Every football coach endures some wild finishes and devastating losses, but Wisconsin's Gary Andersen sure seems to have absorbed more than his share of them.
In previous episodes as Utah's defensive coordinator and Utah State's coach, Andersen could second-guess himself, credit the opponent or blame his own players (which he rarely did). But Andersen pointed to a clear target the Pac-12 officiating crew in the case of the Badgers' 32-30 loss at Arizona State.
"The kids didn't quite decide that one," Andersen said Tuesday during the Big Ten's media teleconference.
It may be a stretch to connect the officials' blunders at the end of Saturday's game to the issues that surfaced during the men's basketball tournament last March, but there's no doubt that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and the conference have another huge blemish to overcome. Scott previously addressed football officiating by making personnel changes, but Saturday's ending produced more problems.
Scott reprimanded the officials and promised other punishment, likely forcing them to miss a game or two of work. Yet anyone from outside the league who can cite a litany of questionable officiating in inter-conference games involving Pac-12 teams in recent years just will add this misadventure to the list. Whether via ASU's win or Wisconsin's loss, the game potentially could affect BCS selections.
After the Badgers seemingly positioned themselves for a 32-yard field-goal attempt, only to have time expire in a weird sequence of events, Andersen considers the outcome incomplete.
"To me, it's the game that never ended," he said. "I don't care what anybody says about that."
Here's what happened: The Badgers drove quickly from their 17-yard line to the ASU 13. In strategy Wisconsin had practiced, Andersen and former Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig instructed quarterback Joel Stave to take the snap, move to the middle of the field, kneel and place the ball then line up the offense and spike the ball to stop the clock.
Ludwig used those tactics with San Diego State last season, which resulted in a field goal that forced overtime at Nevada. But this time the officials dawdled while an ASU player jumped on the ball, and the last 15 seconds ran off the clock.
They obviously mishandled the situation. There's no guarantee the kick would have succeeded, considering some of Andersen's gut-wrenching defeats in Utah-BYU and USU-BYU games, in addition to USU's missing a game-winning field goal at Wisconsin last September.
"But I like our chances," said Andersen, who didn't like ASU coach Todd Graham's statement that "the best team won."
Graham said again Tuesday that ASU was "very deserving," pointing to the Sun Devils' 32 first downs to Wisconsin's 15, while saying ASU's own mistakes made the game close.
But there's no question the Devils profited from the biggest mistake of all.