Time expired in the half, and the 95-yard kick return was reduced to statistical noise.On the Sun Devils final drive of the game, quarterback Steven Threet – Badger Nation collectively shivers at the sound of his name – and ASU running back Cameron Marshall appeared to tie the game up with roughly four minutes left in regulation. Marshall capped the 77-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown plunge and all that was left was the point-after attempt to tie the game at 20 apiece. (Here it should be noted that the “Punt, Pass, Kick” contestant at halftime successfully made his extra point attempt.)Instead, senior captain and Jay Valai comes hurdling in and rejects the Thomas Weber PAT attempt, giving the Badgers a one-point lead they would hold over the next four minutes.Head coach Bret Bielema provided these words of wisdom (no sarcasm) during the post-game interviews:“I have brought up and emphasized to those guys – I have been in college football since 1992 – and every season I reflect back on, whether it is a special season, so-so or whatever, there is a handful of plays that determine a game, which determine a season,” he said.An insightful quote from a man who usually revels in the tried-and-true clich?s to be sure. But more importantly, it got me thinking: What plays would Bielema say defined his four previous seasons as Wisconsin’s head coach? Would they be game momentum swinging, all-out effort plays? Or perhaps feats of athletic achievement that would make a Gatorade ads developer swoon? Maybe a subtle, doing-the-small-things effort, like a wide receiver blocking down field or a play-fake run to perfection?In absence of Bielema’s actual list, here is an offering of a play (or plays) for each season that defined the year.2009 Season: Tolzien starts season with a bangPerhaps I am taking the easy way out. But it just seems like no other play from 2009 tops quarterback Scott Tolzien’s 80-yard bomb to Isaac Anderson on the first play from scrimmage on his first career start on the first game of the year.Outside of those who witnessed Tolzien dominate the quarterback competition in fall camp, there was plenty of doubt in Madison if the no-name junior signal caller would be able to cut it. With foreshadowing that would make the fiercest literary critic proud, Tolzien put the naysayers quickly to rest with the teardrop to Anderson.You might not have heard it over the thunderous applause, but 80,000 sighs of relief were expelled in Camp Randall that game.2008 Season: Beckum’s illegal formation penaltyThe ugliest play of the ugliest season.Michigan scored 27 consecutive points to overcome a 19-0 halftime deficit, but the Badgers still may have been able to force overtime if star tight end Travis Beckum minded his X’s and O’s. Split out wide on a two-point conversion try, Beckum lined up at the line of scrimmage, covering the tight end, thus making him an ineligible receiver. Beckum caught the two-point conversion pass, but the play was nullified from the veteran’s rookie mistake. As the football gods decreed, the Badgers were unable to convert on their second attempt.The 2008 version of Badger football featured an undisciplined, often unmotivated and unsightly team to watch. No play better sums this up than Beckum’s mental misstep.2008 Season Part Deux: Cal Poly PATNo good thrashing of the 2008 Wisconsin football team would be complete without bringing up Cal Poly.Three missed extra points. Overtime to an FCS school AT HOME. Bielema may have been an Andrew Gardner away from losing his job.2007 Season: Donovan naked bootlegAgainst UNLV, down one point, Tyler Donovan needed just one play to give the Badgers the lead and the game. Everyone went right and he went left, having just enough legs to get to the end zone from 29 yards out, before being hit and spun around like a top.Go ahead, YouTube it. The video quality isn’t strong, but the screams pretty much sum up that moment.The season wasn’t always (or often) pretty, but neither was Tyler Donovan. Still, he did what he needed to do to win, and that shouldn’t be discounted.2006 Season: The Ikegwuonu hustleThe Badgers were the big, slow, plodding team from the Big Ten and Arkansas had more speed from their student managers than Wisconsin did on their roster. Right? That was how this matchup was supposed to go down.And it nearly started like that. Heisman finalist running back Darren McFadden ripped off a 45-yard run on the opening drive of the game, looking like the Badgers would be down 7-0 early. Cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu altered that plan, however, chasing down McFadden and taking him to the ground at the nine-yard line. Arkansas settled for a field goal that drive, and missed from 30 yards out.It was everything Badger fans wanted. Hustle. Grit. Tenacity. And it gave Bielema 12 wins in his first season as head honcho.2006 Season Part Deux: Yeah, we have Joe ThomasPerhaps not an epic season defining play in many minds, but it sure stood out to me.Against Northwestern, P.J. Hill gave Wisconsin the lead on the second play of the game with a 60-yard touchdown burst.Of course, burst might not be the right word. Stroll is perhaps more like it. Because Hill had Mr. Everything Joe Thomas leading the way, and no one, absolutely no one got the better of Thomas. On this particular play, Thomas knocked over the defensive end immediately to his right, took down the outside linebacker and chased the safety about 30 yards down field before clearing him away as well.A defining play for Wisconsin’s defining player.Michael can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on twitter at @michaelbleach.
Bleach: Defining the Badgers, 1 play at a time