"When we're getting double-teamed, we gotta anchor that down," said Frogs nosetackle Cory Grant two days before the game. "If we get pushed back, there'll be seams opening up all over the place."
He got that right. Barreling through a picnic-table-sized hole, running back Montee Ball gashed TCU for 40 yards on Wisconsin's first play from scrimmage. But that also ended up being the Badgers' longest play from scrimmage; the Frogs "settled down," said Daniels, and held Wisconsin to a field goal on the opening drive. And Patterson had come to this realization: "We couldn't just play our base defense," he admitted in the locker room 45 minutes after the game. "We had to get another guy to the party."
Translation: Patterson had to dial up more blitzes—on "60 or 70 percent" of TCU's defensive plays, according to linebacker Tank Carder, the game's defensive MVP. That hadn't been the Frogs' personality this season, but Patterson had no choice. "That's the only way you can be 50 pounds per man lighter and still slow those guys down," he said. The slanting and movement and blitzes would wrong-foot the Badgers, Patterson hoped, "because no one in the Big Ten really blitzes or moves or slants" with anywhere near the frequency or effectiveness of the Frogs. With a month to prepare, TCU's defenders had spent time in every practice preparing new blitzes.
At the first meeting after the Frogs learned that they were Pasadena-bound, Patterson told his players they would return from semester break on Dec. 24. They would practice the day before Christmas and the day after before flying to California. Some of the team's elder statesmen objected. Speaking for their teammates, they told the coach they wanted to come in on the 22nd. This was a team that had spent a year smarting from its lackluster performance in its previous appearance in a BCS bowl, last year's 17--10 loss to Boise State in the Fiesta.
"That drove us more than anything this season," says quarterback Andy Dalton. "We needed to get back to [a BCS bowl] and win it."
That wouldn't have happened without Dalton, who arrived on TCU's Fort Worth campus as an afterthought—he started only one full season at Katy (Texas) High—and will leave as the winningest quarterback in school history. Dalton's 42 victories are 13 more than Slingin' Sammy Baugh's.
While they differed in every other manner, TCU and Wisconsin fielded highly similar signal callers. Both Dalton and Tolzien are 6'3", both are seniors, both are often described as adept "managers" of the game. While Tolzien is more efficient—he came into the game leading the nation with an uncanny 74.3 completion percentage—Dalton is the better runner. In the biggest game of their careers, the major difference between them was that Dalton finished drives. He answered Wisconsin's opening field goal with a pretty 23-yard touchdown pass to wideout Bart Johnson. Then, near the end of the first quarter, Dalton's perfectly placed 44-yard pass into the outstretched hands of streaking wideout Josh Boyce set up TCU's second touchdown, a four-yard scamper by the quarterback.
The Frogs never did fully contain Wisconsin's rushing attack. (The Badgers ran for 226 yards.) But they disrupted it. "We knew they were gonna drive the ball on us," said Carder. "The key to surviving those blows was to make 'em kick field goals. Coach P told us all week if we could [do that] we could win the game." Indeed, in a game in which it had just eight possessions, Wisconsin attempted three field goals and made two.
Moments after emerging from the showers and pulling on his team-issued white warmups, Carder noticed a red stain blooming on the fabric just below his left knee. Rolling up the cuff of his pants, the junior from Sweeny, Texas, discovered that he was still bleeding from a cut high on his shin. "Whatever," he said, too spent to care. "It's all good."
Carder then held up his right arm to show another minor wound: a pebble-grained abrasion on the inside of his biceps. "That's where it hit me," he said.