At times Tennessee football fans have seen Erik Ainge look good this year. At times they've seen him…
Try "too little, too late."
Down by a touchdown at halftime, the Badgers were unable to correct their mistakes and make a comeback against the Volunteers.
Despite preventing Tennessee from scoring at all in the second half, Wisconsin simply didn't have enough time—or time-outs—in the fourth quarter when the Badgers got the ball back on their own 12-yard line with one minute and 26 seconds remaining.
"We just didn't have enough time," UW Ben Strickland said, who made his second career start at cornerback. "We played better in the second half and tried making a comeback, but I guess it was just too little, too late."
Or you could switch it around and say the Badgers simply didn't come out playing well.
Wisconsin quickly gave up a touchdown -- a four-yard keeper by Tennessee wide receiver Gerald Jones, who lined up under center in a shotgun set -- and found itself down by as many as 14 points in the first half.
Although the Badgers were able to make a comeback -- quickly answering two of the scores in the first half and pulling within four points in the second half, the slow start doomed them in the end. "That's just kind of a shocker -- usually we are the team that comes out swinging first," said UW linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who led the team with 10 tackles, four of which were for a loss. "Nothing can be done now -- it doesn't matter how good you finish if you don't start at all, and that's kind of what happened to us today."
Another cliché that would work is "it comes down to the little things."
The Badgers made some minor errors all game long that came back to haunt them.
Like clock management -- Bielema used up two time-outs early in the second half that turned out to be costly as the Badgers tried making a last minute comeback. Instead, Bielema tried going for a fourth and two instead of kicking a field goal when Wisconsin was on Tennessee's 10-yard line.
Or giving up third down conversions. Of the Volunteers' 18 third downs, they converted on nine of them, and most of them came when it mattered the most. Four of them came in the fourth quarter -- right when the Badgers were desperately trying to make a comeback.
"That's kind of what happened in this game, little things we didn't capitalize on down in those situations," quarterback Tyler Donovan said, who threw for one touchdown and ran for another.
Or you could just forget the clichés and say it was Tennessee quarterback and Outback Bowl MVP Erik Ainge who was the difference.
Ainge was 25-of-43 with 365 passing and two touchdowns and directed the Volunteers' offense as running back Arian Foster -- who ran for 1,162 yards on the year -- was limited to only 46 yards.
"At one point in the game, (Ainge) actually said to one of the players, ‘Keep blitzing,'" UW cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu said.
"It kind of made me a little nervous," Ikegwuonu added. "I'm out there like, geez, we can't get any pressure on him or we're running blitzes and he's still sitting back there with all day to throw the ball.
"He's a good decision maker, he knows where to put the ball … you need the quarterback to make a couple mistakes so it was really frustrating."