PASADENA, Calif. -- From Wisconsin's first play, when Montee Ball ripped off a 40-yard run with the vast purple throng in the Rose Bowl gulping at once, to its final one, when TCU linebacker Tank Carder vaulted himself into school lore with the biggest pass bat-down in program history, the Horned Frogs never flinched.
Once the smoke from record-setting offensive fireworks in the first quarter cleared and the 97th Rose Bowl settled into mano-a-mano battles, it was third-ranked TCU that dictated terms on all fronts for a 21-19 victory over the mighty Big Ten co-champion and fifth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers.
Carder's play of the game on Wisconsin's two-point conversion attempt with two minutes to play prevented the Badgers from tying the score and sealed the biggest triumph for TCU since the program's last run to perfection in 1938.
TCU coach Gary Patterson was concerned about how this one would be chronicled. Would a TCU win be passed off as lucky? Or worse, excused away as Wisconsin simply not bringing its A-game? Since he arrived at TCU 13 years ago as defensive coordinator, Patterson said, that's the way it's always been.
No more. Across the country, Patterson's 10th version of the Horned Frogs, unbeaten and untied at 13-0, will be hailed as a worthy Rose Bowl champions and offered as more damning evidence against BCS tyranny.
"It's like anything else in college football or anything else in life," Patterson said. "There is a set of rules of how it is and right now this is the way it is. I've never been a whiner. I've never been somebody that's been out there griping about how it is and I'm not going to start now."
And Patterson's top-ranked defense didn't whine or gripe when the Badgers busted them in the mouth on their opening drive. Bell got the first carry and -- bang -- Wisconsin's behemoth offensive line opened a gaping hole that led to a run to the TCU 28-yard line.
But the Frogs held and forced a field goal. They'd force two more in the first half, with Wisconsin missing one attempt. Throughout, TCU played the ultimate game of bend-but-don't-break, surrendering 385 yards but just 19 points, and only nine over the final three quarters.
"That's definitely what we pride our defense on. That's what Coach P always talks about," Carder said. "Our defense can bend, but don't break. I feel like holding them to those two field goals kind of changed the whole tempo of the game."
On the other side, senior quarterback Andy Dalton avenged the personal pain of last season's Fiesta Bowl loss with an efficient, near-flawless game through the air (15-for-23, 219 yards, one touchdown) and on the ground (nine carries for 28 yards, one touchdown).
Despite having the football for just 1:30 in the second quarter because Wisconsin's powerful offensive line had buried the Frogs' lighter defensive line, TCU still held a 14-13 lead at halftime.
"It was a real calm feeling," senior safety Tejay Johnson said of the halftime locker room. "We were just told to play TCU football."
As long as the Frogs could get the football, they could move it, leaving this game up to Patterson's defense. Even Patterson had tried to hype the real matchup as being the Frogs' offense against the Badgers' defense, but forget that.
Wisconsin's defense was the only non-elite unit on the field. This game would come down to the original hype: the Badgers' brute force up front against the Frogs' defensive speed. As much as this game was a referendum on whether TCU and any other little sister of the poor belonged in such a big game, perhaps even Patterson's chops on such a national stage were under examination.
"I think he was real excited. He was salivating," linebacker Tanner Brock said of Patterson as he prepared for the Badgers.
Wisconsin averaged 67 points in its last three Big Ten games. It was playing as well as anyone in the country and as each day passed, the size of its offensive line and the brutality of its rushing attack seemed to grow to mythical heights.
"All we'd been hearing about is how big they are and how much more weight they have on their line on average, and we just knew we were coming in here with speed," Carder said. "Because I feel like speed beats power any day."
It certainly did in the third quarter with Wisconsin facing third-and-6 on the TCU 37-yard line after starting at its own 5. Dalton and the Frogs opened the quarter with a composed, 71-yard march into the end zone to extend their lead to eight and the Badgers were again building momentum of their own.
Carder, on a blitz, blasted into the backfield and crushed Badgers quarterback Scott Tolzien to force a punt. Wisconsin started its next drive at the 3 after a sensational TCU special-teams play. The Badgers punted after three plays netted 9 yards.
Wisconsin returned to its roots on its next possession, turning to the fresh legs of John Clay. With two minutes to go, a tie score was a conversion away. Yet another surprise came when Wisconsin broke the huddle in a shotgun, spread formation.
"I thought they were going to come out and run the ball," said Johnson, who shook off a missed third-down tackle that kept the drive alive at the Frogs' 19. "When they came out in the spread, it really surprised me."
Patterson said the Badgers made the right call. He dialed up a blitz and Wisconsin tight end Jacob Pedersen sat in the end zone wide open. Tolzien's pass never made it to him. Carder bounced off a blocker, jumped up and swatted it down.
"We were lucky Tank was in the game," Patterson said, "and knocked the ball down."
Lucky? That's not how TCU's triumph in the 97th Rose Bowl will be chronicled.