From the opening kickoff, the Badgers led against the Western Illinois Leathernecks and never looked back en route to a 37-3 victory. Before a second ticked off the clock, the lead was already at 2-0 thanks to a botched kickoff return by Western Illinois' Kyle Hammonds that was confirmed on a successful Gary Andersen challenge.
A hurry up offense managed to keep the Badgers defense on their heels early on. Running back J.C. Baker was able to rush for several first downs, totaling 27 yards after one quarter. The Leathernecks threatened to score late in first quarter, driving into the red zone on 61 yards on 13 plays, but Michael Caputo intercepted a tipped Trenton Norvell pass on the seven yard line to halt the drive.
The offensive woes from the second half of the LSU game continued to start the game. The Badgers ran only 12 plays for 40 yards on three drives in the first quarter. Tanner McEvoy threw an interception downfield to Dallas Nicholas with 8:11 on first down, missing badly on a pass that was intended for Robert Wheelright.
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Badgers pass way to victory against Leathernecks
A stout gameplan by Western Illinois' defense to stop the run forced Wisconsin to throw the ball, and it did with results.
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In the Badgers' first drive of the second quarter, McEvoy was able to convert on third down three times to keep the drive alive. In 17 plays, Wisconsin drove 90 yards all the way to the Leathernecks seven yard line, where they were stopped on a fourth and one. During that drive, the Badgers would have had a 67-yard touchdown through the air if not for Reggie Love dropping a wide-open pass.
McEvoy continued to settle into the game on the next drive. Good pass protection gave McEvoy lots of time to throw on a 37 yard completion to Sam Arneson. Two plays later, Wisconsin found the end zone on a seven yard run by McEvoy to give the Badgers a 9-0 lead.
The Leathernecks countered in the last two minutes of the second quarter, when they drove 67 yards on 10 plays, hitting a 29-yard field goal on the last play of the half to give the Badgers a 9-3 lead heading into halftime.
Melvin Gordon had a very quiet first half, rushing for just eight yards on nine carries. McEvoy was 10-for-14 passing, throwing for 140 yards and one interception. He added 40 yards on four carries, with the game's only touchdown to that point. Sam Arneson also had three receptions for 72 yards in the first half.
To start the second half, the Badgers were able to extend their lead as they drove 10 plays for 75 yards. They converted twice on fourth down during the drive, the first time with Gordon rushing for 25 yards on fourth-and-one, the second time with McEvoy throwing a three yard touchdown pass to Austin Ramesh to give the Badgers a 16-3 lead. McEvoy was 4-for-4 during the drive, throwing for 30 yards and his first touchdown of the season.
McEvoy's confidence continued to build the next drive as he led the Badgers to the end zone once again in a quick three play, 57 yard drive that took just 57 seconds. McEvoy completed all three of his passes that drive for 49 yards. The drive culminated with Gordon finding the end zone off an eight yard screen pass, where he broke two tackles on his way to the end zone.
The Badgers defense forced two quick three-and-outs in the third quarter, holding the Leathernecks offense to just 10 yards and staying on the field for only 4:28 in the quarter. That trend of quick drives was consistent for the defense throughout the game, as the Leathernecks went three-and-out six out of 10 times.
After a missed field goal on the' next drive, the Badgers' rebounded as McEvoy managed to throw for his third touchdown of the second half, finding Alex Erickson for a 10 yard touchdown pass.
The defense continued to stay strong in the fourth quarter. Jesse Hayes forced the Badgers second turnover of the game with 5:54 when Hayes forced a Norvell fumble that was recovered by James Adeyanju on the 34 yard line. Four plays later, Bart Houston threw his first touchdown pass as a Badger, finding Clement for a 6 yard reception to give the Badgers a 37-3 lead that they would hold until the end of the game.
Surprisingly, the Badgers' passing game was more effective than their rushing attack. The Badgers totaled 456 total yards in the game, with 289 passing and 167 rushing. Corey Clement led the team with 57 rushing yards, while McEvoy finished the game with 55 rushing yards, Gordon ended with 38 yards on 17 carries. Arneson and Erickson emerged as the Badgers' two leading receiving targets, with Erickson catching 10 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown, and Arneson catching four passes for 87 yards.