Photo courtesy of Wisconsin athletics
At the turn of the millennium, Wisconsin had established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten.
The Badgers made consecutive Rose Bowls in 1998 and 1999 — winning both. Out west, Fresno State was becoming a force to be reckoned with in the WAC.
On this day 20 years ago, the Bulldogs let the college football world know that the gap between them and Big Ten contenders was not that wide. Fresno State gave No. 25 Wisconsin all it wanted, but a late field goal was the difference as the Badgers prevailed, 23-21.
Setting the Stage
As was the case with Barry Alvarez when he arrived at Wisconsin, head coach Pat Hill was transforming a Fresno State program that had not been used to winning. The Bulldogs had suffered through three straight losing seasons prior to Hill’s arrival.
After consecutive winning seasons, Fresno State knocked off a ranked Wisconsin team early in 2001 en route to an 11-3 finish. In Madison on Aug. 23, 2002, Fresno State looked to duplicate the feat. Following three straight winning seasons, Wisconsin was coming off a 5-7 campaign. The Badgers were ranked 25th for the contest.
Allen Wins It
Throughout the day, neither team led by more than seven. With nine minutes to play, Fresno State took its first lead since the second quarter with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Grady to Alec Greco.
The touchdown gave the Bulldogs a 21-20 lead, but with just over two minutes to play, Mike Allen’s third field goal of the day put the Badgers ahead for good, 23-21. Sophomore Jim Leonhard, who had two interceptions, sealed the win for Wisconsin by swatting away a fourth-down pass from Grady.
Anthony Davis powered the Wisconsin offense with 184 yards rushing. Matt Bernstein scored both touchdowns for the Badgers in the win.
Fresno State highlights:
Fresno State would get off to a rough 1-3 start with all three losses coming to teams from BCS conferences. The Bulldogs, however, bounced back to win eight of their final 10 games to finish 9-5. The strong finish included a win over No. 22 Colorado State and another over Georgia Tech in the Silicon Valley Classic to close the year.
Wisconsin would start 5-0, but hit a rough patch in which it lost six times in seven games. The Badgers would bounce back to have a winning season by beating Minnesota and finally, No. 14 Colorado, in overtime in the Alamo Bowl.
Fresno State and Wisconsin have played just four times, but the teams have been competitive against one another. The closest game between the two came on this day two decades ago.