MADISON — While the Wisconsin Badgers’ offense didn’t have quite the day expected of a team facing a defense that gave up over 550 yards to an FCS opponent a week ago, the Badgers ultimately pulled out to a decisive 45–14 win in front of the faithful at Camp Randall Stadium on a mostly sunny Saturday in Madison.
The Badgers actually trailed after the first quarter—they only had one full possession in the quarter—but they were able to inch ahead by halftime by a margin of 10–7 before putting away the New Mexico Lobos during the third quarter. Touchdowns by A.J. Taylor and Jonathan Taylor pulled the Badgers to a 24–7 lead, which would be as close as New Mexico, led by former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie, would get for the remainder of the ballgame.
To finish out the scoring, the fourth quarter featured a touchdown for Alec Ingold, who rushed for 47 yards on the day, including a 39-yard scamper; a third touchdown for Jonathan Taylor; and a touchdown reception for true freshman Taj Mustapha, who recorded his first career reception on the play.
Jonathan Taylor finished with 33 carries for 253 yards and three touchdowns, while AJ Taylor finished with five receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown.
Neuville, Loudermilk return from injury
Perhaps more important for a team that called 52 run plays to just 12 pass plays on the afternoon, the return of the best blocking tight end on the team, Zander Neuville, helped spark the run game.
“Zander is an awesome tight end, he’s really physical in the run game and it’s always good to know he’s right on your hip in run blocking,” left tackle Cole Van Lanen said. “He’s a good all-around player and it’s great to have him back.”
Neuville caught only one pass for three yards, but multiple times was seen creating huge holes for the running back, at times moving the defensive end down two to three gaps from his responsibility.
Another familiar name for Badger fans returned on Saturday, as redshirt sophomore Isaiahh Loudermilk came back from a knee injury suffered during summer conditioning.
“It was good to get out there, the knee felt perfect,” Loudermilk said. “I felt like I could play aggressive and get upfield.”
Loudermilk provided some much-needed depth to the defensive line, in particular the end position, which was played mostly by walk-on redshirt freshman Matt Henningsen and former offensive lineman Kayden Lyles.
Part of a front seven that mostly inhibited New Mexico’s inside run game, Loudermilk talked about some of the issues the Lobos’ option offense presented.
“I think early on, they challenged us [with horizontal movement] but I think after that first drive we made adjustments and were able to handle it.”
Van Lanen also had some comments about what opponents have to deal with now that Loudermilk is back in the lineup.
“Obviously his length is an issue. He’s good with his hands, he’s huge, and powerful,” Van Lanen said.
“He adds a lot of depth to the defensive line, having him back. We’re all glad he’s back.”
Option offense gives Badgers early issues
Seen much more at the high school level than collegiately, the triple-option offense puts a lot of stress on opposing defenses both horizontally as well as making the defense remain disciplined and forcing its players to respect their responsibilities rather than making individual plays.
While New Mexico runs the triple option in a different vein than Georgia Tech or the service academies, it still presents issues for a defense—in particular, open-field tackling.
“I think anytime you’re in the open field, things can be difficult, but it’s all about executing your assignment and trusting your teammates,” senior safety D’Cota Dixon said. “As long as everyone does their job, you’ll be fine.”
Even for the most veteran of players on the Badgers’ defense, the option offense can be tough to deal with.
“I think [New Mexico] just executed really well early in the game,” senior inside linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “They did a good job of blocking us on the outside on that first drive, and after we made some adjustments, we were able to deal with it.”
Redshirt freshman Scott Nelson, who missed a tackle early in the game in the open field, also discussed the difficulties with open-field tackling.
“I just missed that one, that was on me. It’s just all about trusting that your teammates will be to your inside and outside and allow you to play aggressively against teams like this.”
Nelson also discussed the big play he made. In the third quarter with the Badgers up 10–7, and following a New Mexico interception that took the ball down to Wisconsin’s 26-yard line, Nelson picked off New Mexico quarterback Sheriron Jones on a 3rd-and-8 and returned the ball 22 yards back to Wisconsin’s 24-yard line. That seemed to put the final nail in the coffin of any real threat the Lobos would pose on Saturday.
“We knew we had to make them pay when they tried to go deep,” Nelson said. “They like a lot of the quick throws, and we’d deal with those, so we knew we had to get them when they took a shot deep, and we got it.”
Nelson, who had complained tongue-in-cheek about the three-and-outs not being long enough last week in his debut, didn’t feel the same way about New Mexico’s opening drive—a 17-play, 87-yard campaign that consumed 7:38 of clcok.
“That was way too long,” commented the free safety. “I think it was like 17 plays or something. I like the three-and-outs better.”