MADISON -- How do you explain the series of strange events that unfolded over the course of Saturday's Troy-Wisconsin game at Camp Randall Stadium?
The No. 23 Badgers cruised to 28-3 victory over the Trojans, but fans were left scratching their ends at a pair of odd occurrences in the second half.
Sure, the Badgers' offensive line made another step towards a return to their formerly known status as fifth grade playground bullies. And it was quite clear that, on the other side of the ball, led by linebackers Chris Orr and Joe Schobert, the defense once again placed a wall around the end zone.
But what may be remembered most from the game, however, were the two questionable ejections of Wisconsin players and a fire alarm that sent the crowd into a post-Jump Around frenzy.
Junior inside linebacker Leon Jacobs was the first to be removed after his hit on Troy quarterback Brandon Silvers. After an initial flag was thrown on the play, the officiating crew went to replay and confirmed the call.
Official rules state they must then eject Jacobs for the game, which was accomplished to a chorus of boos from the Wisconsin faithful.
That initial objection from the Camp Randall crowd of 77,157 was a mere whimpering from a disgruntled puppy in comparison to the one that would follow.
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More on the Game
Sophomore cornerback Derrick Tindal was the second Badger to be sent to the locker room for targeting when he, according to the referees, initiated contact with the head and neck area of a Troy receiver. The crowd, claiming Tindal could do nothing to avoid the hit, took the liberty of voicing their opinions over the call for the remainder of the game.
"The defensive player, when we have a defenseless receiver, cannot target to the head or neck area," referee Jeffrey Servinski said to pool reporter Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal.
Incidentally, those wouldn't be the only ejections of the afternoon.
Early in the fourth quarter the fire alarms went off around Camp Randall, informing spectators to exit the stadium. Some did, but most remained in their seats, prepared to pounce for the exits.
"Yeah, it was a strange afternoon," Badgers quarterback Joel Stave admitted.
Fortunately for those in the stadium, the scare turned out to be nothing more than a false alarm -- something Wisconsin hopes their improved rushing attack against Troy was not.
The Badgers nearly equaled their rushing total coming into the contest as they pounded out 199 rushing yards on 35 attempts, good for 5.7 yards per carry. Redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal, splitting carries with redshirt junior Dare Ogunbowale, led the attack with 84 yards on 16 carries. Ogunbowale added 77 yards on 14 rushes, including a 17-yard scamper to put the Badgers in front 7-0 with 6:49 left in the first quarter.
With starting running back Corey Clement missing his second straight game with a groin injury, Deal and Ogunbowale stepped up in light of an increasing workload.
"I felt like I got better," Deal said. "I can continue to get better, but I'm looking forward to building on what I did today."
"It's a great feeling we go the run going," Badgers right guard Micah Kapoi said. "There's always room for improvement and next week we're going to get those numbers higher and just get back to Wisconsin offense."
A return to the Wisconsin offense it was, indeed. If Deal brought the power and Ogunbowale brought the balance, then Tanner McEvoy surely brought the speed.
The redshirt senior and Wisconsin's "Mr. Everything" lined up at quarterback and took direct snaps on consecutive plays in the third quarter. The first went for a nine yard gain, which he followed up with the afternoon's dagger. McEvoy showed great patience in setting his blockers up before putting his athleticism on full display, out-running Troy's first line of defense and muscling past a tackler to reach the end zone and give the Badgers a commanding 21-3 lead.
"I thought his touchdown was as much the competitive nature in him as it was physical," Chryst said.
While the Wisconsin offense put up four touchdowns, only one would be needed given the play of the Badgers defense.
With two key defensive contributors missing due to ejections, the unit didn't miss a beat.
Thrust into action after the ejection of Jacobs, Orr's play was indicative of the Badgers defense throughout the game against the Trojans spread attack: fast, aggressive and instinctive.
Orr led Wisconsin, which only gave up 255 total yards, with 14 tackles, including one for a loss. For the true freshman, this level of immediate impact has come as a much-welcomed surprise.
"I wasn't expecting to play this much at linebacker," Orr said. "But I'm glad it worked out the way it did. I'm just happy to play football."
Chryst also took notice of the linebacker's contributions.
"I thought Chris did some really good things," Chryst said. "He showed up in the run game and I know he made a big stop on a pass break-up on a third down, and it was good for him. Last week, it was alternating. This week he was able to, because of circumstance, he played a lot. He showed up."
The turning point in the game came courtesy of that defense early in the second half.
Trailing 14-3, the Trojans moved the ball with diligence to the Wisconsin 25, looking to draw within one score.
Insert Joe Schobert.
The senior outside linebacker, who finished with 2.5 tackles for loss, blew through the left side, sacking Silvers and causing a fumble. Safety Michael Caputo was there for the recovery. Wisconsin scored on the ensuing drive, with McEvoy's touchdown increasing the lead to 21-3.
"I just got a good jump off the ball, so I was able to get the ball," Schobert said. "The quarterback stepped up, so I missed his body, but I was able to swipe for the ball. I wanted Mike [Caputo] to pick it up and run with it because there was a lot of green grass in front of him, but it was a good play."
For the Badgers, the game wasn't without its frustrations, however.
When wide receiver Alex Erickson lined up at the Wisconsin 45-yard line with the clock ticking down on the first half, his team mired in a stretch of 29 minutes of frustrating, borderline uninspiring play.
The Badgers had been matched step-for-step by the 35-point underdog Trojans. Sensing the urgency, the senior Erickson broke free in the secondary, where quarterback Joel Stave found him.
45 yards down the field -- 15 of which left skid marks from a Troy defender's futile dragging of the wide receiver -- Erickson sprung to his feet after giving Wisconsin a much-needed lift, emphatically bringing Camp Randall and his Wisconsin teammates to life.
Three plays later, Stave -- athletic ability on full display -- scrambled left and spiraled between two defenders into the end zone for a four yard touchdown run to give the Badgers a 14-3 lead going into halftime.
"I thought that was big," Stave said. "We really needed that, you didn't want to go into half up 7-3, giving them the ball to start the next half."
On the drive, Wisconsin marched 90 yards in 2:38, gaining 105 yards of total offense due to a 15-yard penalty.
Stave once again looked strong, completing 13 of 17 passes for 202 yards. The redshirt senior added a one-yard touchdown to a wide open Austin Traylor -- his second touchdown on the season -- just one play after the two connected for a 38-yard strike.
After the game, a reporter asked Chryst if Stave's efficiency through three games has been as good as he could have hoped. The answer revealed Chryst's lofty expectations and high regard for his quarterback.
"No," Chryst said bluntly.
"I liked what Joel's doing but he can get better," Chryst responded when asked to elaborate, "and that's exciting."
Erickson was the favorite target of Stave once again, finishing with three receptions for 87 yards. His 45-yard catch-and-run was Wisconsin's longest pass of the season; coincidentally, Traylor's 38-yarder was the second-longest and Robert Wheelwright caught a 30-yard strike from Stave for the third-longest.
Silvers finished with 174 yards on 23 of 34 passing without a touchdown or interception. Schobert, redshirt junior outside linebacker Vince Biegel and sophomore nose tackle Conor Sheehy compiled Wisconsin's three sacks.
Kapoi made his first career start, opening up at right guard and contributed to a rush attack Chryst said ran the ball more consistently than in games prior. Redshirt freshman Jacob Maxwell saw action at right tackle alongside starter Hayden Biegel.
Wisconsin did not turn the ball over, but nearly gave Troy an opportunity to pounce on an early lead. Erickson muffed a punt in his own territory after the Trojans first possession and the ball rolled inside the Badgers 20. With Erickson on the ground, wide receiver Reggie Love made a pivotal play, beating out a group of Trojans to the ball.
You could say he put out the fire.