Wisconsin had been labeled as heavy favorites all week heading into Saturday's matchup against the South Florida Bulls. But despite being 33.5 point favorites, the Badgers' offense struggled to put points on the board in the first half.
Early on, South Florida's defense was able to buckle down on third down and keep Wisconsin out of the end zone. On the Badgers' first drive, Bulls defensive lineman Elkino Watson was able to stop Melvin Gordon short on 3rd-and-1 for a two yard loss. After a 26-yard field goal put the Bulls up 3-0, the Badgers drove into Bulls territory, but were stopped once again on third down for a 5-yard loss on an jet sweep run by Corey Clement, however a leaping penalty on fourth down gave the Badgers an automatic first down and put the ball on the Bulls' 11-yard line. But once again on third down, Tanner McEvoy was forced to throw the ball away and the Badgers had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Rafael Gaglianone.
Photos from the Game
Photos from the Game
The Badgers' defense got its first takeaway of the game on the next drive. Having to throw on 3rd-and-17, Bulls quarterback Mike White hit Deonte Welch right in the numbers across midfield on a play that would have given the Bulls a first down. Welch dropped the pass and Derek Landisch proceeded to catch the deflection and give the Badgers the ball on the Bulls' 36-yard line. After moving the ball down to the 25-yard line, a holding penalty, a rush for a loss and a 10-yard sack on 3rd-and-15 forced the Badgers to punt.
Near the end of the first half, the Badgers drove the ball into the Bulls' red zone, threatening to score their first touchdown of the game. But with 25 seconds to go on 3rd-and-2, Gordon fumbled for his second straight game on the Bulls' 5-yard line. South Florida safety Nate Godwin recovered the fumble, and sent the Bulls into the locker room with a 3-3 tie at the end of the first half.
The Badgers' defense allowed 101 total yards in the first half (76 passing, 25 rushing), while their offense was only able to total 139 yards (79 passing, 60 rushing). After a record setting performance last week, Gordon was held to only 50 yards on 17 carries. On third down, Wisconsin converted once on seven attempts, while South Florida was 2-for-7.
To start the second half, Gordon ran for 22 yards on the first play from scrimmage, his longest gain in the game thus far. The Badgers looked impressive for the rest of the drive, going 75 yards on 8 plays and ending with a 7-yard touchdown run by Gordon to put the Badgers up 10-3.
After South Florida went three-and-out on its first drive of the half, Wisconsin took over on the Bulls' 43-yard line thanks to a 24-yard punt return by Kenzel Doe. The Badgers wasted no time capitalizing on the good field position as Gordon broke several tackles on the first play of the drive and exploded for a 43-yard touchdown to put the Badgers up 17-3.
But the Bulls responded with a long touchdown of their own, driving 75 yards on four plays, ending with a 26-yard touchdown run by Rodney Adams to cut the Badgers' lead to seven points.
The Badgers drove 75 yards on their next drive, all the way down to the Bulls' 1-yard line. But on 3rd-and-Goal, Clement was stopped short of the end zone for no gain. Faced with a tough decision, Gary Andersen elected to kick a field goal in attempt to extend the lead to two scores. Gaglianone was successful on a 19-yard field goal, giving Wisconsin a 20-10 lead to end the third quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, White found Bulls receiver Kennard Swanson for a 52-yard gain. At the end of the play, however, Swanson lost the ball after being hit by freshman safety Lubern Figaro. Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel recovered the fumble on the Badgers' 10-yard line.
Taking over on their own 10-yard line, the Badgers put together an 18-play drive that lasted over nine minutes. After driving 90 yards, McEvoy found Sam Arneson for a 1-yard touchdown pass to put the Badgers up 27-10 with 5:17 to go. McEvoy was excellent during the drive, going 4-for-6 and throwing for 36 yards, including a clutch 14-yard pass to Troy Fumagalli on 3rd-and-5 from the Bulls' 39-yard line to keep the drive alive.
Wisconsin was able to hold that lead for the rest of the game, ending with a 27-10 victory. Gordon finished with 181 rushing yards on 32 carries and two touchdowns, with 131 yards of those yards and both touchdowns coming in the second half. McEvoy was solid for most of the game as well, finishing 11-for-18 while throwing for 160 yards and one touchdown. Alex Erickson was his leading target, hauling in six passes for 91 yards. The Badgers also dominated the time of possession, keeping the ball for 40:51 and limiting the Bulls to 19:09.