In what looks to be a season long trend, the Badgers pulled out an ugly 37-26 victory over UTEP on Saturday in front of a late arriving crowd of 79,806.
Making his first collegiate start, Wisconsin red-shirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave was effective in leading the Badgers to their 26th consecutive home non-conference victory. The former walk-on finished the day 12 of 17 for 210 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
After three consecutive non-conference games to start the season left Badger fans in search of their nearest defibrillator, Saturday looked like it would be much of the same. UTEP took an early lead when Michael Edwards caught a 39 yard pass from Nick Lamaison.
The Badgers were able to quickly turn the momentum, as Wisconsin blocked the extra point. UW corner Devin Smith—who had been toasted on the touchdown pass—snagged the loose ball and returned it to the house for the two point defensive conversion for the Badgers.
The Badgers would take the lead back early in the second quarter on a Montee Ball touchdown. Unfortunately for Wisconsin fans, that would be the last time they would see Montee Ball the rest of the afternoon. The Wisconsin Heisman hopeful was lost for the day with a head injury when he took a shot on his touchdown run.
The hit came on a third and goal from the one yard line. Ball drove to the left and took a big hit but was able to spin into the end zone for the touchdown.
Immediately after the hit, Ball paused and was noticeably woozy. The Wisconsin athletic training staff ran Ball through a number of concussion tests, and appeared to take his helmet away on the sidelines.
Wisconsin football's official twitter account tweeted shortly after the play that Ball would not return to the game after suffering a head injury.
Ball had previously taken a hit in the first quarter that caused a fumble, and looked dazed immediately following. The lost fumble was the first of Ball's Badger career.
If diagnosed as a concussion, it's the second that Ball has suffered this fall. Ball also was concussed when he was assaulted walking home shortly before fall camp opened.
Former Wisconsin Heisman running back Ron Dayne sat down with Ball after the injury, and told the television audience in an interview that Ball wanted to return to action, but that the trainers wouldn't allow it.
Dayne seemed to agree with the trainers recommendation to hold Ball out of action.
Ball finished the day with 40 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.
Backup running backs James White and Melvin Gordon picked up the slack for Ball once he was knocked out of the game. White had 65 yards on 15 carries with two touchdowns, and Gordon added 112 yards on eight carries with a touchdown of his own.
But the talk on Saturday was Stave. The young gunslinger looked good in his first start for the Badgers. The highlight play came on a 47 yard pass in the second quarter to Jarred Abbrederis. The Badger wideout got free deep down the right sideline after the UTEP corner fell down. Abbrederis was able to walk into the end zone after hauling in the pass from Stave.
Besides an ugly interception, Stave looked to be making the right reads on most plays Saturday. One play that stands out was a call designed to hit Abbrederis deep down the middle. Stave recognized double coverage, and checked it down to James White in the left flat.
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema liked what he saw out of his young signal caller Saturday.
"Great quarterbacks are the guys that can make plays when there isn't an answer, and (Stave) made some scrambles and plays in the first half that kept drives alive and I think that's huge for him confidence-wise," Bielema noted in his post game press conference.
"He's going to be a good quarterback. He's tall, athletic, he's smart at the line of scrimmage, he doesn't hide things."
Things will get much tougher for the Badgers as they open up Big Ten play starting next week. Wisconsin's first test in the conference this season? Hitting the road to play Nebraska.
Time to put your big boy pants on gentlemen.
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