So, that was interesting.
No. 5 Wisconsin’s 45–14 win over New Mexico was a game of early mistakes followed by redemption.
Sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor and the Badgers’ defense made errors that had fans nervous only to finish with eye-popping stats.
Here are the unit grades:
Offense: A- (C- first half/A+ second half)
Alex Hornibrook threw for 148 yards and a touchdown, finishing with a 197.6 quarterback rating. The junior had an awful-looking fumble-interception early in the third quarter, putting the Badgers’ defense in a tough, sudden-change situation. He was bailed out a few plays later by redshirt freshman safety Scott Nelson’s red-zone interception, the first in his career.
Hornibrook found junior receiver A.J. Taylor on the ensuing drive for a 10-yard touchdown pass, with the junior wide receiver finishing with a career-high 134 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Taylor’s issues with fumbling continued, as the sophomore put the ball on the turf deep in New Mexico territory to kill a second-quarter Wisconsin drive. Taylor redeemed himself in a big way, however, as he bounced a run outside on the next drive for a 16-yard touchdown to put the Badgers up 10–7 late in second quarter.
The New Jersey native added two more second half scores and finished with a career-high 253 yards and three touchdowns.
Fullback Alec Ingold was a weapon, rushing for 47 yards and a touchdown, including a 39-yarder in the first half.
The Lobos spent the first drive gashing the Wisconsin defense to put New Mexico up 7–0. The Badgers defense took it personally and spent the rest of the game thumping the visitors. As was the case several times last year, it made all of the difference.
With the offense sputtering and the Badgers clinging to a 10-point lead in the second half, the defense held fast after Hornibrook’s interception put Wisconsin on its heels. Nelson’s third-quarter interception was followed on the subsequent New Mexico series by a Kayden Lyles fumble recovery. That allowed the offense time to find its footing and put the game away.
Wisconsin limited New Mexico to 77 yards rushing and 134 yards passing. Redshirt senior safety D’Cota Dixon led Wisconsin with nine tackles with redshirt senior outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel adding a sack and two quarterback hurries. The Badgers forced three turnovers, all in the second half, which led to 21 points.
Special Teams: Gentleman’s B
Kicker Rafael Gaglianone made his only field-goal attempt and all extra-point attempts. Punter Anthony Lotti had a nice, field-flipping, 54-yard punt. Nothing special happened in the return game.
Offensively, the Badgers were extraordinarily vanilla in the first half, including a somewhat bizarre sequence at the end of the half that saw Wisconsin stop the clock inside its own 35 only to run the ball to take it to halftime. Wisconsin opened things up more as the New Mexico defense faded in second half, but it looked like coach Paul Chryst was saving some things for later in the season.
A lot of credit should be given to defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and his coaching staff. After New Mexico jammed it down Wisconsin’s throat to start the game on an 87-yard touchdown drive, the Badgers’ adjustments choked the life out of the Lobos (aided by quarterback Tevaka Tuioti leaving the game).
This one was a lot more fun to watch in the second half than the first.
For a top-five team favored by 35, it’s clear that Wisconsin still has some kinks to work out before conference play.
Still, UW won by 31. Two offensive mainstays set career highs and the defense looked very good.
For today’s first half, however, I blame Bob Wiedenhoeft.