Posted by Adam Jacobi
WISCONSIN WON. The No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers dispatched the UNLV Rebels Thursday night, 51-17, in front of a raucous crowd at Wisconsin's Camp Randall. Senior Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson was stellar in his much-anticipated Badger debut, completing 10 of 13 passes for 255 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions in little over a half of work. Meanwhile, RB Montee Ball had 130 yards from scrimmage and four scores, also seeing limited duty before taking the rest of the night off.
WHY WISCONSIN WON: Wisconsin won for the same reason it has over the last decade-plus: pure physicality. UNLV struggled all game long to maintain the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball, and once tailbacks like Ball, James White, and even freshman Melvin Gordon get a big lane, slowing down the Wisconsin attack is basically impossible. On the defensive side of the ball, Wisconsin struggled at times to keep UNLV from moving the chains, but the Rebels missed on their first eight thrid-down conversion attempts, and were stymied by missed field goals twice early in the game when the score was still close.
WHEN WISCONSIN WON: As soon as Montee Ball high-stepped into the end zone over a would-be tackler for his second score of the day. We were barely halfway through the first quarter when Wisconsin put together its second easy touchdown drive of the day, and the Badgers would roll up a 51-3 lead after only eight possessions before calling off the dogs.
WHAT WISCONSIN WON: For head coach Bret Bielema, today's game was a dream come true. His Badgers throttled UNLV early on and looked capable of hanging 70+ points on the beleaguered Rebels, but Bielema got his offensive stars out of the game early in the second half, and UNLV went on to outscore the Badgers 14-0 in the last 1.5 quarters. No, that's not the production Bielema wants out of his defense, but it is enough for him to keep the pressure on them and to avoid any sense of complacency. There were signs the defense had a lot to work on in rush defense even before the Rebels got into the end zone -- now Bielema has the touchdowns given up to prove it.
WHAT UNLV LOST: The Rebels didn't lose a whole lot other than the game itself. The game was a prolonged act of brutality in the first half, and it was immediately obvious that UNLV wasn't going to win this game, but the offense settled down in the second half, put together a couple touchdown drives, and at the very least covered the ~35-point spread. Further, nobody was seriously injured, and the Rebels have now gotten their most physical opponent of the season out of the way. It sounds cliche, but if the Rebels can survive a game in Madison, they can survive anything anyone else will throw at them, and that can do wonders for a rebuilding team's confidence early in the season.
THAT WAS CRAZY: Russell Wilson looked fantastic throwing the ball with his 255 yards and two passing scores, but Wilson's play of the game came courtesy of his feet. With time winding down in the first half and the ball at UNLV's 46-yard line, Wilson took off on a scramble and wove through the Rebel defense, eventually gliding into the end zone on a sensational run that was immediately evocative of Cam Newton slicing through opposing defenses at Auburn last year. Wisconsin won't face a UNLV-caliber defense in the Big Ten, to say the least, but opposing defensive coordinators are going to be losing sleep after seeing that rush.