MADISON—The 2018 season started off on a winning note for the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers, rudely welcoming a Western Kentucky program to Camp Randall Stadium with a 34-3 victory on Friday night.
A defense led by inside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly suffocated a WKU offense in the first half while holding in some tough situations in the final two quarters. On the other side of the ball, the UW offense smoothly churned in the second quarter to put distance between itself and the Conference USA foe.
Sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 145 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns, both on long runs in the first half.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook completed 17 of 29 yards for 257 yards and two touchdowns.
The defense gave up 305 yards but held the WKU to only five of 16 third down conversions and most importantly, the three points. In his first start of his career, redshirt freshman safety Scott Nelson tallied seven tackles—tied for the team lead—and two pass break-ups. Inside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly combined for 12 tackles, 2.5 for loss.
On Wisconsin’s second drive of the game, the fireworks started for its offense. Taylor took a handoff from Hornibrook, and with some dominant blocking in front of him, went off to the races for a 47-yard touchdown. The sophomore back also threw in a couple of nice stiff arms on way to the end zone.
Though the start was shaky for Wisconsin’s offense outside of Taylor’s first long touchdown run, the last three drives in the second quarter all ended with points on the scoreboard.
After a 15-yard penalty for fair catch interference gave Wisconsin the ball at the Western Kentucky 35, UW drove down the field but stalled after a Jeremy Darlin sack. Rafael Gaglianone’s 39-yard field goal, however, gave UW a 10-point advantage.
The next Wisconsin series, Taylor would find the end zone once again, capping off a seven-play, 65-yard drive with a 30-yard touchdown run to put Wisconsin up 17-0. On that series alone, Hornibrook converted two third down passes to move the chains. Before the Taylor run, the southpaw found Kendric Pryor for a 20-yard gain.
Later on, Wisconsin pushed down the field in its two-minute offense. Outside of the two spikes on the series, Hornibrook completed 5-of-7 passes for 79 yards. He recorded his first touchdown pass of the season with a two-yard pass to Pryor to make it 24-0 just before the end of the half.
Pryor caught four passes for 51 yards and the touchdown in the game, along with a 19-yard run.
To start the second half, a couple of mistakes in Wisconsin’s pass defense allowed Western Kentucky to break two big plays through the air. Though allowing the Hilltoppers inside the red zone, Wisconsin’s defense held firm and kept them out of the end zone. A Ryan Nuss 25-yard field cut the lead to 24-3.
Wisconsin would answer, however, with a Gaglianone 42-yard field goal to extend the lead back to 24.
The teams traded turnovers—a Faion Hicks interception and then a Jonathan Taylor fumble the ensuing Wisconsin drive thereafter. Despite Western Kentucky entering the red zone three times in that third quarter, UW only allowed three points.
In the fourth quarter, another Wisconsin running back got in on the scoring action. On a 3rd-and-11, former walk-on Garrett Groshek took a screen pass from Hornibrook, cut inside of Tyler Biadasz and Michael Deiter, broke a couple of tackles then bolted down the field for a 43-yard touchdown.
Later in the quarter during mop up time, Western Kentucky drove inside Wisconsin’s red zone. Quarterback Davis Shanley ran towards the goal line, but safety Eric Burrell laid a solid smack on the back-up signal caller, jarring the ball loose with the Badgers recovering to thwart the final WKU scoring opportunity.
Wisconsin next faces New Mexico on Sept. 8 (11 a.m. CT kickoff, BTN).