Big Ten

Behind defense, Stave, Badgers win exciting Holiday Bowl

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Behind defense, Stave, Badgers win exciting Holiday Bowl

Wisconsin blew a 13-point second-half lead and needed to come back from a late deficit, but in the end, the Badgers emerged victorious in the Holiday Bowl.

Ahead, 20-7, in the third quarter, Wisconsin allowed USC to reach the end zone twice in a three-drive span, the Trojans taking a 21-20 lead with about 10 minutes to play. But Badgers kicker Rafael Gaglianone booted a 29-yard field goal with two and a half minutes left to give Wisconsin its second consecutive bowl win, this one by a score of 23-21 on Wednesday night in San Diego.

Wisconsin's defense — which entered the game with the country's No. 1 scoring defense, allowing just 13.1 points per game — did a generally great job bottling up USC, allowing just 286 total yards of offense. Badgers linebacker Jack Cichy, who didn't even play in the first half while serving a suspension for a targeting ejection in the regular-season finale, starred in the second half, at one point sacking USC quarterback Cody Kessler on three straight plays and later forcing a Kessler interception. The Trojans amassed just 65 rushing yards on the night.

That Wisconsin defense looked tremendous early on, and the first quarter closed without any points on the scoreboard. But Badgers quarterback Joel Stave led three straight scoring drives in the second quarter. First, the Badgers capitalized on solid field position, driving to the Trojans’ 10-yard line before settling for a Gaglianone field goal — a drive highlighted by a sensational one-handed catch by wide receiver Robert Wheelwright. Then Wisconsin went 74 yards in six plays, Stave throwing for 56 yards on the drive, including a 26-yard gainer to Austin Traylor that set up Corey Clement’s six-yard touchdown run. And the Badgers kicked another field goal in the first half’s final minute, capping a drive highlighted by Derek Watt’s 19-yard rush.

[MORE BIG TEN: Hawkeyes' Kirk Ferentz wins Dodd Award as nation's top coach]

The Badgers made it four straight drives ending in points in the third quarter, going 64 yards in 12 plays, Clement, Watt and Dare Ogunbowale gaining 39 yards on the ground before Stave’s touchdown pass to Traylor from four yards out to make it 20-7.

That score seemed to show Wisconsin dominating, but USC answered in impressive fashion. The Trojans went 55 yards in just five plays and just over two minutes, Kessler making a perfect pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a huge 39-yard gain. Four plays later, Justin Davis was into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game to again make the Wisconsin advantage just six points.

After a few strong series by both defenses — including those stunning three consecutive sacks by Cichy — USC opened the fourth quarter with a 12-play, 82-yard touchdown drive, featuring a 25-yard pass from Kessler to Tyler Petite and a big third-down conversion from Kessler to Smith-Schuster to set up a touchdown pass from Kessler to Darreus Rogers, the score that put the Trojans ahead, 21-20.

Wisconsin’s offense went through chaos on the ensuing possession. Tanner McEvoy streaked down the sideline and appeared gone for a score, but the officials ruled that McEvoy stepped out of bounds, despite replay seeming to show some distance between his foot and the sideline. Shortly thereafter, Stave took a shoe to the face, which drew blood, and had to come out of the game. Backup quarterback Bart Houston entered and had a snap rolled to him by the center before his third-down throw was way off and the Badgers were forced to punt.

Wisconsin’s defense did a tremendous job getting the ball right back, though, and Stave re-entered, throwing a pair of darts for back-to-back 17-yard gains to get the Badgers in the red zone. A few plays later, Gaglianone put Wisconsin back on top with the 29-yard field goal, making it 23-21 with two and a half minutes to play.

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Badgers gear right here]

That defense again stood tall, with Cichy striking again, getting into the backfield on the drive's third play and hitting Kessler’s arm as he threw, forcing an errant throw that was intercepted by Sojourn Shelton. The Trojans did get the ball back but couldn't get into field-goal range as time ran out.

The Badgers finished with nearly 400 yards of offense. Stave completed 16 of his 25 passing attempts for 183 yards and a touchdown in his final game at Wisconsin. Clement led the Badgers with 66 rushing yards on 19 carries, though he missed most of the second half after suffering an injury ahead of Wisconsin's final touchdown. Ogunbowale rushed for 50 yards on 13 carries.

Despite playing just half the game, Cichy finished as the Badgers' leading tackler, recording nine stops, including three tackles for loss, the three sacks.

The win rounded out the Badgers' season at 10-3. The bowl victory was the program's second straight after a win in last year's Outback Bowl. It was also the first postseason win for Paul Chryst as head coach of the Badgers.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.