TAMPA, Fla. -- It might not have been one of the New Year’s Six bowl games, but No. 18 Wisconsin and No. 19 Auburn provided quite the undercard for the College Football Playoff semifinals. Wisconsin defeated Auburn 34-31 in overtime on Thursday in the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.
How the game was won: It was a wild second half, as the teams traded touchdowns on four straight possessions -- all which resulted in lead changes -- before Wisconsin tied the game on a field goal with seven seconds left in regulation. Shockingly, the Auburn defense held Wisconsin late in the fourth quarter and in overtime, forcing two field goals, the latter giving Wisconsin a 34-31 lead on the opening possession in overtime. But the Badgers’ defense rose to the occasion, too. The Tigers had 220 yards of offense on their last three drives of regulation, but Wisconsin pushed them back 3 yards in overtime. Daniel Carlson then missed a 45-yard field goal attempt to end the game.
Game ball goes to: It has to go to Melvin Gordon. In his final college game, Gordon rushed 34 times for 251 yards and three touchdowns. His second touchdown, which is documented below as the game's best play, will be remembered in Madison for a long time. It was Gordon’s final college game, and he nearly ended it by breaking Barry Sanders’ NCAA single-season rushing record; instead, he finishes second on the list with 2,587 yards -- 41 shy of tying Sanders. He leaves Wisconsin with the Big Ten record for average yards per carry for a career and with the Badgers’ record for rushing yards in a single season. He also staked his claim to being the best running back to come out of Wisconsin, which has an illustrious history at the position. The game ended with the Wisconsin crowd chanting “Melvin Gordon” between intermittent claps.
What it means: First, it means a win for Wisconsin’s veteran players, who have been through a lot in recent years. Both former coaches Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen blindsided the program when they left for what could be perceived as lateral moves. Wisconsin had also lost its last four bowl games, three of which were Rose Bowls. The veteran players who have been through the turmoil and tough losses deserved to win. Obviously, it is a big deal for the Big Ten as a whole, too. The only way to change the narrative is to win nonconference games against ranked teams, especially against the SEC.
Best play: Gordon was already having a terrific game, but he cemented another #MelvinMoment, as the Badgers like to call them, on a fourth down in the third quarter. Trailing Auburn by three on fourth-and-1, Gordon burst through the line of scrimmage and met Jermaine Whitehead about 10 yards downfield. He juked Whitehead, giving him the angle and then began to outrun Whitehead. Whitehead caught up with Gordon around the 15-yard line, but Gordon stiff-armed Whitehead all the way to the end zone for a 53-yard TD that gave Wisconsin the lead.