Stepfan Taylor rushed for 89 yards and an early touchdown, Kevin Hogan passed for 123 yards, and No. 8 Stanford won its first Rose Bowl since 1972, beating the Badgers 20-14 on Tuesday night.
Usua Amanam made the decisive interception near midfield with 2:30 to play as the Pac-12 champion Cardinal (12-2) ended their four-decade drought in the Granddaddy of Them All with arguably the biggest bowl win yet during the long-struggling program's recent renaissance.
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"We knew this was going to be a battle, and we wouldn't expect it any other way," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "We know it's going to be tight, it's going to be close, and we're going to find a way to win. That's the way it's been all year."
Stanford clamped down on the Big Ten champion Badgers (8-6), who lost the Rose Bowl in heartbreaking fashion for the third consecutive season. Montee Ball rushed for 100 yards and his FBS-record 83rd touchdown, but Wisconsin managed only 82 yards in that scoreless second half.
With impressive defense of its own, Wisconsin still stayed in position for an upset in the one-game return of Hall of Fame coach Barry Alvarez, who was back on the Badgers' sideline in his red sweater-vest seven years after hanging up his whistle.
"This group of kids has been through a lot, and they competed extremely hard against a very high-quality team," Alvarez said. "We've played three very good football games (at the Rose Bowl). These guys played hard. In fact, most people would like to get here once. But we just didn't get it done."
Kelsey Young rushed for a score on Stanford's opening possession, and Taylor scored on the second. Wisconsin kept the Cardinal out of the end zone for the final 51 minutes, holding them to three points in the second half, but Stanford's defense didn't need any more help in the Cardinal's eighth straight victory.
"We knew coming in, it was going to be a physical game," Taylor said. "We knew they know how to play against power as well as us. They did a great job. It was our defense keeping us in the game that enabled us to get this win."
After winning the Orange Bowl two years ago and losing the Fiesta Bowl last season, Stanford earned its first conference title and its first Rose Bowl berth in 13 years. The Cardinal finished with 12 victories for just the second time in school history -- and the second time in the last three years.
The Cardinal ousted top-ranked Oregon on the way to the biggest season yet in the improbable surge of success started by Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck. Many Pac-12 observers expected a sharp decline at Stanford this season -- but Shaw and Hogan, who took over as the starting quarterback in November, have accomplished something even Harbaugh and Luck couldn't manage.
"I think it served as some motivation for us throughout the year," Amanam said. "I think it's just a testament to our program and how we train and prepare every season."
When Bret Bielema abruptly left Wisconsin for Arkansas after winning the Big Ten title game, Alvarez agreed to coach his fourth Rose Bowl before handing off his program to new coach Gary Andersen, who met with Alvarez on the field before the game.
But the Badgers' third straight Rose Bowl appearance ended in much the same way as the last two: With the offense failing to get the late score the Badgers desperately needed.
"This stings just as much, because we fell extremely short when we had the opportunity to win," Ball said. "We had numerous opportunities to capitalize on big plays, and we fell short. ... This is not the way we want to be remembered. Speaking for the entire senior group, this is not the way we wanted to go out."
Curt Phillips went 10 for 16 for 83 yards passing and that crucial interception for Wisconsin, doing more with 64 yards on the ground. Jordan Fredrick caught a short TD pass right before halftime, but no Badgers receiver had more than Jared Abbrederis' three catches.
And though Ball became the first player to score touchdowns in three Rose Bowls, the powerful back fell short of Ron Dayne's career Rose Bowl rushing record, swarmed under by waves of tacklers from one of the toughest defenses in the nation -- a defense that shut down the top-ranked Ducks in mid-November to pave Stanford's path to Pasadena.
Wisconsin returned to Pasadena in a much more roundabout way as the first five-loss team to make it, losing three overtime games and making the Big Ten title game only because Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible. The Badgers then steamrolled Nebraska to become the first Big Ten team in three straight Rose Bowls since Michigan in the late 1970s.
With the Rose Bowl filled with fans wearing the schools' near-identical cardinal-and-white gear, Stanford went up 14-0 on Taylor's 3-yard TD run just 8 1/2 minutes in. Wisconsin briefly got rolling behind Ball, who rushed for 296 yards in his first two Rose Bowls.
Stanford stopped James White inside the 1 on fourth down early in the second quarter after a touchdown run by Ball was wiped out by a holding penalty, but Ball scored on the next drive. The Badgers then mounted an 85-yard drive in the waning 2 1/2 minutes of the first half, with Phillips' 38-yard run setting up Fredrick's short TD catch to trim Stanford's halftime lead to 17-14.
After halftime adjustments, both defenses dominated the scoreless third quarter, allowing just three combined first downs.
Wisconsin's personal foul on a fair-catch punt return finally sparked Stanford early in the fourth quarter. Stanford got inside the Wisconsin 5 before stalling, and Jordan Williamson's short field goal put the Cardinal up by six points with 4:23 to go.
The Badgers got to midfield, but Phillips threw behind Jacob Pedersen, and Amanam easily made the pick.
"I just happened to be at the right place at the right time," Amanam said. "We were able to kind of seal the game on that one."