Instead of ordering quarterback Mike Samuel to take a knee and run down the clock, Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez chose to put the game in the hands of freshman tailback Ron Dayne.
The ball never got into his hands and an almost certain victory slipped away, too.
Dayne said he didn’t even know he was the intended ball carrier on the play in which he fumbled with 49 seconds remaining, leading to Northwestern’s implausible 34-30 comeback Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
“I thought Mike was probably going to keep it and run with it,” Dayne said.
Samuel said he thought the play call was clear.
“We practice that play thousands of times,” he said. “We didn’t make the exchange and that’s my fault.”
“Ron’s a very fierce competitor,” Alvarez said. “I’m sure he’s disappointed like everybody else. You can’t put a finger on any one guy.”
How about pointing it at Alvarez himself?
The stunned homecoming crowd of 79,576, fifth largest at Camp Randall, stood in silence after Northwestern strong safety Eric Collier recovered Dayne’s fumble at the Wisconsin 41.
Northwestern quarterback Steve Schnur scrambled for 21 yards, then hit D’Wayne Bates with a 20-yard scoring pass, and the Wildcats (6-1, 4-0) had their 12th straight Big Ten victory.
The Badgers (3-3, 0-3) lost for the third straight time to a ranked team they could have beaten if not for fourth-quarter breakdowns.
And for the second straight week, Alvarez’s decisions were called into question.
In Wisconsin’s 17-14 loss at second-ranked Ohio State last week, the Badgers failed to get into the end zone from a yard out on two straight plays. Alvarez approved an ill-timed option on third down and a wide right run on fourth with Carl McCullough, while 260-pound Dayne and all the brute force he can carry between the tackles stood on the sideline.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.