MADISON — A week after upsetting the No. 5 team in the nation, there was discussion of whether the Wisconsin Badgers would suffer an emotional hangover heading into their Week 2 matchup against the Akron Zips.
They answered that question—quite quickly—with a resounding no Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium.
On offense, the Badgers showcased their grinding, dominant run game seen in years past and balanced it with a solid effort in the passing game. Wisconsin’s 586 total yards (294 rushing, 292 passing) was the most since it racked up 627 yards against Nebraska on Nov. 15, 2014.
The result? A thoroughly satisfying 54-10 win over Akron.
Defensively, Wisconsin disrupted Akron’s tempo and its spread offense while forcing two critical turnovers when the Zips gained momentum. UW allowed just 224 yards on the afternoon, holding the Zips to 1-of-10 on third-down conversions.
“You just go about your business,” safety Leo Musso said when asked if there was worry of a letdown after last week’s win over LSU. “Obviously, we weren’t slotted to win against LSU, but that doesn’t change the way we game-plan. Every team in the country prepares to win, and that’s just one of those things where we went out and played our game.”
Playing their game from the opening offensive series set the pace for the Badgers’ entire first half en route to a 30-10 lead. The offense held the ball for 23 minutes, one second—compared to Akron’s six minutes, 54 seconds—and accumulated 365 total yards (159 rushing, 206 passing) in the first two quarters.
Four of Wisconsin’s drives in the first half went at least eight plays and led to 21 points. The Badgers’ first series started the day’s trend, as they ate up over seven minutes of the game clock in a 13-play, 83-yard drive that ended with a Corey Clement four-yard touchdown.
“I think the first seven plays were the same play, just right and left,” redshirt senior quarterback Bart Houston said. “It feels really good when you just march down the field. If we can run the ball all the time, why not?”
Clement scored again early in the second quarter on a one-yard touchdown run and ended the game with 111 yards on 21 carries. His day ended early after a five-yard rush that was initially ruled a fumble in the second quarter. Clement was tackled and appeared to go to the sidelines to have both ankles taped. The play was later overturned, which led to Wisconsin’s fourth touchdown in the first half. He did not return for the third quarter and was later ruled out for the game.
Head coach Paul Chryst acknowledged after the game that he didn’t know if their star running back would have gone back in if needed, but the coaching staff may have been overtly cautiously by keeping Clement out with the game out of reach well into three quarters of play.
“I would have played if it was closer, but seeing that we were up by a lot, why risk it turning into a bigger injury?” Clement said. “I’ve dealt with injuries in the past and I know it’s nothing to play with, so I really had to be mature about the situation. It’s not being selfish and being greedy as to how many more carries I do want in the game. I had to sit back and let other guys take the load.”
Jazz Peavy caught seven passes for 100 yards and two touchdown receptions, all in the first half. Both scores came in the second quarter, when he reeled in a 13-yard pass— the first of his collegiate career—and later a 34-yard touchdown down the middle to make it a 30-7 game.
A week after Troy Fumagalli’s 100-yard performance, it’s the first time since November 2008 that Wisconsin teammates had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games. Isaac Anderson and David Gilreath recorded 114 yards and 125 yards, respectively, that season.
“I just felt we had a good week of practice,” Peavy said. “When it came to game day, I felt like we were able to execute everything—we were able to do as wide receivers, tight ends. Everyone was on game today.”
Former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver tweeted at Peavy, a Kenosha, Wis., native, during the game, commending him for his performance.
Okay.. JP @JazzPeavy Nice sideline catch. Then TD and now another. Great job kid..— Donald Driver (@Donald_Driver80) September 10, 2016
When asked about it after the game by a reporter, Peavy was graciously stunned.
“Wow, that’s crazy. Coming from a GOAT [Greatest of All-Time] like that, that’s big,” Peavy said, trying to find words. “I don’t even know what to say to that, it’s crazy.”
The emergence of the two starting wide receivers along with Fumagalli is a welcomed sign for quarterback Bart Houston and the offense. Peavy and senior wide receiver Robert Wheelwright also combined for 11 catches for 199 yards.
“I thought both played well,” Chryst said. “We're still, I think, finding our identity on offense, and [it] certainly was big when Rob and Jazz came through.”
Speaking of Houston, the redshirt senior completed 15-of-22 passes for 231 yards and those two touchdown passes to Peavy. Despite a couple of errant throws early, Houston did not commit a turnover.
On the defensive side of the ball, turnovers quickly swung momentum for the Badgers in key situations. With the score 16–0, Akron reeled off four consecutive runs, the last a 38-yard rush by Ohio State transfer Warren Ball after several missed arm tackles by UW defenders on what was one of only a handful of impactful plays by the Zips’ offense—until junior cornerback Derrick Tindal came across and knocked the ball loose. Sojourn Shelton recovered, leading to Peavy’s first touchdown.
“He was carrying it loose, so I just went for the punch,” Tindal said.
On consecutive possessions, Akron made big plays to drive down the field only to come up with no points to show for it. Quarterback Thomas Woodson found wide receiver Jerome Lane for a 27-yard pass down to the UW 38, beating cornerback Natrell Jamerson.
The very next play, Woodson targeted Lane once again, but Musso came over to make an interception to thwart yet another effort.
“It just kind of comes down to our front seven doing a great job getting after the quarterback,” Musso said. “I haven’t really seen it on film yet because of that next-play mentality—kind of happens and you just move on. But I think that’s kind of the product of a great front seven and the guys on the outside doing their jobs. I kind of get the easy job to go and make a play.”
Besides withholding points from the Zips, the Badgers’ defense also created some points of their own.
After Clement was tripped up for a one-yard loss on a 4th-and-goal from the Akron 1-yard line, two Zips penalties forced them back to their goal line. Wisconsin’s defense dialed up the pressure, and redshirt junior defensive end Alec James came through for a sack and safety to extend the lead to 9–0.
“I can’t remember what the call was, but I remember the offensive line slid pretty hard and I just kind of back-doored it,” James said. My teammates did a great job of having pressure on the quarterback and stepping. I was the lucky one there to make the play.”
In eight quarters now, the Badgers habe surrendered just 24 total points, including 14 by either the offense or its special teams units. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s squad has only allowed one touchdown (vs. LSU) and one field goal (vs. Akron) in its first two games.
It’s early, but the defense built on its victory last week with another beyond-solid performance against a MAC opponent.
“It’s big-time,” James said. “It just gives us confidence, especially for the younger guys, just kind of seeing how we play and making that a standard for us.”
If there was one blemish in any phase of Wisconsin’s game, it was a blown punt return that resulted in Akron’s only touchdown on the afternoon. After a three-and-out by the Wisconsin offense in the second quarter, Akron wide receiver JoJo Natson took an Anthony Lotti punt 55 yards for a score, cutting the deficit down to 23-7.
“Those are big swings of momentum,” Chryst said, “so there’s going to be areas in every phase—special teams we’re talking—but we can be better and we’ve got to get better.”
With the game out of reach by the third quarter, Wisconsin was able to give reserve players some time on the field. Backup quarterback Alex Hornibrook came in and completed all five of his passes for 61 yards. True freshmen wide receivers Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor caught three passes total for 49 yards.
Redshirt freshman running back Bradrick Shaw ran for 74 yards on nine attempts, including a 35-yard touchdown run to cap Wisconsin’s scoring effort for the game.
Fullbacks Austin Ramesh and Alec Ingold also scored a touchdown rushing and receiving, respectively.
Wisconsin showed its discipline and poise a week after upsetting one of college football’s powerhouse programs. Despite the extremely positive returns on offense—and especially defense, where the Badgers registered four sacks and six tackles for loss—they’re ready to improve upon their mistakes and take on the next challenge.
“The game’s over with now. We’re really moving on,” Tindal said. “We got to do that every game, not just this game. So we going to come back and we gotta do the same preparation every week to get ready for Georgia State, who’s not a bad team either.
“We just got to go into every game, same mentality. We don’t want people to score, and we want to make plays.”