5 Thoughts - 2008 Outback Bowl
Wisconsin QB Tyler Donovan
Wisconsin QB Tyler Donovan
Posted Jan 1, 2008

From the pass rush to going with what works to a key late decision that went wrong, here are 5 Thoughts on the Tennessee win over Wisconsin in a fantastic 2008 Outback Bowl.

5 Thoughts - Outback Bowl

Tennessee 21 ... Wisconsin 17

Tennessee 21 ... Wisconsin 17
- 2008 CFN Outback Bowl Preview
- 2008 Outback Bowl History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More

By Pete Fiutak   

1. Sometimes you have to trust your defense. Wisconsin had a chance with just under seven minutes to play to cut a 21-17 lead to one, went for it on fourth down, and missed. Taylor Mehlhaff is one of the nation’s elite kickers and could’ve nailed anything from 50 yards and in to win the game on the late Badger drive, but instead the offense had to go for a touchdown. As Herm Edwards would say, you play to win the game, but it’s not like Badger QB Tyler Donovan had been on all game long to have gone for it on fourth down. Donovan wouldn’t have had to push the ball deep late in the game, leading to the game-sealing interception for the Vols. All Wisconsin would’ve had to do was go another ten to 15 yards and it would’ve likely won 23-21 had it taken the earlier points when it had the chance.

2. It’s all about the pass rush. Wisconsin didn’t get one on Tennessee QB Erik Ainge and paid dearly. Average quarterbacks can be elite when they get time to operate, while terrific passers, like Ainge, carve up even the best of defenses when they’re able to get comfortable. Ainge was able to set up, survey the field, and hit his receivers in stride way too often. Wisconsin wasn’t able to adjust and force him to hurry. On the flip side, Tennessee sold out to hit Donovan whenever it had the chance and was able to beat him up with shot after shot. Part of the reason was Donovan rolled out and exposed himself, but the main reason was Tennessee’s defense.

3. The game showed the value of a veteran quarterback. Ainge has been through the wars for four years, and he played like the calm, cool triggerman on third down after third down. Few things are more crushing for a defense than to give up third and long plays, and Wisconsin had to the boulder to the top of the mountain time and again only to see it come rolling back down. For the Badgers, Donovan took his licks, but was able to gut it out to hang in and lead his team for a full sixty minutes. While he didn’t make the plays Ainge did, he did enough to keep the Badgers in the game.

4. Always go with your fastball. In the NFL, offensive coordinators have to change things up series to series to match up with the defensive adjustments. In college, one team’s strength can be unstoppable. Even when the defense knows it’s coming, it can’t handle it. Wisconsin’s P.J. Hill was rumbling at will on the Volunteer defense. The other Badger backs couldn’t seem to get on track, but the big, tough Hill pounded his way for big yards every time he had the ball. So what does Wisconsin do? It takes the ball out of his hands and goes to the passing game. For Tennessee, Ainge was on fire early on and had the offense in a position for a sure score, but a trick play went awry on a bad handoff. It wasn’t needed. If Ainge had been able to keep throwing, the Vols would likely have gone in for a touchdown.

5. Will people actually realize that Tennessee didn’t win this game on speed over a perceived slower Wisconsin? The Badger defense chased down Tennessee receivers time and again, and there wasn’t any real problem with handling the overall Vol athleticism on either side of the ball. Wisconsin was just as fast and just as athletic, but it simply lost the game. It was a great battle between two good teams that went down to the wire, but on the overall scorecard, it’s an SEC win over a Big Ten team. That’s all that matters.