Calm down Wisconsin. The Badgers' running game is back.
During the UW football team's 3-0 start, the Badgers used a potent passing attack to average 35 points per game, while the running game looked very average, despite putting up 199 rushing yards per game.
Saturday, the Badgers used a very balanced offensive attack, passing and running all over the Spartans, during a 38-30 win that wasn't as close as the scoreboard suggested.
John Clay rushed for 142 yards on 32 carries, while Scott Tolzien threw for 243 yards and four touchdowns while completing 19-of-31 passes.
"John knew he had to get it right," head coach Bret Bielema said, referring to the sophomore's three fumbles against Wofford last week. "And he knew the only person that was going to do that was him. So he went through it and didn't put the ball on the ground during practice all week."
He didn't put the ball on the ground during the game either. And when Zach Brown fumbled in the third quarter, Bielema told Clay he had to bring the team home.
"He told me, 'We got to finish this game out mistake free and limit our turnovers," Clay said.
The defense held Michigan State to a field goal and went to Clay to start running out the clock. Wisconsin went on a 17-play, 50-yard drive that took 7:33 off the clock and resulted in a Phillip Welch 41-yard field goal to take a 24-10 lead. Clay received 10 carries on the drive and accounted for 33 of the 50 yards.
"I'm just happy the coaches gave me a chance to go out there and prove they count on me and need me as much I need them. I feel very honored by that," Clay said.
While the running attack gained some momentum Saturday, the passing game didn't lose any. Tolzien continued to impress, completing big pass plays to Issac Anderson and Nick Toon, while also finding tight end Garrett five times. Three of Graham's catches went for touchdowns.
Wisconsin's offense is starting to look like a legitimate balanced attack. Most importantly, it only committed only one turnover, resulting in a plus-three turnover margin for the Badgers on the day.
"It doesn't matter who is going to get the ball," Clay said. "We know that whoever touches it, something big is going to happen."
Another late comeback
It appeared Wisconsin was set to blow the Spartans away when it held a 38-17 lead with the ball in Michigan State territory mid-way through the fourth quarter. Instead, the Spartans forced a punt and scored two late touchdowns to keep it a one-score game.
In fact, Michigan State had the opportunity to recover an on-side kick with 15 seconds left, but the ball bounced to David Gilreath who secured it for the win.
The opportunity came after backup quarterback Keith Nichol hit Keshawn Martin for a 91-yard touchdown pass on the first play after a UW punt. Nichol and Martin had hooked up for another score just two minutes earlier.
"We made it a little more difficult there at the end," Bielema said. "We had a busted coverage that resulted in a big play that got us in the that little tense situation the last 15 seconds. But I am not going to let that take away from something that we can easily correct as coaches."
"Fenelus, he comes up and slaps me on the backside and said, "No need to worry coach." You know there at the end of the game and I look at the little devil, I wanted to slap him upside the head," Bielema said. "But he knows what he is talking about."
And while Bielema said the coaches can get the mistakes corrected, he added a positive spin on Michigan State's mini-comeback.
"The good thing is, the score ended up a lot closer than it really was and that will help us keep quietly creeping along," he said.
Henry: Finishing is the final goal
On the doors of the UW weight room, the five team goals for 2009 are listed: 1) Daily preparation to win, 2) Re-establish Wisconsin football, 3) Relentless toughness, 4) Win for each other, and 5) Finish.
It could be argued that Wisconsin succeeded greatly in accomplishing the first four goals Saturday, but failed miserably at the fifth.
"I think as a secondary we played very very well in the first half and we just need to finish our last goal and that's finish," Aaron Henry said after the game.
Henry was very hard on himself this week after a mediocre first three games that included a number of pass interference penalties and a bad flu bug.
"Nobody is going to be harder on me and than me," he said. "I definitely think I took a step forward. I did have some plays made on me and I made some plays too. The thing is as a cornerback, you have to be short minded. Things are going to happen."
One of the plays Henry gave up was a second quarter 14-yard touchdown to Mark Dell that tied the game at seven. Henry had good coverage on the MSU wideout, but his turn to the ball was late and Dell made a tough catch to pull in the touchdown. The play proved that Henry is making strides, but just isn't quite there yet.
"[Cornerbacks coach Kerry Crooks] wants me to open and turn towards to the reciever and not open up towards the ball," Henry said. "I actually opened up away from the receiver. It's still something I got to work on but it's a whole lot better than pass interference."
Wisconsin was 11-of-18 on third down while Michigan State was only 3-of 10... UW dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for 37:29 as opposed to MSU's 22:31. The Badgers appeared to escape any major injuries. John Moffitt twisted his left ankle in the fourth quarter but was fine after the game... Bret Bielema is now 16-0 in 11 AM CT starts at home. "Oh, I'm well aware of my 11 o'clock record," he said after the game.