Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas dashes along the sideline on a 64-yard touchdown in the third quarter. | Mark J. Terrill~AP
Updated: February 4, 2012 11:44AM
PASADENA, Calif. — If this is what the Big Ten and Pac-12 have in mind for their new partnership, bring it on.
Everybody knows Ducks can fly. Faced with that reality, the Badgers got off their tails and put on the kind of offensive show Midwesterners seldom bring to the Rose Bowl.
The result was a wild way to ring in the new year.
Oregon defeated Wisconsin 45-38 Monday in the highest-scoring game the Rose Bowl has ever seen. A
28-28 halftime deadlock also set a scoring record.
It was the first Rose Bowl win since 1917 for Oregon (12-2), which also snapped a two-game BCS-bowl losing streak. The Ducks, who are 2-4 all-time in the Rose Bowl, lost to Ohio State here two years ago and lost to Auburn in the national championship game last season.
‘‘Two teams battled; it could have gone either way,’’ Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. ‘‘We talked about having faith and being resilient and being fearless, and that’s what these guys did. When they had to make a play, they made a play.’’
For Wisconsin (11-3), which lost to TCU 21-19 in the Rose Bowl a year ago, it was another frustrating case of coming close without reaching the goal.
‘‘My guess is, if you don’t care who won, it was a pretty fun football game to watch,’’ Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. ‘‘But I’m kind of tired of tears of sadness. I want to come out here and experience tears of joy.’’
With Ohio State bowl-banned next year and Penn State having a devil of a time finding a coach, Bielema’s odds of returning soon seem good. The Badgers, who have made five Pasadena trips in 19 years, are looking more and more like prohibitive favorites in the Big Ten’s Fallen Leaders Division, even though quarterback Russell Wilson is a senior and junior running back Montee Ball is expected to turn pro.
If the Big Ten/Pac-12 alliance that was announced last week creates more blockbusters like this Wisconsin-Oregon Rose Bowl game, it should be a rousing success.
The plans call for the two leagues to square off more often in a variety of sports. Highlighted by 12 early-season nonconference football meetings, the alliance will boost the TV networks of both conferences. It is also expected to give the leagues another hedge against the growing trend toward super-conferences.
When the Badgers look back at what went wrong against Oregon, they’ll keep coming back to their two second-half turnovers. They were in this game until they flinched on those miscues.
The first, Wilson’s interception with 2:40 left in the third quarter, killed the Badgers’ momentum and set up Oregon for the touchdown that gave it a 42-38 lead.
The second, a fumble by receiver Jared Abbrederis with 4:06 left, was a dagger. After making a catch that would’ve given Wisconsin, which was trailing 45-38, a first down at the Oregon 27, Abbrederis was stripped. And the Badgers had run out of chances.
With Wisconsin’s loss, the Big Ten, which won only one of its five bowl games Monday, had another miserable New Year’s bowl experience. The league was 0-5 on Jan. 1 last year.
With one game left, Michigan’s matchup with Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday night, the Big Ten is 3-6 this bowl season. This will be the eighth time in the last nine years that the Big Ten has failed to post a winning bowl record.
Beyond the turnovers, Wisconsin’s other problem was the Ducks’ blinding speed, which turned little mistakes into whoppers.
In a dramatic display of that speed, De’Anthony Thomas went 91 yards for Oregon’s second touchdown, the longest rushing touchdown in Rose Bowl history.
The next time Oregon touched the ball, the 5-9, 173-pound freshman returned a kickoff 46 yards and Kenjon Barner caught a 54-yard TD pass from Darron Thomas. That’s 191 yards on three consecutive plays.
‘‘De’Anthony is special,’’ Bielema said. ‘‘We talked about tackling, but on a couple of plays, nobody put a hand on him. We didn’t even challenge them on some of their scores. Nobody can win doing that because they have the speed to outrun us if they get to that point.’’