Not only did the Badgers, once ranked as high as fifth, end the season 9-4, they had snapped their streak of two consecutive bowl victories over Southeastern Conference opponents.
"You never want to end a season on a note like this," junior linebacker DeAndre Levy said. "It's going to be an extra-long offseason when you have a bad taste in your mouth."
That taste was especially bitter, given how much pride the Badgers take in bowl preparations, believing they have it down to a science. In fact, that's what they want to be a big part of the identity of the program.
The shocking thing was not the Badgers losing to Tennessee (10-4), but how poorly they played and how many mental mistakes they committed after all that preparation.
"We had how many procedure penalties?" right tackle Kraig Urbik said. "Missed assignments, all that stuff. I was very surprised we weren't focused (Tuesday)."
UW coach Bret Bielema aimed his frustration at the officials afterward, but it seemed misplaced. His team was not sharp and the buttons Bielema pressed didn't work, either.
The Badgers burned four timeouts, which proved costly at the end, because of poor communication and problems with the personnel on the field.
"It was just a miscommunication with personnel, nobody related the message," tight end Travis Beckum said.
After quarterback Tyler Donovan was temporarily knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a left knee injury after trying to slide and catching a cleat, the offense was late getting on the field because nobody knew if backup Allan Evridge or Donovan was going in the game.
"Tyler said he was good," left tackle Gabe Carimi said. "Allan wasn't sure if he was still going to go in, there was a lot of mix-up."
It was that kind of game for the Badgers, who also suffered a momentum-sapping fumble from receiver Paul Hubbard on their first possession at the Tennessee 30-yard line, following a 27-yard completion.
While some of that could be explained away from rust due to the layoff, there was no excuse for a defense that allowed two easy touchdown drives of 57 seconds and 1:40 on back-to-back possessions as the Volunteers took a 21-7 lead in the second quarter.
Most of the damage in the game was done by Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge, who was named the MVP after throwing for 365 yards and two scores.
"We came out here and basically laid an egg on defense in the first half," UW junior linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. "We're just lucky they didn't blow us out."
Donovan came back to lead a 70-yard drive late in the first half, resulting in a 4-yard touchdown pass on a bootleg to the right and throw back to the left corner of the end zone to senior tight end Andy Crooks.
While the defense buckled down and held the Volunteers scoreless in the second half, all the Badgers could manage was a 27-yard field goal by Taylor Mehlhaff, despite good field position.
"That's kind of what happened in this game, little things we didn't capitalize on," Donovan said.
The Badgers' two best chances came late in the fourth quarter. Trailing 21-17, Bielema elected not to attempt a field goal from the Tennessee 10 on fourth-and-2 with about 6 minutes left. The play prior was a 9-yard completion to Beckum and Bielema made the decision beforehand to go for it if it was fourth-and-2 or less.
Donovan rolled to his right and after his first two options were shut down, came all the way back across the field. He still could find nobody open and threw the ball out of the end zone as he was hit.
"It was a flood route with Travis and 'Hub,' " Donovan said. "They did a good job outflanking it and shutting it down. I tried to make something happen. Give Tennessee credit for shutting it down."
Donovan got another crack after a defensive stop, but it came from his 12, with 1:26 left and no timeouts.
"You'd like to have the timeouts," Donovan said. "It makes things a little easier on ourselves. That's the situation we were in and we had to deal with it."
Donovan completed four passes and had a first down at the Tennessee 36 with 38 seconds remaining. He had Hubbard isolated on Antonio Wardlow, a backup safety playing in passing situations due to Tennessee's academic suspensions. Wardlow made the interception.
"I knew they were going to try me sooner or later so when the ball was thrown, I made a move to the ball," Wardlow said. "With the ball hanging up that long I just knew I had to make a good catch."
Bielema didn 't blame Donovan for making the throw. "You can't fault a kid for thinking we had a shot in the end zone," he said.
Courtesy of Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal http://www.madison.com/wsj/home/sports/badgersFB/264994