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Defense dials up a winner

Good luck taking that man down. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Good luck taking that man down. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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A lot of questions were answered in Vegas

LAS VEGAS --  Fans in Las Vegas who had Wisconsin covering the 20 points couldn't have felt too happy about the mistakes that led to two UNLV touchdowns in UW's season opening 41-21 win Saturday night.

But even fans who didn't have money on the game have good reason to be unhappy about Scott Tolzien's interception that was returned for a touchdown and Nick Toon's fumble at the five yard line that was returned 82 yards to set up another Rebels score.

Those two mistakes made the Badgers look a lot like last year's team -- a group with a very potent offense that unfortunately slipped up at times on the road and handed the opposition free points.

The good news is that there was plenty of other evidence -- specifically on defense -- that points to Wisconsin being an even better team than the 2009 squad that won 10 games.

The defensive line looked very good with three new starters. The cornerbacks were much better than they were in any game last season. And maybe most importantly, Aaron Henry looked comfortable at free safety and made the biggest play of the game when he recovered a fumble and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown. That play essentially iced the game for UW.

There is still plenty to work on, however. The defense struggled against UNLV's no huddle offense in the second half, especially on the Rebels' 8-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter that only took three minutes and 51 seconds.

It was also discouraging to see the defense allow a 16-yard touchdown pass on the first play after Toon's fumble. Holding UNLV to field goal in that situation would have been a victory.

But overall, Badger fans should be happy with what they saw Saturday. We knew the offense was going to continue to score points with every weapon beside Garrett Graham returning. What we didn't know was how the defense would perform with four new starters.

So far so good.

Game Ball - Every member of Wisconsin's offensive line. UW gained 278 yards on the ground and it was hard not to with the holes the o-line was opening up in front of the running backs.

Play of the Game - On UNLV's first possession of the second half J.J. Watt forced a fumble after Omar Clayton completed a pass to Michael Johnson. Henry scooped up the loose football and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown. The play turned a 3-point game into a 24-14 Wisconsin lead and the Badgers never looked back.

Anti-Play of the Game - Working with a 14-0 lead and all the momentum in the world, Scott Tolzien dropped back from his own 15-yard line and tried to force a pass to Toon. Will Chandler cut in front of Toon went untouched into the end zone after nabbing the interception. It was only a four-yard pass and Toon was never really open. Maybe it is good that that happened to Tolzien because we saw him learn from his interceptions against Ohio State and Iowa last year and play smarter the rest of the way. Saturday's unfortunate interception was likely a wake up call for Tolzien. He must remember that he doesn't need to take chances in the air with a potent rushing attack behind him.

Final Thought - Sophomore linebacker Chris Borland is turning into a star. After coming out of nowhere as a freshman, he looked even better last night running all over the field to make plays. He finished the night with five tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss. He is quickly becoming one of the most dangerous blitzers in college football. Opposing offenses are going to have to find him on every single play this season and that should help a young defensive line.