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Outback Bowl: Wisconsin's rally comes up just short

After its 18-point second-half lead dwindles to three, Georgia runs out the clock (literally) to win 24-21.

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published January 2, 2005


TAMPA - Saturday's Outback Bowl was tough to define.

At times, it was ugly, a mix of missed tackles, poor blocking and badly overthrown balls. At times, it was weird, an Immaculate Reception look-alike and bobbled kickoff return that pinned Georgia inside its 1 and baffled most of the announced 62,414 at Raymond James Stadium.

But at the end, it was everything one could want.

With time winding down and the crowds from both teams cheering loudly, the game came down to one play. One play for Georgia to put it away. One play for Wisconsin to stay alive.

Facing fourth and 1 from the Badgers 15 with 1:38 left, Georgia put its fate in the hands of freshman running back Thomas Brown, and he delivered. On a rush to the left, Brown took advantage of a surge from his line and produced an 11-yard gain that sealed it.

Georgia 24, Wisconsin 21.

"I made sure I was patient and followed my blockers," Brown said.

The victory gave No. 8 Georgia (10-2) its third consecutive 10-win season and allowed its senior class to exit with a 42-10 record. Georgia was far from perfect, but it did just enough to avoid a collapse.

After Brown's 29-yard touchdown run with 6:33 left in the third quarter, Georgia led 24-6 and appeared to be on cruise control. Because No. 16 Wisconsin (9-3) had done very little offensively, there was nothing to indicate it was capable of turning things around.

But Wisconsin answered Brown's score with an eight-play, 88-yard drive spearheaded by quarterback John Stocco, who to that point had been mediocre at best.

Stocco capped it by completing a 19-yard touchdown to Darrin Charles, making it 24-13.

"I didn't think we played well," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "But I liked the way we competed and gave ourselves a chance."

Wisconsin's defense held. And the Badgers quickly moved to the Georgia 18 after a 39-yard pass from Stocco to Brandon Williams. But on third and 10, Stocco was sacked by All-America defensive end David Pollack. Mike Allen then missed a 37-yard field goal. Still, Wisconsin wouldn't fold.

And Georgia couldn't close the door.

After forcing another punt, the Badgers began at the Bulldogs 31 thanks to a personal foul. But again, the drive stalled, this time when Thomas Davis knocked the ball from Stocco's hands and Georgia's Jarvis Jackson recovered.

Wisconsin didn't flinch.

On their next possession, the Badgers marched to the Georgia 5. On first and goal, though, Pollack went unblocked and in one motion sacked and stripped Stocco.

"David Pollack was, as usual, fantastic," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

Pollack's play set off a wild celebration on the Bulldogs sideline, but it didn't last. Three plays later, linebacker Andy Crooks intercepted a David Greene screen pass and went the distance for an 11-yard score.

The Badgers' two-point conversion made it 24-21 with 4:13 remaining, and suddenly, the stadium was alive.

"That helped our momentum a lot," Crooks said.

Just not enough.

Georgia, as it has been prone to do during Greene's four seasons, regrouped just in time. But it wasn't Greene's arm that did the trick, rather some solid blocking and the running of Brown. At one point, Brown carried six consecutive times, three for better than 10 yards.

"We believed in the guy," Richt said.

Brown finished with a game-high 111 rushing yards. Greene, who ended his career with 42 victories, an NCAA record, threw for 264 yards and two scores, one to Fred Gibson and the other to fullback Jeremy Thomas on a pass that was tipped by a defender.

"We're thankful to get 10 wins," Richt said. "To me, that's a great season. I'm proud of our players and the job they've done."

Stocco was 12-of-27 for 170 yards but was sacked seven times (three by Pollack). Wisconsin's leading rusher, Anthony Davis, had 79 yards on 21 carries with most of his damage coming in the second half.

Defensive end Erasmus James, the Big Ten defensive player of the year, had two tackles.

"We lost to a very good Georgia team," said Alvarez, whose team lost its final three games. "Quite frankly, I think we overachieved this year."