MADISON, Wis. — Last week, the Utah State special teams units were a major factor in the Aggies' victory over rival Utah.
This week, the Aggies' special teams were a big disappointment.
Wisconsin, ranked No. 22 in the coaches' poll, came back from 11 points down at halftime thanks to a punt return for a touchdown and taking advantage of good field position on poor punts as the Badgers eked out a 16-14 victory at Camp Randall Stadium.
"An extremely tough loss, no question about it," Utah State coach Gary Andersen said. "Had an opportunity to win against a quality opponent. We expected to win when we walked in here and we didn't get it done. They made one more play than we did."
"Very excited to get a win," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "I knew that they maybe didn't play as well as they could in certain phases. But I also know it's very hard to get a win. A lot of credit goes to Utah State. I think that's a very good football team that obviously beat and has hung tight with all these other people, all the things we kept hearing about."
Utah State (2-1) had an excellent chance to steal a road victory in a hostile environment. The Aggies got the ball down to Wisconsin's 15-yard line with 59 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and a shot to win the game. After a pass interference call pushed the ball back to the 30, the Aggies had to spike the ball at the 19 with just 11 ticks left.
The Aggies brought in kicker Josh Thompson, who after a Wisconsin timeout pushed a 37-yard field to the right of the goal post. There was a big exhale in Madison.
Utah State running back Kerwynn Williams had a career night out of the back field with six catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. He had a tough time with the loss.
"It was really difficult for us as a whole, as a team," Williams said. "I thought there were points left out here on the field that we didn't execute correctly."
Andersen pinpointed 10 points left off the board, the missed field goal in the waning moments and a game-changer midway through the third quarter.
The Aggies, up 14-3, punted to Kenzel Doe, who fielded the ball at the Badgers' 18, weaved his way down the left sideline and cut across the field into the end zone to cut Wisconsin's deficit to four points.
"It changed the game fully," Williams said. "Without that punt return, we would have won tonight."
It wasn't a very offensive-filled first half. Both teams combined for seven three-and-out possessions.
It didn't take the Aggies long to get on the scoreboard on their second drive in the opening quarter. After a first down got Utah State into Badgers' territory, Chuckie Keeton hit Williams in stride down the right sideline for a 39-yard touchdown. It was Williams' first career receiving touchdown.
"It was just a well placed ball by Chuckie Keeton and there wasn't really anybody out there covering me and I just caught it and ran in the open grass," Williams said.
Wisconsin (2-1) needed four first-half possessions to start clicking on offense. Wisconsin had first-and-goal at the 7 after Montee Ball got down to the 2. On third-and-goal, Aggies' Paul Piukala stood up the Heisman Trophy candidate for no gain. On the second play of the second quarter, the Badgers had to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Kyle French to make it 7-3.
Later in the half, the Badgers tried to take advantage of good field possession, starting at the Utah State 47, but Ball was stopped on third-and-1 on the 18. French then missed a 36-yard field goal attempt.
The Aggies' continued their strong first-half play on defense. Wisconsin was backed up on a third-and-13 from its own 33 when Zach Vigil forced O'Brien to fumble. Jake Doughty recovered the ball at the 20. Utah State took advantage of the short field. Keeton hit Matt Austin on an 11-yard fade for a touchdown.
Down 14-3 at halftime, Wisconsin had to turn to its special teams to score its first touchdown as Doe found the end zone on the punt return and it was quickly 14-10 Utah State.
After another three-and-out by the Utah State offense, Jaron Bentrude shanked a 19-yard punt, setting up the Badgers at the Aggies' 42. Ball, who had 37 carries on the night, scored on a 17-yard run. Utah State blocked the extra point to keep the Badgers' first lead at 16-14.
Utah State got the ball back with 1:38 remaining in the game with a chance to win the game. Keeton found Cameron Webb, who was double teamed, for a 36-yard play to the Badgers' 15. That's as close as the Aggies would get to the end zone and had to try the fateful field goal.
Along with Williams' 78 yards receiving, he added 43 yards on the ground as the Aggies rushed for 127 yards. Keeton led the way with 75 yards on 15 carries. Through the air, Keeton was 18-for-34 for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
The Badgers were led by Ball, who gained 139 yards on the ground. The Aggies' defense did a sound job in trying to contain the star running back.
"That was the game plan to stop 28," said Aggies safety Brian Suite, who had a career-high 13 tackles. "I thought we did a good job. Coaches drew up a great scheme."
"I thought the defense played well," Andersen said. "(Ball is) a tremendous back and they give him the ball a lot. They should give him the ball a lot and they should have continued to give him the ball a lot. … He got some yards, but I thought we gang tackled him and we were physical with him at the point of attack for the most part."
Utah State now needs to move on and get ready to play at Colorado State next week. However, it will be hard for the players to forget a tough loss.
"We've just got to realize that there's more games left in the season," Williams said. "This is definitely a tough loss and it will sit with us for a little bit and it will be a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the weekend, but we've got to move on and practice hard for this next game coming up."