TAMPA, FLA. – Wisconsin hoisted Barry Alvarez into the air for one more victory ride.
The school's career victory leader called it quits — again — after the 17th-ranked Badgers took down No. 19 Auburn 34-31 in overtime in the Outback Bowl on Thursday.
It took a strong farewell performance by Melvin Gordon, a 25-yard field goal in overtime, and Alvarez's steady leadership in the wake of the abrupt departure of former coach Gary Andersen to get the job done.
"I've had a couple of those, and I like them," Alvarez, the school's athletic director for the past 11 years, said after being doused with a sports drink and carried off the field after stopping a four-game skid in bowl games.
"It's a little uncomfortable afterwards, but I like them. And it's special for those seniors. It meant a lot to them. They won a lot of games here," Alvarez added. "They haven't won a lot of bowl games. So they put a lot into it, they bought into it, they gave us strong leadership when it was needed, and now they can enjoy it."
Wisconsin improved to 9-4 in bowl games coached by Alvarez. He led the Badgers to 118 victories over 16 seasons before retiring in 2005, and has answered a plea from players to return to the sideline twice in the past three seasons to guide the team in a January game after losing their coach — first Bret Bielema to Arkansas and then Andersen to Oregon State.
"Let me make something clear: I didn't want to coach these guys. I initially said I'd feel uncomfortable doing that again when they asked me. They asked me to sleep on it, that they would come back," Alvarez said, adding that he eventually agreed because "it's still about the kids."
And now that he's done it, and tasted winning again?
"That's it," Alvarez said without hesitation. "No más."
Gordon ran for an Outback-record 251 yards and three touchdowns. Rafael Gaglianone kicked the winning field goal on the opening possession of OT, enabling the Badgers (11-3) to rebound from a 59-0 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.
It was also a bounce-back outing for Gordon, who carried 34 times and scored on runs of 25, 53 and 6 yards to threaten Barry Sanders' FBS single-season rushing record.
The Wisconsin star, who has already declared he'll skip his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL draft, finished with 2,587 yards in 14 games — second most in FBS history. Sanders gained 2,628 in 11 games for Oklahoma State in 1988.
"He's one of the best running backs in the country, hands down," Auburn cornerback Trovon Reed said. "Before you play a guy, you're like: 'You've got to show me.' Today, he showed us that he's one of the best running backs in the country. Hats off to that guy. He will be a top draft pick."
Gordon finished with 29 rushing TDs, 32 overall. He conceded that he was motivated to do well, in part, by an Auburn player who questioned whether the Wisconsin running back would be as successful if he played in the SEC.
"It had me a little fired up, I'm not going to lie. I had to bite my tongue a little bit when I heard it," Gordon said. "But there's backs out there that's going to challenge you, and you've just got to step up to the plate, and I think I did that."