Badgers toss complete game
MADISON Call it desperation, call it frustration, call it getting back to “Wisconsin football.”
Whatever the University of Wisconsin players were feeling, a lot of bad memories from the past two weeks were quickly erased with a 44-3 trampling of Northern Illinois on Saturday.
“When the offense gets rolling, and the defense is pushing the three-and-outs every series, it’s definitely a great feeling,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “Hopefully we can play like this more often.”
The Badgers (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) needed a so-called “complete game,” which means getting a solid effort from the offense, defense and special teams.
True, it doesn’t prove as much coming against an injury-riddled opponent in NIU (1-7, 0-4 MAC), but the Badgers will take it.
“We talked about making this a Big Ten football game,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said. “We wanted to be the aggressors in this ball game. I think from the opening snap to where we finished out there today, we did that.”
Offensively, P.J. Hill returned to form as one of the most fearsome runners in the nation, rumbling for 184 yards and two scores on 21 carries. His spinning, tackle-breaking 72-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second series was the longest of his career.
“You never know when you’re going to get that opportunity,” Hill said “When it comes, you’ve got to take advantage of it, and that’s what I did.”
Quarterback Tyler Donovan wasn’t called on to do much, going 11-for-19 for 91 yards. The passing highlight may have been completing a pass to Paul Hubbard, UW’s opening game starter who hadn’t played since Sept. 8 at UNLV.
Wisconsin’s defense hasn’t been in rhythm all season, but finally found a way to put it all together Saturday. The Huskies didn’t get a first down until just over a minute remained before halftime. NIU was stuck in negative yardage for most of that first half, and amassed just 99 yards and one field goal on the day.
“You notice the level of intensity that we played with today,” Casillas said. “I think all our guys brought that passion that I don’t think we’ve been seeing, especially the last two games that we lost. We started off with a lot of energy and passion, and that carried through all four quarters.”
The Badger defense has also struggled to force turnovers, but safety Shane Carter took care of that with two interceptions, including one return that nearly went for UW’s first defensive score of the year. Carter thought he had a touchdown, but the officials ruled he stepped out at the 4-yard-line.
“I looked down and saw one guy (to beat), so I tried to avoid him, and they said I stepped out,” said Carter, who has four of the Badgers’ five picks this season. “Wish I could’ve gotten it, but just couldn’t.”
And David Gilreath continued to make strides as the all-purpose return man. The true freshman was a threat to bring back a touchdown on nearly every return, finishing with 155 total return yards.
“David gained some confidence back there,” Bielema said. “There’s 10 other guys who are executing for him too, I thought there was a really good job by the punt return team.”
Taylor Mehlhaff was also perfect on three field goal attempts, from 32, 21 and 34 yards.
The Badgers were satisfied with finally getting over the hump and hope they can keep that rhythm when they start Big Ten play again next week against Indiana.
“Any win’s a good win,” Bielema said. “We went out and executed and had things happen the way we had practiced, and that was the overall difference.”
- Wisconsin again controlled time of possession today, holding the ball for 39 minutes, 37 seconds compared to NIU’s 20:23.
- Wisconsin scored a season-high 31 points in the first half. This was the sixth time since the start of the 2005 season that the Badgers have scored at least 30 points in a half. The last time the Badgers scored this many in the first half dates back to Sept. 30, 2006 when Wisconsin scored 35 in the first half at Indiana.
- Wisconsin has won 12 straight games—and 23 of the last 24—at Camp Randal Stadium.