Wisconsin defeats USC in 2015 Holiday Bowl, 23-21

December 31, 2015

San Diego -- Led by a stout defense that surrendered less than 300 total yards, the Wisconsin Badgers came from behind Wednesday night to win the 2015 Holiday Bowl, 23-21, against the favored University of Southern California Trojans.  A third field goal by Wisconsin's Rafael Gaglianone with 2:27 left in the game proved to be the difference.

Wisconsin started out well, controlling the ball on the ground and mixing in timely passes from Joel Stave.  As a result, the Badgers dominated the time of possession in the first half for 20 minutes and 11 seconds.

After a rare scoreless first quarter in what traditionally is a high-scoring bowl game, the Badgers struck first with the help of a 21-yard, one-handed catch by Robert Wheelwright, setting up Rafael Gaglianone's 28-yard field goal. The Badgers added another touchdown with a Corey Clement 6-yard run less than five minutes later to put Wisconsin ahead, 10-0.

Once down by 10 points, USC then started to move the ball as well. USC's speed advantage at the skill positions, which for the most part was subdued, helped to convert a 4th-and-4 when Adoree Jackson caught a 33-yard pass to the Wisconsin two-yard line. USC then punched it in four plays later to cut the deficit to 10-7, as Justin Davis scored on a one-yard run for one of his two touchdowns in the game.

The Trojans were not able to keep their momentum going however, as Wisconsin scored the next 10 points, first on a field goal before halftime, and later, on a Stave four-yard touchdown pass at the 7:49 mark of the third quarter.  At the time, the Badgers had outgained USC by almost 200 yards. With the exception of two big plays, Wisconsin had essentially held Trojans' explosive playmakers in check.

Down 20-7, USC again began to generate offense. With the help of JuJu Smith-Schuster's 39-yard catch, the Trojans responded with a 2 minute and 15 second touchdown drive of its own, capped by a Davis four-yard run.

After a possession exchange, USC finally took the lead 21-20 with 10:19 left in the game, as Darreus Rogers caught Cody Kessler's seven-yard touchdown pass.

Wisconsin, however, did not fold. Using the same balanced formula of Stave passing and a steady ground attack -- sprinkled in with a few wildcat formations -- the Badgers and Gaglianone retook the lead, 23-21, on a 29-yard field goal with 2:27 left.

The Trojans had two more possessions, but never passed the middle of the field. The first of those USC drives ended with an interception by Sojourn Shelton with 1:44 to go, and the second possession stalled when the Trojans were unable to convert on a fourth down from the 50-yard line with 3 seconds remaining.

Ultimately, the Trojans never controlled the game, either offensively, where there were too many three-and-outs, or defensively, as time and again they let Badgers extend their drives.

Much of the credit for the win should go to the Wisconsin defense and Holiday Bowl 2015 Defensive MVP Jack Cichy, who on one sequence had three consecutive sacks to force a punt on fourth down-and-forty.

The victory was Wisconsin's first win against USC.  The Trojans had won the previous six matchups between the schools.

By Christian Siagian
Contributing Writer for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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