Wilson wows in debut, No. 11 Wisconsin rolls
MADISON Russell Wilson threw two touchdown passes and ran for another in his Wisconsin debut and Montee Ball scored four times to lead the 11th-ranked Badgers over UNLV 51-17 on Thursday night.
All the attention was on Wilson, the North Carolina State transfer who is using his last year of eligibility at Wisconsin in hopes of getting the Badgers back to the Rose Bowl or better.
Wilson shined, taking off on a 46-yard TD run that had him slipping into the end zone untouched just before halftime, then thanking every one of his offensive teammates on the bench after the play.
Even with Wilson, the Badgers (1-0) are built to run. Ball and James White overwhelmed the undersized Rebels (0-1) from the start in the hottest game in the 94-year history of Camp Randall Stadium.
Wisconsin's running game gave Wilson plenty of opportunities to pick UNLV apart, and the charismatic signal caller calmly went to the bench and sat under a giant fan flanked by a TV camera following his every move after each score. He finished 10 of 13 for 255 yards and had two rushes for 62 yards.
Ball caught Wilson's first TD pass as a Badger from 4 yards out.
In some ways it was a typical Wisconsin opener. The Badgers scored on their first drive of the season for the sixth straight year. In same ways, it was very different: the temperature at kickoff was 90 degrees.
Wisconsin made it 13-0 when Ball took a handoff, busted through two arm tackles and high-stepped to avoid Quinton Porter's desperation dive for a 22-yard touchdown. It was 20-0 when Wilson found top target Nick Toon for completions of 39 and 15 yards before White punched it into the end zone from a yard out.
Ball, who finished with 63 yards rushing, also scored on a pair of 1-yard runs, making it 51-3 midway through the third quarter.
UNLV, losers of 10 straight on the road, showed some of the same jitters that coach Bobby Hauck's squads have struggled with after he finished his first season 2-11.
New starting quarterback Caleb Herring was a notable exception with two second-half touchdown passes that cut the lead to 51-17 in the fourth. He kept plays alive with his feet and showed poise under relentless pressure, but didn't have many options and finished 18 of 27 for 146 yards.
UNLV failed to convert its first nine third-down conversions, and one second-quarter sequence highlighted the Rebels' struggles.
Wide receiver Phillip Payne committed a 15-yard personal foul for a late hit, center Robert Waterman snapped the ball over Herring's head for an 8-yard loss, Payne dropped a pass with no defender nearby and Nolan Kohorst pulled a 52-yard field goal wide left.
Following the busted opportunity, Wilson found Ball on a swing pass, and Ball zigzagged across the field, cutting it back against UNLV's Trent Allmang-Wilder for a 63-yard gain. Ball scored two plays later to make it 27-0.
Kohorst hit a 37-yard field goal, but Wilson dropped back to pass on the next possession, broke to the right and saw no pursuit behind him for his TD scamper as the Badgers led 37-3 at halftime.
Wilson has been a hot topic, dubbed Russellmania, since he arrived on campus in Madison.
Expectations are high that the 22-year-old can lead the Badgers back to a BCS game following their 21-19 loss to TCU on Jan. 1 despite losing six offensive starters, including quarterback Scott Tolzien.
Wilson joined Wisconsin after a stint playing minor league baseball for the Colorado Rockies and N.C. State's decision to move on without him despite his stellar numbers over three years, including a win over West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl last season.