PASADENA, Calif.-"Football is a game of inches," the old cliché goes.
For the 2012 Rose Bowl, "inches and seconds" might be a little more adequate.
Start to finish, top to bottom, No. 10 Wisconsin (11-3) and No. 5 Oregon (12-2) put together an electric evening of offensive production the likes of which the annals of the Bowl Championship Series patriarch had never seen. En route to scoring a Rose Bowl-record 83 total points, the Badgers and Ducks were never separated by more than seven points, and only two of the 13 total scores did not either tie the game or change the lead in Oregon's 45-38 victory.
"The game was basically 0-0 the whole game," UW senior quarterback Russell Wilson said. "No matter if the score was 5-35 or 7-7, It's a 0-0 game. That's the way I look at it."
With the offenses so even throughout the night, multiple clock management situations ultimately went Oregon's way and went a long way to determining the outcome.
The most notable came in the waning moments. Faced with needing 87 yards in the final 16 seconds to tie the game, Wilson (19-25, 296 yds., two TDs, one INT) completed two passes for 62 yards. The second, a 33 yard completion to senior wide receiver Nick Toon (nine rec., 104 yds., TD), came with two seconds remaining. Wilson then tried to spike the ball at Oregon's 25-yard line when the referee restarted the clock, but time ran out and an official review ended the game.
"Obviously, with one second left, I think we could have capitalized there. As soon as the referee blew the whistle, I snapped it and spiked it," said Wilson, who became the first quarterback in program history to throw for 3,000 yards in a single season. "I didn't think there was anyway that two full seconds ran off the clock there."
"But it's one of those things where I always have to look at it again."
Clock management also hurt Wisconsin at the end of the first half, when the coaching staff thought Toon was called out of bounds at UW's 39 on a short reception with about 19 seconds showing on the clock.
However, the clock started when the ball was reset and Bielema did not take a timeout until the clock showed six seconds.
"You know, we saw the play go out of bounds, the officials signaled it," Bielema said. "We had seen (senior kicker Philip Welch) make, I believe, a 62-yard field goal in pregame warm-ups going into that exact same direction, so I told (offensive coordinator) Paul (Chryst) if we could get to the opposite forty yard line, we'd have an opportunity for a field goal."
Timeouts also haunted the Badgers in the second half, when the team burned two in the first five minutes of the third quarter. One came because when the offense lined up wrong. Bielema called the other when freshman Ducks wide receiver De'Anthony Thomas (314 all-purpose yards, two TDs) appeared to step out of the end zone on a kick return before deciding to kneel the ball. In order for the play to be ruled a safety, the ball must completely cross the goal line regardless of where the player is, and Bielema took a timeout to try to get an explanation.
"I was trying to ask the replay official on my sideline if I could challenge whether or not he came across the line and he was looking at me like I had three heads," said Bielema, whose bowl game record is now 2-4.
As a result, the Badgers had just one timeout to use when sophomore receiver Jared Abbrederis lost a fumble at Oregon's 27-yard line with under three minutes to go. Oregon managed to run the clock to 23 seconds before punting back to UW.
The fumble itself sat inches from the sideline before junior linebacker Michael Clay landed on the ball and slid out of bounds. That play was also reviewed and upheld after replays showed the ball clearly sitting in play.
This is not the first heartbreaker for Wisconsin this year. Losses against Michigan State and Ohio State featured last-second scores and, in East Lansing, Mich., an official review with no time left on the game clock.
"We lost three games, basically, with in a total of maybe 40 seconds," said Wilson, who finished the season with 3,175 yards and 33 touchdown passes. "It's pretty wild. All of those situations were all unfortunate. It's pretty crazy how each one of them panned out."
For the second straight season, the Badgers will travel back to Madison with a Rose Bowl loss in hand. A year ago, UW also used two costly timeouts in the second half, but still managed to be in position to tie the game late. In 2012, a fraction of a second kept Wilson from getting the same opportunity.
"I'm kind of tired of tears of sadness," Bielema said. "I wanted to come out here and experience tears of joy at some point."