Badgers’ opening win isn’t without mistakes
The players won’t need to review the video of the 12th-ranked Badgers’ 41-21 victory Saturday night to understand that despite the comfortable margin of victory, mistakes were made that could result in a loss against a more formidable opponent.
“Better Game 1 than down the road,” senior strong safety Jay Valai said. “If we can learn from adversity like that and respond and build off it, it is a great thing.”
Although quarterback Scott Tolzien and wide receiver Nick Toon had costly turnovers that led to two UNLV touchdowns, the Badgers received a tremendous effort from their defense, scored 24 points in the decisive third quarter, rushed for 278 yards and suffered just one minor injury, a sprained right shoulder by linebacker Chris Borland.
“I told the guys on Thursday one thing we can’t simulate during practice is adversity,” Bielema said after improving his record to 39-14. “Things go well, and then you have adversity individually or as a unit. At halftime we’re sitting in a game that I thought we were really fairly dominant, but two plays take away from that.
“I explained to our guys that every play matters. I
really liked their response in the second half. I thought our defense rose to the challenge.”
Early on it appeared UW wouldn’t face much of a challenge from the Rebels.
The Badgers opened the game with a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown march that consumed 7 minutes 37 seconds.
John Clay (17 carries, 123 yards, two touchdowns), who needed IV treatment Friday because he was dealing with illness, rushed seven times for 40 yards and a touchdown on the drive as UW rushed on 12 of its 14 plays. Tolzien (15 for 20 for 197 yards) went 2 for 2 for 16 yards on the drive, both times converting third-down plays to keep the drive alive.
On the second possession, Tolzien and wide receiver David Gilreath hooked up for a 45-yard gain on first down to the Rebels’ 1. Tailback Montee Ball (16 carries, 79 yards and two touchdowns) scored from a yard out two plays later to help UW take a 14-0 lead with 4:32 left in the quarter.
“He ran a really good route,” Tolzien said of Gilreath, “and it was a good play-call.”
A huge mistake by Tolzien gave the Rebels life.
On first and 10 from the UW 15, Tolzien forced a pass to Toon along the right sideline. Junior cornerback Will Chandler stepped in front of Toon for the easy interception and strolled 19 yards into the end zone with 1:56 left in the quarter.
UW responded with a 77-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard field goal by Philip Welch with 10:13 left in the half.
Then came Toon’s miscue.
On third and 10 from the UNLV 22, Tolzien found Toon over the middle inside the Rebels’ 5.
Cornerback Deante’ Purvis knocked the ball out of Toon’s right arm though, and Chandler scooped up the loose ball at the 4. He raced 82 yards to the UW 16 before being dragged down by wide receiver Isaac Anderson.
Quarterback Mike Clausen lofted a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Phillip Payne on the next play to help the Rebels pull within 17-14 with 1:08 left in the half.
Bielema saluted Anderson’s effort on the fumble return, made it clear he didn’t like to see the defense allow the quick score and chastised Toon for being sloppy with the ball.
“As a head coach you see things,” he said. “On the play before where he lost some yardage he was real careless with the ball. I said something right there. The next time he got the ball was the fumble.”
Bielema and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst gave passionate halftime speeches.
“We were beating ourselves, plain and simple,” Tolzien said. “We were moving our ball and shooting ourselves in the foot. Good teams don’t do that ... That will end up biting you in the tail if you let that happen.”
UW’s defense, which limited the Rebels to 12 yards in the first half and 217 total yards overall, sparked the 24-point third quarter.
Clausen found wide receiver Michael Johnson in the left flat for a short gain on the Rebels’ third offensive play of the half. Defensive end J.J. Watt hustled from the opposite side of the formation to strip Johnson. Free safety Aaron Henry scooped up the loose ball at the 20 and raced into the end zone for a touchdown with 13:35 left in the quarter.
“I definitely think it gave us some breathing room,” Henry said. “Our main focus coming out of halftime was that we need a turnover. …
“That turnover was crucial.”
Welch pushed the lead to 27-14 with a 33-yard field goal with 8:25 left in the quarter, and UW’s offense added touchdown drives of 58 and 78 yards to end any chance of an upset.
“Getting a win is always nice, but at the same time there are things we’ve got to continue to get better at,” Tolzien said. “You see how that swings the tide of the game. It will be a good thing if we learn from it.”
Jeff Potrykus writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
WISCONSIN 41, UNLV 21
First downs 23 10
Rushes-yards 50-278 27-112
Yards passing 197 105
Passes 15-20-1 10-26-0
Return Yards 2 37
Punts-avg. 5-45.2 8-34.4
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-1
Penalties-yards 5-35 4-30
Time of poss. 38:19 21:41
Wisconsin 14 3 24 0—41
UNLV 7 7 0 7—21
W—Clay, 5 run (Welch kick), 7:23. W—Ball, 1 run (Welch kick), 4:32. UNLV—Chandler, 19 interception return (Kohorst kick), 1:56.
W—FG, Welch, 20, 10:13. UNLV—Payne, 16 pass from Clausen (Kohorst kick), 1:08.
W—Henry, 20 fumble return (Welch kick), 13:35. W—FG, Welch, 33, 8:25. W—Clay, 16 run (Welch kick), 6:22. W—Ball, 16 run (Welch kick), 1:39.
UNLV—Stolden, 9 pass from Clayton (Kohorst kick), 12:42.
RUSHING—Wisconsin: Clay 17-123, Ball 16-79, White 11-59, Toon 2-10, Gilreath 1-8, Tolzien 1-1, Anderson 2/-2). UNLV: Clayton 9-59, Cornett 3-36, Cox 5-25, Randle 1-3, Trotter 3-0, Clausen 6/-11.
PASSING—Wisconsin: Tolzien 15-20-1-197. UNLV: Clayton 6-16-0-82, Clausen 4-10-0-23.
RECEIVING—Wisconsin: Gilreath 4-68, Toon 4-54, White 3-37, Jefferson 1-21, Ball 1-6, Pedersen 1-6, Kendricks 1-5. UNLV: Payne 4-71, Knutson 2-18, Mi.Johnson 2-9, Stolden 1-9, Trotter 1/-2.