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Badgers rumble past Akron

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Associated Press
August 30, 2008
— MADISON—No. 13 Wisconsin’s game plan couldn’t have been much more straightforward going into Saturday’s season opener against Akron: A heaping helping of P.J. Hill, P.J. Hill and more P.J. Hill.

And it certainly worked early on. The Badgers’ bulldozing running back rambled for 108 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter, on his way to 210 yards and two scores for the day.


But Wisconsin’s plans hit a slight hiccup when Hill fumbled on the goal line, helping Akron rally to within a touchdown at halftime. The Badgers then scored on their first two possessions of the third quarter and went on to put the pesky Zips away 38-17.


„We were in a position when it was 17-0, and everybody’s saying, ’Oh, that’s just what we do,“’ Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. „I don’t know if there was the urgency in the second quarter. But they restored the roar in the third.“


It was the second career game of more than 200 yards rushing for Hill, who gained more than 1,200 yards in each of his first two seasons despite nagging injuries.


The Badgers came pretty close to having three 100-yard rushers Saturday — backup running back Zach Brown added 87 yards and a touchdown and John Clay had 71 yards and a touchdown — but Hill is still the backbone of their offense.


„You want to show them that it’s going to be a long day,“ Hill said. „It’s not going to be easy. Badger football — we play physical football, straight at you. Nothing too fancy. Eventually it’s going to wear you down.“


But not without a little drama.


Trailing 17-0, Akron used a shotgun spread formation — an offensive trend that gave Wisconsin’s defense fits last season — to put together a 10-play, 72 yard drive that ended with Chris Jacquemain’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Merce Poindexter to cut Wisconsin’s lead to 17-7.


After a long kickoff return and face mask penalty, the Badgers got the ball back at the Akron 18-yard line. They ran Hill three straight times — and he fumbled as he stretched toward the goal line on his third carry, sending the ball bouncing out of the end zone and giving the ball back to Akron.


„I was just being competitive,“ Hill said. „I should have known better than reaching with the ball.“


The Badgers forced a punt and drove to the Zips’ 6-yard line. But new Badgers starting quarterback Allan Evridge was intercepted by safety Brian Williams, who ran the ball back to the Badgers’ 38-yard line with 22 seconds left in the half. After a field goal, Akron trailed 17-10 at halftime.


„We were excited,“ Jacquemain said. „We closed out the first half pretty well. We were in it at halftime and we were excited coming out for the second half. It just fell apart for us.“


Hill broke free for a 34-yard run on Wisconsin’s first possession of the second half, then ended the drive by plunging into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to put Wisconsin ahead 24-10.


Akron running back Dennis Kennedy fumbled on the first play of the Zips’ next possession, and the Badgers drove for a 2-yard touchdown by Brown to take a 31-10 lead with 6:20 left in the third quarter.


Akron coach J.D. Brookhart said his team made too many mistakes to pull off an upset.


„We’re going to have to play extremely well, and they’re going to have to make some mistakes to have that opportunity,“ Brookhart said. „They did make those mistakes, but we didn’t take advantage of them, and then (had) a couple momentum shifts early in the second half that didn’t help us.“


And Akron needed to slow down Wisconsin’s running game more than they did.


„I thought our effort was good today,“ Brookhart said. „Our inexperience and youth showed. Obviously up front defensively, they handled us pretty well and wore us down. I bet they do that quite a bit this year.“


Bielema said the Badgers presented a „unique problem“ that Akron wasn’t likely to see in the Mid-American Conference, making Saturday’s game hard to prepare for.


„They’ve got some playmakers,“ Bielema said. „I think that quarterback is a good football player. He missed some throws there, but hopefully we had something to do with that.“


Evridge also missed a few throws in his debut as the Badgers’ starter, and two of them could have been particularly costly — his second-quarter interception and another one that nearly was picked off near the end of the first quarter. Evridge watched in relief as Akron safety Tyler Campbell dropped the ball with nothing but space between himself and the other end zone.


Evridge was 7-of-10 for 75 yards with a touchdown and an interception.


„I think I did fairly well,“ Evridge said. „I handed off the ball all right.“



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